Stanford dropped its first game of the 76 Classic in Anaheim on Thanksgiving, conceding a 55-52 decision to the Murray State Racers. If you have never heard of Murray State, do not despair. Not many people have. So let’s start with the basics: Murray State is a 9000-student university and member of the Ohio Valley Conference that is located in Murray, Kentucky. On the basketball front, Murray State plays much better ball than most people would expect. The Racers notched 31 wins in the ’09-’10 season and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Racers, a 13 seed, beat Vanderbilt in the first round before falling to tournament runner-up Butler by just 2 points in the second round. In last season’s opener for Murray State, the Racers lost to Cal in Berkeley by 5 points. In two games against Cal last year, Stanford never finished with smaller than a 10-point deficit against the Golden Bears.
So let’s put Thanksgiving’s loss into perspective. Losing to Murray State is, however strange it might sound, respectable. And Stanford fans have a lot to look forward to following the loss to Murray State. Freshman Dwight Powell, for instance, has emerged as one of the team’s best players, despite having played in just 4 NCAA games. Powell scored 16 points and had 4 rebounds and a block in 32 minutes of play. Josh Owens also seems to be back to full health, considering his 10 points and 5 rebounds in only 17 minutes on the floor for the Card.
Stanford’s Achilles’ heel on Thursday night was an overall inability to score and an abundance of turnovers. Powell and Owens combined for 8 turnovers, and the team committed 18, or roughly one every other minute (to be fair, Murray State committed a similarly egregious 15 turnovers). If the turnover bug continues, it could be deadly for the Card when they hit the heart of the season schedule. But considering that former point guard and Mike Krzyzewski disciple Johnny Dawkins coaches the Card, it’s hard to imagine that the team will continue to play such sloppy basketball.
Scoring is a bigger concern, but note that top scorer Jeremy Green was scoreless until the game’s final minute, when he knocked down 3 three-pointers to finish with 9 points. There won’t be many nights when Green doesn’t score in double digits, so Stanford should be thankful that it gets some down nights out of the way in fairly meaningless preseason tournaments like the 76 Classic. What should scare Stanford fans more are the shooting statistics from Thursday night’s box score:
- Stanford shot 41.3% from the field
- Stanford shot 62.5% from the line
- Stanford shot 25% from three
That won’t do. Stanford needs to get the ball inside and score easy baskets. Even without a true center on the team, the Card have players who can operate from within 15 feet of the hoop. When the 3 balls don’t fall, they’ll have to get the ball inside, draw fouls, and turn free throw attempts into points.
The season is young, and so is Stanford’s team. It’s still hard to see what the team will look like and who will be its primary contributors, but for that we have more games, beginning with Friday night’s match-up against Tulsa in Anaheim.