Had Jeremy Green managed to get off a shot instead of having the ball stripped away by Jared Cunningham in the final seconds of Stanford's 69-67 loss to Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, there's little doubt it would've swished through the net and we'd be talking about the Cardinal's chances of upsetting top-seeded Arizona after an improbable come-from-behind win.
Seemingly everything else the junior guard threw up in the late stages of the second half was good.
"He got a little bit of my hand, but the refs didn't call it," Green told reporters after the game. "I could have made a better play. I put it on me, not the refs."
Green put Stanford on his back and scored 11 of his game-high 25 points in the final 3 minutes, but it wasn't enough to overcome a first half that was among the worst in a season full of abysmal offensive stretches for the Cardinal. As Building the Dam wrote, the first half "could have been the worst in the history of basketball." Stanford shot 4-for-34 from the field--4-for-34!--and 1-for-10 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes, and was lucky to head to the locker room only down 8. (If the Stanford administration ever decides to bring back its now infamous list of easy classes for athletes, might I suggest the addition of "Shooting a Basketball 101." Paging Prof. Jim Harrick, Jr...)
The Cardinal found its stroke in the second half and pulled to within one point of Oregon State on multiple occasions, but could never get over the hump. Stanford allowed nine offensive rebounds after the break and, while it shot 59% from the field, failed to convert on a number of opportunities around the basket. With 2 minutes to play and Stanford trailing by 3, Jarrett Mann fed Dwight Powell in the post. Powell's turnaround floater was well short and the freshman committed a foul while going for the rebound. "And don't you know it, he won't make those mistakes next year," FSN's Barry Tompkins said.
That's certainly the hope, isn't it? We want to believe that Stanford's 15-16 record was to be expected with such an inexperienced roster, that Powell, Anthony Brown, Aaron Bright and the rest of the Cardinal's freshman class is primed for a big leap next season. Steady improvement among that group throughout the season would have likely inspired more confidence heading into the offseason. Instead, the Cardinal's inconsistency has led some, including the Daily Axe, to question Johnny Dawkins' coaching ability:
In a sport increasingly ruled by talented freshmen, the fact that Dawkins has been unable to get consistent play out of his rookies speaks to his overall inability to steer Stanford in the right direction so far in his time on the Farm. It will be nearly impossible for athletic director Bob Bowlsby to bring Dawkins back following next season if 2011-12 does not see an NCAA tournament berth for Stanford and proof that Dawkins can do more than recruit.
Jon Wilner says that Dawkins will be back for a fifth year no matter how Stanford finishes next season. While Stanford returns its entire roster, Wilner points to the Cardinal's holes at point guard and in the post as potential hurdles to improvement. Jarrett Mann did his best to fill the former hole this season, but Dawkins, at 47, is probably the best point guard on the roster. Talented recruit Chasson Randle could well be the answer at the 1, but we should all know by now that expectations must be tempered when it comes to freshmen, no matter how highly they're rated.
I tend to think that coaches get too much credit when things are going well and too much of the blame when things are going poorly. Still, even I would agree that Mike Montgomery deserves a lot of praise for the job he's done at Cal this season with a similarly inexperienced group and Dawkins deserves some of the heat for Stanford's struggles. It's easy to see that the Golden Bears have improved from the start of conference play to now, while the Cardinal has not. (Montgomery has 30-plus more years of experience than Dawkins, so it's hardly a fair comparison, but the point remains: good coaching can make a big difference, especially with young teams.) I think it's too early in the rebuilding process to say whether Dawkins is a good head coach or on his way to becoming one. Stanford will be more experienced next season, but it will still be young, and Dawkins has a lot of teaching to do. I saw enough from this year's team, albeit in spurts, to be optimistic about the future. (This opinion may be colored by the fact that I was spared the horror of watching some of Stanford's ugliest performances this season.)
At least one of this year's freshmen is expecting big things in 2011-12. Shortly after last night's loss, Josh Huestis tweeted:
"Trust me...Stanford WILL be the team to beat next year. We're down but we're far from out."