ASU vs Stanford game preview

Arizona State plays Stanford on Thursday in Palo Alto with an opportunity to solidify its NCAA Tournament hopes and end the 8 game home win streak of the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion. Here is the preview of the game which starts at 7:00 PT, and will not be televised.

It's been more than 5 years since the Sun Devils (17-8; 9-5) have beaten Stanford, which means the Cardinal is the only Pac-10 team that Rob Evans has yet to beat since taking over the job at ASU. Stanford has won the last 10 games against the Devils and holds the overall series edge as well, 29-24.

Last year in Palo Alto, Casey Jacobsen tallied 49 points, just one shy of the Cardinal record. In doing so he led his team to a hot 67% performance from the field in the second half and a come from behind win that will go down as one of the better all-time individual achievements in Stanford men's basketball history.

Earlier this month, Stanford (21-6; 13-3) visited Tempe and beat the Devils 58-57, in a close nip-and-tuck contest that saw more than a dozen second-half lead changes and came down to the final minute. Julius Barnes and Matt Lottich burned the Devils with 21 and 15 points respectively.

The closeness of the game in Tempe is indicative of the play of the Cardinal all season and has become almost a theme of sorts . It seems just about every contest is a nail-biter that winds up being decided in the final minutes of play. Fortunately for Stanford, this year, the team has won just about all such games, going 9-2 in games decided by 6 points or less.

Part of the reason for this undoubtedly has been the coaching and leadership of Mike Montgomery, a sure-fire front-runner for Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors. After losing two of the best players in the conference a season early to the NBA draft, Montgomery's squad was picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference but every prognosticator with a pulse. He's proven them all wrong.

Even after a season-ending injury to Chris Hernandez, a player slotted to start at point guard, and a knee injury that has kept starting forward Justin Davis far below 100% at times, the team has performed remarkably. No doubt this is the team in the Pac-10 that has done the most overachieving on the season.

The Stanford attack is led by 6'1 senior Julius Barnes, a combo-type guard who has played quite a bit at both backcourt spots on the floor this season. Barnes likes the hoist the three point shot an is an athletic player who can drive and finish at the basket. As a point guard, he does a reasonable job of facilitating the half court sets offenses implemented by Montgomery, but when Jason Haas, a 6'2 freshman comes into the ball game, Barnes slides over to the off guard and becomes more of a shooter.

The best pure shooter on the team is Barnes' starting backcourt mate. Matt Lottich, a 6'4 junior has really emerged this season with the departure of Jacobsen, and the team does an excellent job of freeing up Lottich with a constant supply of picks and screens out of the half-court offense.

Another player who was billed as a shooter coming out of high school, but has turned into an extremely versatile and well-rounded talent is Josh Childress, a 6'8 sophomore and former McDonald's All-American. While Childress can stroke the ball from range and makes up the third primary outside shooting threat on the team, he's also an excellent rebounder and defender out of the small forward position. Childress uses his length and intelligence to frustrate and confound opponents, many of whom are among the league's players. His importance to the success of the team cannot be understated.

Stanford combines 6'9 junior Justin Davis, and 6'10 sophomore Rob Little with Childress in the frontcourt to make up the best rebounding trio on the glass in the Pac-10. The three players combine for over 20 rebounds per game, about half of the team's total.

Davis is a talented and athletic player who is just now rounding back into strong form after a partially torn MCL sidelined him for almost a month of in the heart of conference play. Strong in all components of play Barnes is a dangerous match-up for ASU's frontcourt, particularly when paired with Little, a huge man who stays within his comfort area-the paint.

This duo forms a very strong insider presence that will be tough for a player like Tommy Smith to defend against without getting into foul trouble. Shaun Redhage has been very effective at times defensively in the post, but Davis presents problems with his explosive abilities in the post. This might be a game where Chris Osborne could see limited playing time for ASU, if he's up to the challenge defensively.

Off the bench the team has increasingly turned to freshman Matt Haryasz, a thin 6'10 player with nice developing post moves and a natural ability to run the floor well. Haryasz's increased time has meant a little less court run for 6'9 junior Joe Kirchofer, but against a team like ASU and more accurately a player like Ike Diogu, Stanford may be forced to use both players quite a bit, especially if the starters meet with foul trouble.

Two other role-players that are relied heavily upon by Montomery off the bench are 6'6 sophomore Nick Robinson and 6'6 freshman Dan Grunfeld. Robinson is a jack-of-all-trades sort of player who is capable of playing as many as three positions on the court. Grunfeld has established himself as the primary long range shooting specialist off the bench.

Stanford is the league leading team in scoring defense, and that's part of the reason the team plays in so many close games; the scoring is often so low, and the pace so deliberate that big scoring runs are almost unheard of. The team plays a ball control, possession type of ball game that favors their shooting and defense. The Cardinal isn't a team that will beat you athletically, and that may actually turn into a good match-up for ASU.

The Devils are a better team when playing at a controlled place. While ASU is a team that can create turnovers and get easy scoring looks, this isn't a team that does a particularly great job on the fast break and worse still the Devils have a tendency to get beat in transition more often than not in this environment. The Sun Devils even give up big scoring runs against good transition teams, as evidenced by both games on the road in Los Angeles and the Arizona game last week..

This is a game that will largely be decided on the glass. As mentioned, Stanford is one of the best rebounding teams in the Pac-10. The Devils did a poor job in this area against the Wildcats on Saturday, as all three frontcourt starters had double-doubles for Arizona. It will be particularly important for Donnell Knight and Tommy Smith to do a good job of boxing out Childress and Davis on the defensive end and prevent Stanford from second chance opportunities.

Stanford is a team that runs an offense extremely well and the team is going to get a lot of open looks at the basket. If the team is hot, it will be difficult to win in one of tougher places to play in the conference. If the Devils give up second and third chance opportunities, it will be near-impossible.

On the offensive end, ASU is likely to see a similarly oriented zone defense as the open used by Arizona, in an effort to contain Diogu. The Sun Devils, as Rob Evans has alluded to, must do a much better job of creating soft spots in the zone and taking advantage. It's important for the team to get middle penetration and look for the mid-range jumpshots as opposed to settling into a three point shooting mentality. ASU has the best field goal percentage in the Pac-10 and among the worst from beyond the three point stripe. There needs to be a premium set on quality shots.

In the end it may come down to players like Curtis Millage, Kyle Dodd, Jamal Hill and even Jason Braxton creating better looks for themselves and their teammates and knocking down the high percentage shots. If the team can get a respectable amount of open, high-percentage looks and convert as well as limit Stanford's second and third chance opportunities, an upset in Maples Pavilion is certainly attainable.

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