And 1: Stanford 76, North Carolina A&T 59

Yes, the crowd at Maples Pavilion was a little sleepy and a admittedly a little sparse, but Johnny Dawkins' young and still developing Cardinal squad managed to come away with a decent win against a willing opponent in North Carolina A&T. Stanford hit the offensive glass hard while Josh Owens wore out the rim with a flurry of rousing dunks. Read on for insightful observations from our man "Kevo"!

And1: Stanford 76, North Carolina A&T 59

We're not there yet. Wednesday's 17-point victory over the MEAC's version of the Aggies showed that the Farm Boys are far from a finished product. 

But we're getting there. Stanford showed significant improvements against a team that is statistically better than the team they had previously faced in UC Riverside (the Pomeroy Ratings have UC Riverside 315th and NC A&T 307th; NC A&T's RPI is 134th and Riverside's is 161st).

The thing that stuck out the most to me was how well Stanford took care of the ball.  Only seven turnovers, and just one of them came in the second half.  Better yet, only two of the mistakes came from the backcourt.  And even though true freshman Aaron Bright committed both of those turnovers, he was very solid.  He hit a couple of threes, had some nice post entry passes (how about that bouncer down low to Zimmermann?) and even got a five-count defensively.  Jarrett Mann probably had his best game of the season as well.  Five assists and zero turnovers, plus solid defense and a 14-footer in traffic.  If he can make that mid-range jumper with a little more consistency, teams are going to have to start respecting that aspect of his game.  When that happens, Jarrett will have an easier time making post entry passes, and Josh Owens will be able to get a lot more touches in the paint.

It was also nice to see the Card score some points in an opening half.  The DePaul game aside, they've had a tough time scoring in the first 20 minutes - producing fewer than 20 points against both Murray State and Tulsa and just 21 against Riverside.  So putting up 40 in the first half was good for the Cardinal, even if it did come against a team that gives up 79 points per game on average.  Since the Card were turning the ball over with less frequency, they were able to get a lot more looks at the hoop and got more people involved.  It was great to see freshman "3" Dwight Powell get some looks early and Gabe Harris hit a three off the bench.  Andrew Zimmermann was able to finish nicely around the basket, and of course Josh Owens did his thing.

J.O. has proven to be a beast going left shoulder throughout the first eight games of the season.  Sure, you can say he's doing it against lower competition, but how much lower is this competition than the Pac-10?  When Oregon State "only" loses by five to Montana on the road and I'm almost pleased with the Beavs' performance, when UCLA beats UC Davis by just seven at home, when Cal loses at home to a middling Conference USA team in Southern Mississippi and scores five points in the first half of a game?  You can't tell me the Pac-10 is a huge step up (maybe so from NC A&T and Riverside, but definitely not from Murray State, Tulsa, and Virginia. Yes, Stanford lost two of those games, but Josh was able to get anything he wanted against the Racers and Golden Hurricane).  Josh wasn't always going up against him offensively, but it's not like Thomas Coleman is a slouch, either.  The man put up 14 and 12 against Mississippi State and averages 15 and 11 for the season.  It would be great to see Josh develop an up-and-under move to complement the left shoulder jump hook (or even work on a lefty hook - if he can get that down, he'll be unstoppable) I know Coach Davey works on all sorts of post moves with his bigs, so hopefully that is the next step for Owens.

It wasn't all roses, though, and one of Stanford's biggest strengths so far this season became a weakness against a team that is pretty bad in this area: rebounding.  Stanford entered the game out-rebounding their opponents by nine on average, and A&T came into the game being out-rebounded by seven.  It wasn't that Stanford barely won the rebound battle by four; it was that A&T got 19 offensive rebounds! As they say on Monday Night Football, "C'mon, man!" 

As my broadcast partner, outstanding former Stanford WBB guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude pointed out, the Aggie guards did a good job of getting to the hoop and forcing the Cardinal bigs to help out on penetration.  This left the weak side open for easy put-backs and un-checked big men in the paint.  We won't beat Butler or Oklahoma State if we give up 19 offensive rebounds to either of those two teams.  I don't think we will give up that many because Coach Dawkins knows how to make adjustments from game to game. It's probably best for the Cardinal that they got this rebounding performance out of the way before the big road trip. 

I will say this, though, about our rebounding: we attacked the offensive glass with reckless abandon and it paid off.  Twenty-one offensive rebounds are huge, and we certainly made our presence felt in getting our own misses. Owens and Trotter were especially good in this department against the Aggies.

So
, the Cardinal managed to get it done against the Ags, and now the only true road trip of the pre-season is upon us.  Butler and Oklahoma State.  Hinkle Fieldhouse and Stillwater.  Butler may not be quite the team they were last year, but a win at Hinkle on national television would be huge. So would a split. The difference between 9-3 and 8-4 (assuming Stanford takes care of Yale and Seattle) in the pre-season might not look like much, but a two-game swing is huge when it comes down to potentially making a postseason tournament, securing a winning season, or better.  If Stanford had found a way to hold on against Kentucky last year, and taken the Oral Roberts and Oklahoma State games (which they very easily could have), they finish the season 17-15 instead of 14-18.  Doesn't the former record look so much better?

Here's to a safe flight Thursday and a successful road trip to Indianapolis and Stillwater. Let's make some noise, fellas!

About the Author: Kevin "Kevo" Danna spent his undergraduate years on the Farm as a manager for the Men's Basketball team, serving three years under Trent Johnson and one year under Johnny Dawkins.  During that time, he got to wash the clothes of future NBA players and taped hundreds of practices.  He graduated in 2009 and is currently a graduate student at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Once he finishes the program in June, he hopes never to have to live anywhere outside of the Bay Area ever again. 


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