| 3-13-2022 12:46 PM PT
Photo by Sam Weyen
The Stanford Men’s Basketball season is (pending a hail mary NIT invite) over. After losing 7 of 8 to close the regular season, the Card burst back into form in the Pac-12 Tournament this weekend, taking down Arizona State in a 71-70 buzzer-beating comeback win and going toe to toe with eventual champs Arizona before narrowly falling 80-84.
Then, following the game, reports indicated that Head Coach Jerod Haase was returning for another season.
What do we make of all this noise? Let’s walk through the major beats of the end to the season and try to make sense of it all.
Losing 7 of 8
On February 6th, Stanford was 15-9 and fresh off a win against Washington and our old pal Daejon Davis. From there, Stanford would begin an excruciating 7 of 8 skid–their only win coming from an Oregon State team with 3 wins on the season. They lost to UCLA, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Kal, Arizona, and ASU.
Then the tournament happened. Stanford earned the 9 seed in the tournament, drawing 8 seed Arizona State (who they’d just played four days before) in the first round on Wednesday at noon. Stanford hung around until it blew up in the second half, ASU taking a 17 point lead. They continued to exchange baskets from there.
With just 3:01 left on the clock, ASU’s Kimani Lawrence threw down a disgusting dunk to take the 14 point lead. Then the Cardiac Cardinal came to play.
Stanford orchestrated a 16-1 run to close the game, punctuated by a James Keefe buzzer beater off a loose ball. I was courtside. I fell out of my folding chair when it happened, snapping the ensuing celebration.
But there was more basketball to be played, and the Card drew the other Arizona school in the second round.
Stanford had a lead on AP #2 Arizona with three minutes to go. Spencer Jones had 28 points on 12-18 shooting, scoring in a variety of ways. He was bombing from three, and stepping into long twos to punish the Wildcat drop coverage. Harrison Ingram was clutch down the stretch, scoring 11 points in the last 9 minutes. The Cardinal had chances in the game’s final minute, but they were a play or two short of pulling off the upset.
The entire complexion of the week would have been monumentally different had Stanford pulled it out. Arizona went onto dispatch Colorado and UCLA en route to yet another Pac-12 tournament championship. After the final buzzer of the title game we went onto the court. I found an old classmate of mine, who is now on the Arizona coaching staff. We briefly caught up, and he told me how Stanford put quite a scare into them. He said they were a difficult team to put away. Spencer Jones for his part was named to the All-Tournament team after setting new career highs in points in consecutive games.
On our way back to our room in New York, New York we rode in an elevator with Arizona fans. They were talking amongst themselves, unaware of our identities, and mentioned that while UCLA had a strong start, Stanford was the toughest game they played in their run. I think Spencer gave them all some serious PTSD.
Jerod Haase Retained
Following the loss, Jon Wilner broke the news:
First of all, we’ve seen the twitter hashtag #TossHaase going around. To set the record straight, Haase’s last name rhymes with “pass”, so the current hashtag doesn’t rhyme. Perhaps try #PassOnHaase next time?
That said, we think retaining him is the right call. Let’s talk about some of the #TossHaase arguments we’ve heard from the fanbase, and why we think they’re misguided.
The 7 of 8 skid to close the season proves that Haase teams fall apart late–other teams are figuring us out.
Just as last year’s disappointing final stretch deserved COVID context, so does this year’s. In our last post game press conference, Coach Haase pointed out that the team had to play 15 games in 40 days thanks to Stanford COVID pauses earlier in the year. Typically at a pace of 2 per week, 40 days might bring 11 games, so an extra 4 is non-trivial. With Spencer Jones battling back issues and Michael O’Connell dealing with leg problems, a three-games-a-week cadence certainly didn’t aid recovery. Haase mentioned that the team began converting practices into rest days as the wear and tear crescendoed. The minutes allocations back this up. Spencer, as great as he was playing, couldn’t go the distance in the second half of the Arizona game because his body simply couldn’t do it. The same was true for Michael.
Was the skid bad? Absolutely. The losses to Kal and Utah were unacceptable, and Stanford should’ve been able to win at least one of the Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona State games. Still, we think some COVID context is worth acknowledging.
We also decided to look into the numbers to see if this choking complaint was valid. One way to assess whether Haase teams are being “figured out” is by looking at net adjusted efficiency ratings. During Haase’s tenure, Stanford’s net adjusted rating is actually on average 0.8 points better the second time they play teams. If you remove Kal from the equation, that jumps to an adjusted net rating improvement of 3 points. In other words, Haase teams get better the second time they play an opponent, debunking the theory that teams simply “figure out” Haase late in the year (except maybe Kal?).
Moreover, per BartTorvik, Stanford’s game scores in their final two regular season Arizona losses were 90 and 92, respectively. The interpretation of those numbers is that with as well as they played on those nights, they would have beaten just about anyone in the country. They came away with a pair of losses, but they played like a top 15 team over those two games. Late season losses at home to UCLA and to ASU in Tempe saw them play at a solid level, too. They didn’t fall apart like many would have you believe. Wins and losses are obviously important statistics, but I don’t know of any sports analytics department that starts their argument that way.
The team choked their way out of the Big Dance.
Well, not exactly. The morning after that Washington win–before the skid began–Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology report was released and Stanford was… not projected to make the tournament. In fact, Stanford wasn’t even listed as one of the first eleven teams OUT.
This is to say that, by some objective measure, Stanford wasn’t the tournament lock pre-skid that many have claimed. The highest we can find Stanford appearing on any Lunardi bracket is as the 11th team OUT on 2/1.
Did the skid keep us from the Big Dance? It certainly put the nail in the coffin, but we were never close enough for that narrative to play fairly–which in itself is perhaps worthy of criticism. But remember, they lost four of their starters from last season’s roster. This was expected to be a rebuilding season.
Stanford choked in recent years.
As I’ve written previously, Stanford had the best defense in the country (literally, number one by advanced metrics) during the games they were at full strength last season. They played like a ranked team during those games. The issue was they had exactly zero players who played in every game. Daejon Davis missed more than half of the season and Bryce Wills was not far behind. Ziaire Williams missed two extended stretches due to quarantine rules after deaths in his family. Oscar da Silva was injured late in the season and was not himself when he came back. And every single other player had something that held them out of one or more games at some point.
Lest we forget, they battled through many other player availability issues in 2019-20 to still put themselves in position to be in the bracket on Selection Sunday. The problem is there wasn’t one. In my bracket camp with Joe Lunardi, we selected the 2020 bracket using the same data and procedures as the committee would have used. Stanford made the field, and while Joe said they weren’t a lock, he thought they had a good chance.
Johnny Dawkins was better.
Stanford’s last appearance in the tournament was 2014, under Dawkins. Johnny had a team made up almost entirely of seniors and juniors, including four of whom would go onto NBA careers. None of the starters missed a single game that season. Their tournament lives were in doubt almost all the way until Selection Sunday, when they snuck in as a 10 seed. They beat 7 seed New Mexico, then got by a Kansas team missing Joel Embiid, who would have been nowhere near the 2 line without him. They then bowed out at the hands of an 11 seed. Dawkins actually had that core of four NBA players together for three seasons, and snuck into the dance just the once. When we talk about Stanford playing beneath their talent level, that’s really the example that comes to mind.
Let’s also remember that after Josh Sharma, the best player from Johnny’s final two recruiting classes combined was … Marcus Sheffield? The only other contenders are Trevor Stanback, Cameron Walker, and Kodye Pugh. Only the most hardcore of fans will recall any of those three. That’s what a program with no momentum looks like. If he had more guys like Reid Travis coming, he may have survived longer, too. Instead he set back the program in a big way.
Haase can recruit but can’t coach.
In the first round game with ASU, Stanford was led in scoring by Spencer Jones, James Keefe, and Brandon Angel. All of them were afterthoughts in national recruiting rankings. They have each improved dramatically since arriving at Stanford. This program has a strong track record of player development. Look at the remarkable jump that Josh Sharma made as a senior, or the steady improvement of Oscar da Silva into one of the conference’s premier players. Jaiden Delaire was the Most Improved Player only one season ago. There seems to be a belief in the fanbase that they don’t develop players. I simply can’t imagine those claimants have watched very many games.
Additionally, Stanford is not stacking strong recruits due to early draft entries. This year they had just three RSCI top 100 recruits on the roster, ninth most in the conference. Recruiting only works if those recruits get to play together. They are also one of five power conference teams in the country to not take a transfer this season. They are one of just two to not have any on their current roster. Recruiting rankings that ignore transfers are effectively worthless, particularly because upperclassmen are better at making an immediate impact than freshmen. None of the 15 Pac-12 All-Conference honorees were freshmen, and only 3 were sophomores.
There’s no momentum.
Stanford could conceivably return all but one contributor to this year’s twelve man rotation. Jaiden Delaire seems content to graduate and move on rather than take the COVID fifth year. Fellow senior Lukas Kisunas has entertained playing his extra season if he gets accepted to a master’s program. Harrison Ingram will likely test the NBA draft waters, but I think there’s a strong chance he returns for his sophomore season. Stanford has a pair of promising recruits (Ryan Agarwal, Jaylen Thompson) incoming. They will also get a healthy Noah Taitz back after he missed the final half of the season. Next year’s team should be a tournament team if they stay together and stay healthy (please, for the love of God, stay healthy).
So… what’s next?
That said, Haase likely doesn’t have the longest leash at the moment, nor should he. Bernard Muir thinks this program has momentum. Over the past five years only Duke and Kentucky have had younger rosters (seriously). Muir believes that this team will improve as it gets older and adds the strong recruits that are in the pipeline. But of course, the momentum needs to convert into greater success within the next year or two.
It’s entirely possible Haase isn’t the long term answer. But it would be frankly irresponsible to heed the calls of the fanbase in moving now. It’s in the program’s best interest to let this team get old. It’s also in everyone’s interest to pronounce this coach’s name correctly… for at least another year.
--Fear The Me.
3-13-2022 12:49 PM PT
I think he gets two more years since Kanaan Carlyle is coming in 2023. But they really need to take a step forward next season
3-13-2022 12:57 PM PT
Good point, Carlyle might extend Haase's tenure a year. What's your perspective on him--another one and done Ziaire? Something to build on like (presumably) Ingram?
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