NCAA Preview: San Diego

If you're sick yet of the mindless mumblings and rumblings that Stanford will have all they can handle with San Diego's Jason Keep Thursday, then read on for an in-depth preview that gives you the real skinny on what the Toreros can and can't do. They are much more than their hyped 6'10" 280-pounder, and in fact have serious shooting weapons...

Stanford vs. U. San Diego  (at Spokane, WA)  3/20/03
Estimated tip-off:  2:20 pm (PST)

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For the University of San Diego to grab the automatic bid out of the WCC might have surprised some people last week, but in truth this senior-led team has been knocking on the door all year.  They made headlines when they upset UCLA in overtime back in November, though it took the nation only a couple more weeks to realize that the Bruins were a paper lion.  Nevertheless, the Toreros were second in the conference only to Gonzaga, and when USD had the chance to host the post-season WCC tournament, they upset the Zags in an impressive 72-63 game.  Just one week earlier, San Diego had lost by three points to Gonzaga at home, and were walloped for their worst loss of the year in January at Gonzaga.  Those three games plus the UCLA game are the only matches against opponents common to Stanford, but I don't know that you can learn much from them.

The Toreros are coached by nine-year head man Brad Holland, who is a name you are hearing more and more on TV and in the papers because of his UCLA roots and the possibility that the could be a candidate for the now-vacant Bruin job.  Holland is a respected coach up and down the West Coast, and Mike Montgomery speaks well of him.  The announcers on TV and various media personalities will bill this game as Holland's "audition" for the UCLA job, but there is little logic to the belief that San Diego's coach will pull out something extra/special for this game.  He'll do what he knows how to do to best win the game, period.  It's insulting to Holland to insinuate that he will do more as a coach in this game just because UCLA is looking for a coach.  So put an end to that gibberish.

Overall this is a very athletically unspectacular team who is well coached and plays smart.  Sounds kinda like the stereotypical characterization of Stanford in recent years, ironically.  They have their greatest scoring production from their starting frontcourt, and their best reserve scorer is a 6'10" skilled post player to boot.  But if you build a gameplan around stopping the big guys, you will get torched from the perimeter.  San Diego is a very good shooting team, hitting 38.4% from three-point range and 47.6% from the field.  Both numbers are a few points better than Stanford has demonstrated this year.  One great weakness of the team, though, is their ability to take care of the ball.  They put up 16.9 assists per game, which is nice, but paltry in comparison to their 18.1 turnovers per game.  The Toreros have a reputation as a poor ballhandling team, and the stats bear that out.

Defensively, San Diego has rarely shown that they can shut down talented or athletic offenses, and overall are best described as average.  They give you about what you can get, rarely more and rarely less.  Look for primarily man-to-man defense, but they will also employ a 1-3-1 trap here and there.  Though not quick at any position, they are a solid defensive team because players know their assignments and stay focused.  

In the et cetera column, much is being made about this game being played in Spokane, which is WCC country.  The location bears eerie similarities in location and conference opponent to the Stanford loss in the second round of the 1999 Tournament to Gonzaga in Seattle, where the heavily partisan crowd took hold in the second half of the game.  Will the Zags' hometown rally behind their conference brethren Thursday afternoon, or will they turn against the team that denied them their rightful WCC Tournament championship?  Also note that Jason Keep is from nearby Moscow, Idaho, and Corey Belser is from Spanaway, Washington... 

The Starters

#14 PG Matt Delzell Sr. 6-2 180 8.0 ppg 3.5 apg 50.0% 3FG
#10 SG Roy Morris Sr 6-2 182 12.4 ppg 3.3 apg 41.3% 3FG
#32 SF Corey Belser So 6-6 208 4.2 ppg 4.5 rpg 41.5% FG
#34 PF Jason Blair Sr 6-7 230 16.8 ppg 7.4 rpg 40.2% 3FG
#43 C Jason Keep Sr 6-10 280 18.2 ppg 9.1 rpg 61.8% FG

Everyone talks about San Diego's frontcourt, but what can the backcourt do? Matt Delzell was playing out at the wing earlier in the year before Brad Holland moved him to point guard and made him team captain in January.  The move is similar to what UCLA did with Ray Young, in that Delzell is not a true point guard in any sense but the team has really responded with him at the helm.  San Diego has gone 12-3 since the move, and Delzell has steadied the Toreros' offense.  He is a very smart player with a very good outside shot.  Roy Morris is a similar player who can provide a second point guard on the floor alongside Delzell, though Morris is a more aggressive player with a stronger offensive mindset.  Morris will drive on his defender and score or dish in the paint, while Delzell is more one-dimensional.  Both have strong assist numbers but excel in a half-court game when they control the tempo.  Neither is very quick or athletic, which a key weakness Stanford likely wants to exploit.  Note the Delzell hit for 20 points last week in the WCC semifinals and has hit 11-of-17 treys over his last three games.

Corey Belser is the weakest offensive player in the starting lineup, taking an average of three or four shots per game and scoring in double figures just once all year.  He helps his team though on the defensive end and rebounding.  Yes, his three-point percentage is piss-poor at 27.6%, but he has only taken one trey about every other game for the last couple months.  Can his defensive reputation hold up against Josh Childress?

This team is all about the Jason's, with Blair and Keep averaging a combined 35 points and 16.5 rebounds per game.  They are perfect complements to each other, with Blair scoring from midrange and the perimeter while Keep pounds teams into submission down low.  Jason Keep is the player on every talking head's tongue this week, the supposed reason that the Toreros can topple #4 seeded Stanford on Thursday.  Hmm.  We heard that in spades last year as Chris Marcus and Western Kentucky were supposed to manhandle the Card, and that certainly didn't pan out.  Like Marcus, Keep has a big body and can do almost anything he wants down low, but like Marcus he has a hard time staying in games with his foul trouble and slack conditioning.  Pretty savvy player who operates within his athletic limitations (e.g. low vertical leaping ability), and will surprise you with a few of his back-to-the-basket moves.  Played a couple years at Oklahoma State before transferring, and while there made a lot of highlight reels when he broke a backboard dunking.   Jason Blair is the unsung talent on this team who nobody is talking about, but who the Stanford coaches are very focused.  He is likely the best all-around player on the team, with skills that let him score from all over the floor.  If defenses collapse on Keep, Blair is there to hit open shots outside the paint.  The two Jason's have combined for 16 double-doubles this year.

The Bench

#20 PG Mike McGrain So 6-3 210 1.9 ppg 2.7 apg 29.3% FG
#11 SG/SF Derek Stockalper Fr 6-4 205 2.7 ppg 1.4 rpg 31.8% 3FG
#1 PF Abdou Sane Jr 6-5 195 1.2 ppg 1.5 rpg 36.4% FG
#42 PF/C Nick Lewis Fr 6-10 235 8.6 ppg 3.7 rpg 47.1% FG

Overall, this is a very thin bench.  The backcourt is meager in its offensive threat potential, with McGrain and Stockalper averaging a combined 4.6 points per game.  Mike McGrain is a very good ballhandler with better quickness than either of the starting senior guards, but he seldom looks to score.  Almost a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, including a nearly 4:1 ratio over his last six games.  But he has also scored just two total field goals over that same stretch, and just three three-pointers all year.  If Stanford succeeds with defensive pressure against USD and forces a bunch of turnovers, look for Brad Holland to bring McGrain off the bench in a hurry.  Derek Stockalper is really the only shooter the Toreros can bring off the bench, but the freshman has very poor numbers from the field and three-point range.  But shooting from the perimeter is just about the only thing he knows how to do.  Scored a career high of 14 points this season when he hit 4-of-6 from deep against Pepperdine. 

Nick Lewis is easily the best player for the Toreros off the bench, playing an average of almost 19 minutes per game and ranking fourth on the team in scoring. I have suspicions as to whether he really weighs 235 pound, but regardless he certainly plays the high post game well.  Like a taller Blair, he is a skilled player with great shooting touch facing the basket.  Doesn't score that well with his back to the basket at this point in his young career, but he can drain shots when he pulls away from the paint.  Also long and can block shots.  Think Matt Haryasz with a little more meat and a lot more minutes.  In contrast, Abdou Sane is a very raw and sparingly used player.  He is a JC transfer from Buffalo, NY after growing up in his native Senegal.  Only plays 7.1 minutes per game, but he is a tremendous (though lean) athlete who can sporadically make surprising plays on the boards or blocking shots.  Hard to tell what you could get from Sane.

The Skinny

Mike Montgomery said just a couple hours after the seedings came out that he didn't want to commit his entire defense to stopping Jason Keep.  "I don't want to collapse our efforts on him and let somebody who averages eight [points] a game to go for 20 [points]," Montgomery stated.  Closer inspection of this team shows that they have the perimeter shooters that not only could hurt you in such a strategy, but probably should hit their shots.  Stanford will win or lose this game based on the success and tenacity of its man-to-man defense, and that holds true at every position.  Put ball pressure on USD's guards and deny them open looks, while Stanford's interior defenders play straight up against the Jason's.  I would expect that double teams on Keep could come, though in one of two fashions.  Either Josh Childress is asked to rotate down while he is allowed to mostly ignore Belser, or Stanford starts doubling Keep only after he really starts to hurt them.  Stanford's infamous 1-1-3 zone defense could make an appearance in this game if Keep is dominating and the Card have foul trouble, but I think this is a game Montgomery would like to play straight-up defensively.

If the players do what Montgomery tells them to do, I expect a very nasty defensive pressure that will try to force turnovers.  Probably even some experimental trapping, though Stanford has not demonstrated this year that they can pull that off.  USD's guards are not all that quick, so overplaying them shouldn't open up Stanford to much risk.  The hope would be to frustrate their shooting opportunities and make their inlet passes to the Jason's more difficult.

I'm not as fearful of Keep as the rest of the world is, and I think he'll get tired and make silly fouls when he bangs with Rob Little and Justin Davis for a few minutes.  I think Blair is the greater threat to go for a big game, and he will have a chance to do that if Davis gets in foul trouble.  Otherwise, he might find Stanford's starting power forward to be all he can handle.  Across the board, Stanford has answers to defend everybody and everything San Diego can throw at the Cardinal, and I don't see much defensively that the Toreros can do to really take Stanford out of their offensive game.  USD is a veteran and well-coached team and thus not likely to get blown out, but everything on paper says that Stanford wins a bunch of the matchups and should advance to the second round.  We smoke these guys, 78-65!

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