Under Trent Johnson Stanford made the NCAA Tournament three times in four seasons. But in Johnny Dawkins' fourth season they've yet to find themselves in the Dance. Johnson's teams were noted for their defense, and in all four seasons finished with a higher defensive rank than offensive rank. They also improved their defense every year. In Johnson's first year Stanford ranked 56th, and in his last they ranked 15th. But in the three completed seasons under Dawkins the best they've ranked is 74th, and that was in his first season and utilized Johnson's players. They regressed to 106th in 2010 and were just 85th last year. They also have failed to finish better than 7-11 in the Pac-10.
But the Pac-10 is now the Pac-12, and Stanford is now playing defense. In fact they're the 9th stingiest team in the nation, allowing just 0.86 points per possession. Their offense is a pedestrian 64th, but their defense is special. As a result they are 8-1. Critics point to their soft schedule. They've only played one team in Ken Pomeroy's top-25 (Syracuse) which they lost. And they've only played one other game against a top-50 opponent (Oklahoma State - 48th as of today). But if you mine their defensive data then everything is there to suggest that this team is legit.
Here are the Cardinals nine opponents, and how many points per possession they've scored in every Division I game this season:
|Central Arkansas||Fresno St||Colorado St|
|Ark State||0.89||ND State||0.90||Colorado||0.93|
|Tenn Martin||1.03||SMU||0.95||Southern Miss||1.02|
|SE Missouri St||1.17||Colorado||0.98||Montana||1.05|
|E Illinois||1.19||Oregon||1.06||N Iowa||1.18|
|UC Davis||Oklahoma St||Syracuse|
|Bryant||0.91||Tex A&M CC||1.06||Fordham||1.08|
|S Utah||1.01||Ark Pine Bluff||1.07||Virginia Tech||1.17|
|SD State||1.03||Missouri St||1.09||GW||1.21|
|Utah St||1.00||San Fran||0.88||Stanford||1.03|
|San Fran||1.15||Montana St||1.18||UNC Ashe||1.08|
For 8 of 9 opponents, their game with Stanford was either their worst or 2nd to worst offensive performance of the season. And for the 9th opponent (NC State) Stanford is in a 3-way tie for 2nd, dropping to 3rd if you extend the decimal enough spaces. And NC State is also the only team to score greater than a point per possession against Stanford, but they've done that against 8 of 9 opponents.
Stanford only has three out of conference games remaining: San Diego, Bethune Cookman, and Butler. They'll be solid favorites in all of them before entering a newly unbalanced conference schedule. In the Pac-12 the top four teams according to Ken Pomeroy are Stanford, Cal, Arizona, and Washington, and Stanford only draws Arizona and Washington once each. So don't be surprised if Stanford wins the Pac-12 regular season, and don't be surprised that they'll do it with defense.