Stanford in 100 words or fewer
Stanford frequently employs an aggressive 2-3 zone, which–of course–forces opponents to succeed from the perimeter. Excessive breakdowns translated to BYU's offensive dominance, with the Cougars shooting 53 percent and scoring 112 points in an up-tempo affair. Stanford's also horribly weak in transition, and Johnny Dawkins often appears like anything but a comfortable game manager.
They rely heavily on volume scorers, including Dwight Powell and Chasson Randle, who combined to average 28.5 points per game last season. Randle, Aaron Bright and John Gage all spread the floor as three-point threats. Josh Huestis acts as the do-it-all "glue guy."
How Northwestern can win
Take opportunities in transition
It's the most glaring weakness for Stanford. The Cardinal fall apart and communicate like eighth graders in transition. Despite some defensive prowess–notably from Huestis–they often put forth passionless effort on that end. NU's not a strong offensive team, but guys like Jershon Cobb can push the tempo at the right moment, especially off of turnovers.
Attack on interior
Regardless of the size disadvantage, NU can push the ball inside to Crawford and Olah — both capable of challenging the Stanford forwards. The Wildcats' best shot might involve luring Powell into committing two early fouls. Then, they can succeed without their opponent's best player. It works both ways, but NU needs a tactical approach and aggression to pull out the win.
Don't play to their game
Right, we all watched BYU put a signature beating on Stanford in Palo Alto. NU doesn't have that kind of maturity, experience or offensive firepower. Really, Stanford will rout NU if the game reaches the 80s range. The Wildcats' best chance lies in a measured offensive approach and solid outside shooting.
Get them to chuck
Force the Cardinal into high variable basketball. Let Bright chuck threes if it steers Stanford away from the post. The perimeter battle could very well define the outcome, and if you're the underdog, you happily allow that to happen. The Cats can't fall into that same trap, though, even against the 2-3.
Establish Taphorn early
I've said for weeks that Northwestern needs an impressive secondary scoring output in every game. Taphorn will have plenty of opportunities to shoot when he hits the floor. Time for the true freshman to be more aggressive and beat this makeshift Stanford defense.
How Northwestern can lose
Letting offense work through Powell
They have no one to match up with Powell, the 6-10 forward with advanced post moves and a relatively strong perimeter game. If Powell becomes the star of Thursday's game, bet on the score quickly spiraling out of control. It might require help defense and a collective effort to stop him.
Losing the Cobb-Randle matchup
Chasson Randle demonstrated his lofty potential by scoring a career-high 33 points against BYU on Monday. The junior can knock down free throws, cut through the lane and drop three-pointers. A former AAU teammate of Dave Sobolewski, he's part of an intriguing matchup with NU's star defender JerShon Cobb — one that the Wildcats need to win.
Foul trouble, of course
Stanford will rout the underdog Wildcats if anyone in purple falls victim to foul trouble. With only eight true players on the roster–and Kale Abrahamson stuck on the bench–NU needs fresh legs and smart defense to stay in the game. And if Crawford or Cobb leaves with two early fouls, they're already in serious trouble.
They certainly need double-digit threes to pull out the victory. Sobolewski, Cobb and even Lumpkin need to make multiple threes and stretch the Stanford zone. If the shots aren't falling, I'm doubting they'll be able to compensate on the inside, making this part of the game pretty imperative.
I'm predicting an early upset to open the Collins era. Drew Crawford scores 28 points and Collins outcoaches Dawkins. It'll be a clear upset but an attainable one. Cobb and Sobolewski show better chemistry in the backcourt, leading an offense to a strong overall effort.
Northwestern 70, Stanford 64
Nathan Taphorn (6-7, 190, Fr.)
Nikola Cerina (6-9, 235, RS-Sr.)
G Chasson Randle (6-2, 185, Jr.)
G Anthony Brown (6-6, 215, RS-Jr.)
F Josh Huestis (6-7, 230, Sr.)
F Dwight Powell (6-10, 240, Sr.)
C Stefan Nastic (6-11, 245, RS-Jr.)
John Gage (6-10, 225, Sr.)
Aaron Bright (5-11, 175, Sr.)