And 1: Butler 71, Stanford 66

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations (along with some awesome statistical ranting versus a certain ref) from Stanford's loss to the Butler Bulldogs late last week, 71-66, at Maples Pavilion.

Sometimes I hate journalism. Thursday night was one of those times.

Not that what I do for The Bootleg is hard-hitting investigative reporting, but I'm trying to make a conscious effort to be a little more than just a cheerleader.  No more "we"s and "our"s. That kind of stuff.

But against Butler this past Thursday, all I wanted to do was shed that pseudo-writer roll and enjoy the game as a fan, because it was one helluva game. And a heartbreaking one if you're a Cardinal fan (which, well, you probably are if you're reading this), as the reigning two-time NCAA runner-up Butler Bulldogs outlasted the Farm Boys 71-66.

I love knock ‘em down, grind ‘em out games; I was raised on Heat-Knicks.  While there was no brawl that resulted in Johnny Dawkins sprawled out on the court and holding on to Andrew Smith's leg for dear life, Thursday's game was played with a  physicality that we don't normally see Stanford partake in.

Mainly because they don't play Butler that often. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, they couldn't out-tough the Bulldogs.  That statement is not something to be concerned about, because quite frankly with Stephen A. Smith, there are very few teams who can hang with Butler in the toughness category.

It wasn't that Stanford didn't have a tough-minded effort going into and throughout the game - they did. But this was Butler, mid-major-bad Butler, and Stevens' group was just more alert for loose balls and missed shots that in the end did Stanford in.

Perhaps the best thing that really tough teams do is rebound. Thursday night, Butler outrebounded Stanford 34-29 and 11-7 on the offensive glass.  All things considered, I'm not all too displeased with that statistic, considering Stanford was being outrebounded 20-10 at the break and 7-2 on the "OREB" department halfway through.

However, on the two possessions that did the Cardinal in, Butler retrieved offensive rebounds on both of them. First, with the game at 59-55, Roosevelt Jones (man, I love this kid) snatched up a missed shot that didn't hit rim to eventually give Ronald Nored a supposedly-shot-clock beating heave-ho three.

PAUSE: I have been told that the replay shows that the ball was clearly in Nored's hands when the shot clock hit zero. I will say this much - that's a very tough call to make in the flow of play. I was mad, but I can't hold it against the zebras.

BUT! Guess whose call that was? Kevin Freakin' Brill. That's right, the SAME dude that cost the Cardinal a shot at the Pac-10 championship back in March 2008 with his phantom call on Lawrence Hill for supposedly getting body on Darren Collison on a very impressive block that would have put both the Cardinal and Bruins at 14-3 in conference play with one game left (I feel like Napoleon Dynamite's uncle every time I recall this incident).

And it was that man who correctly told Dawkins that his boys can't review that call.

Check this out- starting with the railroading that was Stanford-UCLA in March 2008 that rivaled the Montreal Screw job in the 1997 WWF Survivor Series, Stanford is 3-8 in games Kevin Brill has officiated. In other games during that time span, the Cardinal are 60-46. In other words, Stanford's winning percentage is more than two times greater (.566) in games not officiated by Kevin Brill than in games in which Brill is (.273).

COINCEDENCE?!?! CONSPIRACY?!?! (Almost certainly not, but it makes you think, or makes me think, at least. Is he a Freemason?! Illuminati?! Who knows?!)
Alright, back to the game.

Before I so rudely interrupted myself, the second killer offensive rebound didn't go down as an offensive rebound in the box score. But it was the heads-up pass off the glass from nearly half court to Andrew Smith for the layup as the shot clock expired in what was one of the smartest plays I've seen in, well, I don't know how long. But Smith's awareness to box Gage out and snatch the ball was a testament to the smarts and toughness of that Butler team. That play was just about the nail in the coffin.

Another key to the Butler victory was their dribble hand-off action around the perimeter, which caused some confusion for the Cardinal defense.  It would lead to a lot of odd switches, such as Owens out at the three point line guarding a perimeter and Chasson Randle pinned down low having to go up against Erik Fromm, who had four easy points near the end of the first half as a result of those switches.

Also, Butler got right against Stanford, like they did last year in Indianapolis. This team couldn't hit the backside of a barn against the Zags on Tuesday night, hitting just one of their last 13 three-point attempts. And they had some pretty good looks, too. Thursday night? The Bulldogs were six of nine from beyond the arc at one point in the second half. And yes, they had wide open looks thanks to their ability to get the Stanford D to collapse on dribble penetration, but they certainly were just feeling it as much as they had all season long.

On the Stanford side, Randle showed a lot of grit with his 16-point effort and muscled in a few big shots down low. So did Josh Owens, who played like a man possessed- how about that low-block spin move he had in the second half? Dwight Powell also had perhaps his most controlled and productive offensive night by dominating the low-post when he got the ball there. John Gage was bombin' from downtown…again.  Not enough, though. Not enough defense and not enough rebounding. With the way Butler has played this year, 66 points should be enough to beat the Bulldogs. Not the case on Thursday.

I really thought the Card could get to 11-1 in their non-conference slate this year; I spent about 2,000 words saying as much back in September.  They almost got there. And, up seven early in the second half with the basketball, it looked like they would.

But 10-2 ain't bad. In fact, it's tied for first in the Pac-12. And, considering who Oregon State has played, I'd say Stanford's 10-2 is much better.

There was a lot of frustrated chatter on the board after the game, but Stanford is still in very good shape. After all, it was Butler, and I don't care what their record says, they are still one of the toughest teams to beat in the country.  They just knocked off Purdue after facing a similar second half deficit on the road last weekend. Come March, you KNOW they will be in prime position to win yet another Horizon League title.

This loss can be a big positive. The Card are going to be stewing over this loss for a whole week and three days completely off the court before they even started preparing for UCLA.  Think they'll come out with an edge on Thursday? I'd hope so.

My non-conference goal for this team wasn't quite reached, but Stanford is in good position for an at-large bid.

Twelve and six is the next goal. Stanford achieves that- plus a win in the Pac-12 tourney - and they should be dancing for the first time since the Lopi were on the Farm.

Can't wait for a suddenly-streaking Bruins squad to come to town. Please, just no Kevin Brill.
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