2002-03 Pac-10 Preview #6 - Stanford Cardinal

<p class=txt>What a difference two years can make! Like many other national programs, Stanford has finally succumbed to the early loss of marquee players into the NBA. It can be a devastating blow the 1st year that it happens…and that showed last year when the Collins twins both departed. This year, its happened again…with Casey Jacobsen & Curtis Borchardt both being selected in the 1st Round of the 2002 NBA Draft after their respective Junior years.

Mike Montgomery had perhaps one of his toughest years in Palo Alto in 2001-02, based upon the winning traditions and percentages he's put up before...though most teams would love any year that goes 20-10 with a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Overall, the Cardinal lacked the spark and energy that it had throughout the past 4 seasons, years that saw #1 National Rankings plus a Final Four berth. The Cardinal had shared or won 4 consecutive Pac-10 Titles as well, before Oregon took the crown a year ago. Now, with the loss of two of the Stanford Programs biggest guns, where do the Cardinal go? 

I think everyone around the Stanford program knew that the Cardinal were about to endure some tough times last year. In fact, one of the things Coach Montgomery said in the pre-season rang very true through the course of the year, saying; "If you've been to our practices, you'd consider us an underdog. The good news to me is that being picked second in the Pac-10 is out of respect for our program. This year, Casey will get a lot of attention. Casey certainly will have a lot of attention defensively." Defense's certainly keyed down on Jacobsen, and that was one of the big keys in stopping the outside strengths of the Cardinal. The loss of the Collins' twins was massive too, as opponents could finally rebound with Stanford. In the end though, the Cardinal made my prediction…finishing 10 games over .500…and making the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament. I felt all along they were still one of the top 25 teams in the Nation, and they accomplished that for the most part finishing in the final 32. 

So lets take a quick look at how the 2002-03 Stanford Cardinal Line-Up;

Projected Starting Lineup: (Returning starters in Bold
PG-Chris Hernandez, 6'2, 190 So. (3.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.5 apg) 
SG-Julius Barnes, 6'1, 180 Sr. (10.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.9 apg) 
SF-Josh Childress, 6'8, 200 So. (7.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.8 apg) 
PF-Justin Davis, 6'8, 230 Jr. (4.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.9 apg) 
C- Robert Little, 6'10, 265 So. (2.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.2 apg) 

Key Returning Reserves: 
Matt Lottich, 6'4, 190 Jr. SG (2.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.5 apg) 
Teyo Johnson, 6'7, 240 Jr. PF (5.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.9 apg) 
Joe Kirchofer, 6'9, 245 Jr. C/PF (2.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 0.4 apg) 
Nick Robinson, 6'6, 200 So. SG/SF (1.7 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0.4 apg) 

Recruiting Class: 
Jason Haas, 6'2, 175 Fr. PG (Penns Valley HS, Centre Hall, PA) 
Dan Grunfeld, 6'6 200 Fr. SG/SF (Nicolet HS, Glendale WI) 
Matt Haryasz, 6'10 210 Fr. PF/C (Page HS, Page, AZ)

The Cardinal have been to eight straight NCAA Tournaments, and there's no doubt in my mind that they will be tested this year mightily. The high scorer in 26 of their 30 games last year was either Borchardt or Jacobsen, and that's a very defining statistic. How are you going to replace that? The backcourt and wing positions should be manned by Point Guard Chris Hernandez, Shooting Guard Julius Barnes, and Small Forward Josh Childress. Hernandez was a very inconsistent performer at the beginning of last year, but made huge strides in my opinion as the season wore on. I believe he adjusted to the speed of the college game, and I think he'll be one of the biggest improvements from last year. Behind Hernandez will be Frosh Jason Haas, a do-it-all type who should be an excellent back-up to Hernandez. Additionally, Barnes can man the point too…however, he'll primarily be the two guard this year with his explosiveness. Julius is a scorer, and its really that simple. He has been known to take a wild shot or two, but he is aggressive and he has impeccable jumping ability. Josh Childress, a member of the 2001-02 Pac-10 Freshman Team, was as inconsistent as Hernandez last year...but again, he made strides as the year wore on. He's supposedly bulked up some from last year too, but I believe the biggest improvement he should make is on his 3 point shooting (27% last year). Matt Lottich should again come off the bench to serve as the Stanford offensive spark, and he can play the two or three spot…as can newcomer Dan Grunfeld, the son of NBA GM Ernie Grunfeld. Nick Robinson will see some time there as well. 

In the frontcourt, Justin Davis will try to improve on his 4 pts & 4 rebs per game average. He's an aggressive, emotional type…with above average agility. I certainly think Justin is the best interior player the Cardinal have, and since that's the case…much of the Cardinal fortunes ride on his shoulders. He'll be the key to watch in my opinion. Also helping out in the paint will be Rob Little, a quality sized interior man who will also need to improve on his averages (2 pts & 2 rebs per game). Teyo Johnson will again be back, and he'll bring the best football body in the Pac-10 with him. Teyo's an enforcer, and should help out the Cardinal immensely as he's done the past two seasons. Frosh Matt Haryasz will also see some time, but not in front of Joe Kirchofer. 

I remember saying last year that the questions revolving around the Cardinal Basketball Program shouldn't be about Jacobsen, as everyone knew what he was going to do. The concern had to be about the other 4 players on the court - and the depth off the bench. This year, I believe Barnes will give the Cardinal 15 ppg…and Davis should be able to get close to 10 ppg. But the overall question remains the same, as what will Childress, Little, and Hernandez bring? What about the bench?

In past seasons, Stanford pretty much stuck it to a lot of programs in the Pac-10 conference…sometimes getting wins by more than 20-30 pts. Last year, the games were a lot closer. This year, will probably see even tighter games. I think Coach Montgomery was frustrated often last year as his team seemed to step forward, then step backward in the very next game. He'll need to be more patient with an even younger club this year. Coach Montgomery definitely has my respect though. You don't win 4 Pac-10 Championship's and not take notice of who's doing it. 

I think the Cardinal will be an NCAA Caliber team, especially if the Pac-10 again gets six teams in the Tournament. If the conference has a slot reduced, all I can say is buckle in…cause it'll be a war for Team #5. There could be a number of bubble type teams in the Pac-10 this year. The Cardinal finished in 6th place a year ago…and I think with the loss of Borchardt & Jacobsen, it might be tough to expect them to improve on that. <

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