Thursday night, the Stanford men's basketball team beat Cal 77-71 at Maples Pavilion. It was a great win for Stanford as they continue to show flashes of brilliance and beating Cal is always great. It was also nice to show off the Stanford Axe and the Rose Bowl Championship trophy as well. For a minute, it even sounded like Stanford had a home-court advantage. This is all great for a Stanford fan but unfortunately, there can't be success without some lingering skepticism.
Johnny Dawkins' teams generally start out well - in fact, under Dawkins, Stanford has not had a below .500 record through the first 16 games in any of his 8 seasons on the Farm.
Stanford's worst run through 16 games under Dawkins was the 09-10 year as they started off 8-8 and still 2-2 in conference play. And of those 8 seasons, only one year did Stanford head into their 17th game with a conference record below .500. And Dawkins' strong starts hold up against even the best Stanford teams - the only year where Stanford had a better run through 16 games was the famous 2003-2004 year where Stanford won its first 26 games.
But even with these strong starts, Dawkins' teams tend to fade down the stretch. So it would seem that the problem exists somewhere in that midway point of the season. Does Stanford drift to the middle of the back because they don't have a Shannon Turley making the players stronger in the offseason? Does Stanford ultimately fail to compete for conference crowns because they just can't compete with the athletes of Arizona and UCLA? Is Stanford just a mediocre team and that is what mediocre teams do?
After game 16, the team locks down and not in a good way. Since Dawkins began coaching at Stanford, the second half of the season has been dreadful. Stanford has gone 43-55 overall, with two of the wins coming out of conference, and going 3-11 against ranked teams with only one of those wins being on the road and that was in 2009. As we look forward to the next 13 games, Stanford has a rough schedule.
Now, let's try and think positive yet realistic to get a good grasp of what Stanford needs to do to get back to the NCAA tournament. I think Stanford can play Arizona close at home but I do not expect a win however beating Arizona St. can keep Stanford above .500 in conference. I also think that the road trip to Colorado and Utah will be split as well but Stanford will beat Colorado and lose to Utah.
The next 3 games could very well determine if Stanford will be playing with the big boys or bullying the little kids again in March. Stanford will play at Cal and then get Oregon St. and Oregon at home. Stanford needs to win 2 of 3 but that loss cannot be to Oregon St. Stanford needs to beat as many of the good teams as well but losing to Oregon won't kill them as much as a loss to Oregon St. at home. Stanford can split in Washington to make the USC/UCLA series important to watch.
Both LA teams are currently in Joe Lunardi's Bracketology on ESPN and have a good chance to both be ranked when they come to Stanford. If Stanford can just split that series, it gives them breathing room to not have to beat Arizona in the desert and hopefully go into the conference tourney with a 17-12 record and hopefully on the bubble. A few wins in the conference tourney should be enough to crack the NCAA Tournament.
Personally, I will say though that if Stanford has another down 2nd half - regardless if they beat a top school - Johnny Dawkins should be gone. It's been 8 years for Coach Dawkins, and if he can't do it now, it's time to look for someone who can. Going around the merry-go round a few times is fun but eventually, it gets tiring.