The Stanford men's basketball team continues to be an enigma.
Although the team has a tremendous amount of talent, they will not make the Big Dance. The team has fallen flat on its face, going from tournament dark horse title candidate to NIT (woot woot!) disaster waiting to happen. But the question remains: why have they suddenly turned into college basketball's version of Clayton Kershaw in October?
With such a fall, everyone has their own opinion on what's going wrong. That being said, even the least astute of armchair quarterbacks can see that the Cardinal can't start games. After a strong 6-2 start to Pac-12 play their last nine games, the squad has trailed at halftime eight times. The last time Stanford shot better than 39.3 percent from the field in the first half was in January.
But why? How can a team so chock-full of supposedly mature and experienced seniors falter so much in the early stages of games? One explanation seems to be coaching. Head coach Johnny Dawkins may be great in press conferences, but his team consistently plays below its capability. Dawkins may not be doing enough game prep or is miscalculating opponents' weaknesses. Dawkins may be good at adjusting after seeing them play in person, but he seems to struggle with scouting opponents via film.
After the USC game, he noted that his team made some adjustments at halftime, "clos[ing] out a little longer [and] mak[ing] sure they couldn't catch and shoot it" in an effort to break up the Trojans' "comfort level." After making these adjustments of "press[ing] up a bit and go[ing] over ball screens," his defense was very "active, g[etting] a lot of deflections."
Dawkins speaks of a very lazy team defensively, as these adjustments are pretty typical and lacking complexity. Chasson Randle could be a culprit; from what I've seen of him defensively, his effort level is very inconsistent. Another possibility could be the return of Reid Travis to the lineup. By all means, Travis seems to be a solid player and person. However, his return from injury coincides with the Cardinal's downfall; the Cardinal started their 3-7 skid the game he returned, against Washington State. Travis is a solid presence down low, and is very talented, but hasn't produced too much statistically. 6.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game don't exactly call to mind memories of Brook Lopez.
Quite possibly, Travis' return messed with the chemistry of the team. When different bodies are introduced to a lineup, things change. For example, look at Ty Montgomery. When he was in the lineup this season, the football team's offense was worse because his skills as a receiver made Kevin Hogan rely too much on him, and forget to go through his progressions.
The situation could be the same for Travis and his Cardinal team. For whatever reason, the team might just gel better without him there, regardless of his skill as a player.
Stanford's Jekyll and Hyde style can be attributed to several factors, possibly including the return of Travis. Dawkins' seemingly poor scouting can't help, along with lazy defense in the first half. This lack of discipline on defense could also go back to Dawkins' leniency as a coach.
This team has no Shayne Skov, and it will need to find one if it wants to make progress as a program.