At the halfway point of the Pac-10 season, you could make the case that the Stanford men's basketball team has exceeded preseason expectations. With the Cardinal losing Landry Fields to the NBA and head coach Johnny Dawkins forced to rely heavily on a touted freshman class, the Pac-10 media picked the Cardinal to finish ninth in the league. While that's still a very real possibility, Stanford (11-9, 4-5) currently sits in a tie for sixth and dealt league favorite Washington one of its two Pac-10 losses.
You could just as easily make the case that the Cardinal has underperformed, setting a modern school record for shooting futility at USC last month and losing to Oregon at home the following week for the first time in a quarter-century.
Stanford's record to date is probably a little worse than what most fans expected. Getting to 19 or 20 wins is a pipe dream, but there's a good chance the Cardinal will improve on last year's 14-18 mark. Record aside, there are facets of its game that Stanford needs to improve between now and the end of the season for Dawkins's third year at the helm to be considered a step in the right direction, not the least of which is its ability to put the ball in the basket. A team that holds its opponents to 61 points per game should be better than 4-5 in conference. The problem, of course, is that Stanford has averaged fewer than 60 points per game against Pac-10 foes. The Cardinal's free throw shooting has improved somewhat in 2011, but there are still nights when it seems Stanford would benefit from a Dwight Howard free throw clinic.
As the Cardinal prepares to open the second half of the Pac-10 season on Thursday at home against Arizona, hit the jump for my player-by-player assessments to date.
Aaron Bright: Bright made a big impression in the Cardinal's second game of the season, an 81-60 win against Virginia, when he drained all four of his 3-point attempts and dished out four assists. The bike enthusiast scored a career-high 15 points off the bench in a mid-December loss at Oklahoma State and eventually worked his way into the starting lineup, but has cracked double figures only once since that game. Dawkins doesn't necessarily need Bright, who has a team-best assist-to-turnover ratio of 2-to-1, to light up the scoreboard, but he probably needs to improve his shot to remain a key part of the Cardinal rotation. Bright is shooting only 30% from the field and a team-worst 21% in Pac-10 play.
Anthony Brown: I'll try to avoid letting the recency bias color my assessment of Brown, who, like all of the freshmen, has had his ups and downs. Brown showed flashes of his potential early in the season, but it wasn't until the Cardinal's surprising win against Washington that Brown really took off. The Huntington Beach native played a then-career-high 24 minutes against the Huskies, scored 8 points, and made some big plays down the stretch one week after his worst game of the season. Brown's shooting numbers have improved across the board since the start of the conference season and his 8 rebounds against Oregon State were a positive sign that he can contribute more than points. For you KenPom fans, Brown has the highest Offensive Rating of any Stanford player--and any freshman in the Pac-10--with at least 20% of possessions used. In other words, Brown has been an efficient offensive player. Dawkins discussed Brown's improvement on today's Pac-10 coaches conference call: "I think it’s a function of him getting comfortable with our system, our players getting comfortable with each other and gaining more chemistry."
Jeremy Green: Stanford's leading returning scorer got off to a strong start and appeared poised to establish himself as the Cardinal's top option on offense, making at least three 3-pointers and posting four 20-point outings in Stanford's first eight games. But the days of Green doing the Dougie and flashing the Hook 'em Horns sign seem like ages ago. Green continues to lead the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game, but his shooting numbers have fallen off in Pac-10 play. Green is shooting less, which has allowed his teammates to get more involved, and Stanford has demonstrated it can win when he has an off night. The Cardinal is at its best, though, when Green is producing from the perimeter.
Jarrett Mann: Mann, who has shared time at point guard with Bright and Gabriel Harris, has really struggled to find his stroke. The junior is shooting 29% from the field and 51% percent from the free throw line. More troubling is that his assists and rebounds are down from last season despite similar playing time. Mann is a big reason the Cardinal leads the Pac-10 in scoring defense, but if Saturday's game against Oregon State was any indication, he's prone to forcing shots and making poor decisions with the ball on the offensive end. Mann did finish with seven assists against the Beavers, and Dawkins seems to appreciate the veteran presence that Mann brings to the floor. No Stanford starter's playing time has increased more since the start of conference play.
Josh Owens: Owens, who missed all of last season with an undisclosed medical condition, was the great unknown for Stanford at the beginning of the year. He's emerged as one of the Cardinal's most consistent scorers and the team's top rebounder. "I thought he’d continue to improve all season long and so far he has done that," Dawkins said Tuesday. "I think his best basketball is still ahead of him." Owens has nearly doubled his scoring and rebounding production from his sophomore season in 2008-09. He is attempting 22.4% of Stanford's shots when he's on the floor, which is a lower percentage than all but one of the four Pac-10 players ranked ahead of him in shooting percentage (58.2%). Several commenters have made the case that Owens should get more touches. They're probably right.
Dwight Powell: Powell boasts the second-best Offensive Rating among Stanford players and has enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular, freshman season. Powell, who ranks third on the team in scoring (8.9) and second in rebounding (4.9), has yet to post a double-double in conference play, but I get the sense he's poised for a breakout game in the near future. The Ontario native has eight blocks in Stanford's last three games and is tied with Owens for the team lead in that department.
Andrew Zimmermann: Zimmermann's playing time has been limited since the start of Pac-10 play and the junior hasn't cracked double-figures since the second game of the season. He's a solid rebounder off the bench, but doesn't have a significant role in Dawkins's current rotation.
Jack Trotter: Like Zimmermann, Trotter's minutes have diminished since the conference season began. The junior hasn't scored more than 2 points and tallied more than 3 rebounds since January 2.
Gabriel Harris: Since scoring 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the season opener against San Diego, Harris has scored a total of 18 points in 18 games. Granted, he's averaging less than 10 minutes per game, but he's yet to make a basket in a conference game.
Josh Huestis: The 6-foot-7 freshman has appeared in 17 games and has yet to make a major impact. Huestis played a career-high 17 minutes against USC and responded with 6 points and 4 rebounds.
John Gage: The freshman forward has appeared in nine games off the bench and had two 3-pointers against Oregon State.
Robbie Lemons: Lemons is another freshman who has seen limited action off the bench.
Stefan Nastic: The 6-foot-11 freshman appeared in five games before being lost for the season with a stress freacture of the navicular bone in his right foot. It's the same injury that affected former Stanford 7-footer Curtis Borchardt. The highlight of Nastic's abbreviated season was scoring 8 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in only 11 minutes against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. He will be granted a redshirt season.
What are your thoughts on the season thus far?