Bennet Hayes is an RTC national columnist. He filed this report after Tuesday night’s Pittsburgh vs. Stanford game from the Legends Classic.
As our own Chris Johnson noted last week, Johnny Dawkins and the Stanford Cardinal have had little issue of late on the recruiting trails. The same cannot be said for their life on the hardwood. After a shaky Legends Classic semifinal victory over Houston on Monday, the Cardinal were blasted in last night’s championship game, losing 88-67 to Pittsburgh. The Panthers deserve much of the credit for the lopsided result. Dawkins’ went so far as to label Pitt a “buzzsaw” in the post-game presser, and Jamie Dixon’s team really was that clinical in dispatching the Cardinal. But while a loss to said buzzsaw won’t do too much harm to the Cardinal NCAA Tournament resume, Tuesday’s loss is just the latest example in a troubling trend of missed opportunities. The talent has been there at Stanford, especially of late, but they have yet to find their way out of the cloud of mediocrity that has followed Dawkins to the Bay Area. The half-decade with the former Duke assistant at the reins has been an era sans signature victory – sorry, those don’t come in the NIT – and after the not-so-well disguised ultimatum offered in the offseason by Stanford AD Bernard Muir, it’s an epoch that may need at least one such win to survive. Needless to say, Dawkins and the Cardinal couldn’t find it at the Barclays Center on Tuesday night.
Dawkins was effusive with praise for Pittsburgh after the game, and he may be right that his team “just ran into a team that was playing very, very well” on this night. But unfortunate timing or not, this wasn’t the first non-conference test that the Cardinal have failed in recent years. Two seasons ago, Stanford dropped its sole showcase game to Syracuse. Last year, attention-grabbing opportunities went by the wayside in losses to Missouri, Minnesota, and NC State – all teams that finished in KenPom’s top 35. In fact, Dawkins has just one non-conference win against a team that ended the season in KenPom’s top 50: a 2011 home victory over an NC State team that wouldn’t end up hitting its stride until February. December dates with Connecticut and Michigan should allow for two more chances to improve upon that distressing total, but the early season losses to BYU and Pittsburgh fit right in with recent history.