Sure, college basketball is famous–and great to watch–largely for its unrivaled level of parity. Even though it’s a bit extreme to believe that any team could lose any game, that’s almost true. In college basketball, the little guy really can win, and that’s why the NCAA can draw millions of viewers to every single March Madness.
That said, Stanford should never feel threatened in a game against Yale. And on Tuesday night at home in Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal struggled to beat a middle-of-the Ivy League team that had just traveled all the way across the country.
Sports fans should always be grateful for a win, and it’s worth reiterating that Stanford not only won the game against the Bulldogs, but did so by a 60-44 margin. Stanford’s largest lead was 18; Yale’s was 2. Yale did not make even 1/3 of its field goal attempts; Stanford shot 46% from the field.
But Yale led Stanford at halftime (the score was 27-26 at the break) and the Bulldogs led in Stanford’s building with under 14 minutes to play in the game. Yale doesn’t hand out athletic scholarships and it counts on 1-star recruits to fill its recruiting classes. If Stanford wants to re-enter the ranks of perennial powers and teams that regularly make the NCAA Tournament, it can’t play around with schedule-fillers against clearly inferior basketball programs.
No one will fault the Card for holding an opposing team to just 44 points in a game and a mere 17 points in the second half. Regardless of the opponent, those statistics are a mark of excellent defense. Stanford has shown fairly consistently that it can play very good defensive basketball. Only 2 teams thus far–Butler and Oklahoma State–have scored 75 points or more on Stanford, and both the Bulldogs (those from Butler, not from Yale) and Cowboys score around 75 points per game on average. Even during the late-November losing streak in which Stanford fell to 3-2, the Card allowed a stingy combined 120 points to Murray State and Tulsa. Say what you will about this Cardinal team, but it has played pretty good defense to date.
Stanford’s biggest problem this year has been scoring the basketball. Stanford averages just under 67 points per game, which places them at 239th among all Division I schools for scoring production. Even that 67 figure is skewed by blow-out wins against Virginia, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and North Carolina A&T. When we remove those high-scoring games from the statistical field, Stanford averages just 60 points per game: the exact number they scored on Tuesday against Yale. That just is not enough points.
There is one easy way to score more right away: start shooting well from the free throw line. The issue has come up in several articles here on The Daily Axe, but Stanford has been mediocre from the line this season. Against Yale, the Card shot 46% from the line. Yale shot 88%. Had Stanford shot that well from the charity stripe, the Card would have had 9 additional points, won by 25, and provided much more peace of mind to Stanford fans puzzled over why Stanford–a team that regularly finishes near or at the top of the PAC-10–needed a second-half run to put away Yale.
In other notes, Josh Owens (12 points) and Jeremy Green (15 points) led Stanford in scoring. Green left the game late in the second half with an ankle injury, but Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins downplayed the injury following the game, claiming that Green could have played had the game been closer. Yale guard Austin Morgan led the Bulldogs with 15 points, while Berkeley native and Yale freshman Jeremiah Kreisberg went for 11 points off the bench.
Stanford does not play again until January 2nd, when they host Bay Area rival Cal at Maples Pavilion at 5:00 PM Pacific.