Stanford Hoops Preview

Fresh of its victory over Cal, Arizona State will host the Stanford Cardinal following their impressive victory over top ranked Arizona on Thursday in Tucson. Here is the preview of the game, which will be televised Saturday on Fox Sports Network at 3:00 P.M. MST.

Picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10 by the media, the Stanford Cardinal (15-5 overall; 6-2 Pac-10) has exceeded everyone's expectations to date. It was a widely held belief that replacing Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt, both of whom made early departures to the NBA, would be a near impossible task, but coach Mike Montgomery has done a masterful job and should be considered the odds-on candidate for Pac-10 coach of the year honor at this point.

The team started out the season strong, making a trip to the finals of the pre-season NIT at Madison Square Garden in New York City before losing to North Carolina. But then, almost as quickly they finished fourth and last in their home tournament, losing games to both Montana and Richmond. The up and down non-conference slate continued with victories over UNLV and Gonzaga and the starting the Pac-10 season on a four game win streak which ended with a loss to rival Cal at Berkeley. Since that point, Stanford has gone 6-1 in the conference, losing only to Washington in Seattle and culminating an impressive Pac-10 with a victory on Thursday over #1 ranked Arizona in Tucson.

Stanford is a game ahead of Arizona State (13-6; 5-3) in the Pac-10 standings, which means this game is extremely crucial for both sides. A road sweep in Arizona puts Stanford in excellent shape for a top 3 finish in the conference, while an ASU victory would keep similar hopes realistically alive for the Devils.

While the Cardinal doesn't have the athleticism of other teams in the conference it makes up for that with intelligent, patient offensive play and gritty determination defensively and on the glass. Stanford has three of the best rebounders in the conference as traditional starters in 6'10 sophomore center Rob Little, 6'9 junior power forward Justin Davis and 6'8 sophomore swingman Josh Childress. They average over 20 rebounds per game combined.

Unfortunately for Stanford, several weeks ago Davis, the leading rebounder in the Pac-10, injured his knee and is not yet back to full strength. The partially torn MCL has forced him to wear a heavy brace and he has been limited, only playing about 10 minutes in the game against Arizona. The starting position held by Davis and most of his minutes have gone to an undersized 6'6 junior, Nick Robinson.

Rob Little is a beast of a man, listed at 265 but probably in reality at least 10-15 pounds heavier. He averages around ten points a game and, as most of his baskets come within a 5- foot radius of the basket. Consequently, he shoots at a very high clip from the floor. Defensively he can wear on you, but he's isn't particularly quick and can be a liability when taken away from the basket. Robinson is a player who is really more of a small forward than an interior player, but is forced to play a large portion of his minutes defending bigger players in the post, especially now that Davis has been playing limited minutes due to the injury. He's a high-effort player who does all of the little things but generally doesn't put forth impressive numbers in the box score. Childress was one of the most highly touted freshmen in the conference last year, a McDonald's All-American coming out of high school, but he struggled quite a bit in his first season. This year however, he's been much improved, and is the team's second leading scorer and rebounder at 13.7 points and 7.8 caroms per game respectively.

In the backcourt, Stanford starts 6'1 senior Julius Barnes at point guard and 6'4 junior Matt Lottich at shooting guard. Barnes was initially slotted to play most of his minutes at the off-guard alongside Chris Hernandez, but Hernandez was lost for the season with a foot injury. Both Barnes and Lottich are scorers who like to shoot the basketball, and Lottich in particular is a deadly marksman, in the mold of former teammate Casey Jacobsen. While not as quick or active as Jacobsen, Lottich uses his team's crafty screen-work to get open for three point shots in a similar fashion. The two players average nearly five three-point baskets a game between them. Barnes is a quick, athletic point guard who has had difficulty at times thinking pass before shoot. He has considerably more field goal attempts than anyone on his team, but still manages to average almost four assists per game. Against Arizona he had ten assists to go along with 21 shot attempts.

Stanford is extremely thin off the bench. 6'6 freshman Dan Grunfeld plays about 12 minutes per game off the bench on the wing and is a shooting specialist. Jason Haas, a 6'2 point guard occasionally spells Barnes and 6'9 junior Joe Kirchofer and 6'10 Matt Haryasz each play 7 or 8 minutes on average along the frontline. Getting Stanford in trouble in the frontcourt with Ike Diogu is something that could pay huge dividends against the Cardinal.

Tommy Smith should have a field day going against Robinson when Montgomery plays a man to man defense, especially if he elects to have his players continuously double and even triple team Diogu, as has been the case of late. ASU is quicker and more athletic at power forward and center and must take advantage of that offensively. Stanford is the best defensive rebounding team in the conference so shot selection is particularly important in this game and getting attempts inside the painted area with their interior players, Diogu and Smith, is vital.

Stanford is also the best team in the league at defending the three point shot, but this should only further ASU's objective will be to break down Stanford's defense from within. The Sun Devils are the best field-goal percentage team in the league despite being the worst team from the three-point line. Both teams are comfortable playing a half-court low scoring game and that's something that might happen in this contest, with ASU trying to get shots inside, and Stanford trying to establish their shooters.

It is imperative that ASU extends its defense and fight around picks and screens, much like the Cal game on Thursday. Stanford isn't particularly athletic, which means they won't beat you on a lot of drives to the hoop, rather crisp passing and player movement away from the ball will be their primary concern. Against Arizona, Stanford had an impressive 23 assists aiding a total of 30 field goals.

Offensively it will be important for the Sun Devils to have some good open look shooting from players like Curtis Millage, Jamal Hill, Shawn Redhage and Kenny Crandall. Stanford is likely to put a high emphasis on stopping Diogu and whether they do so out of a collapsed zone or man to man help, it will leave open looks for spot up shooting. If the Sun Devils can take high percentage shots, keep Stanford off the offensive glass, defend the passing lanes and fight through and around picks on defense the chances of winning are excellent.

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