The Bootleg Presents: Hoops RoundTable I

Men's Hoops Editor Ray Salloom brings together some amazing folks to discuss Stanford men's basketball! Check out our first try of 2011-12 at this concept, born out of the creative genius of our own Lars82, which will become a regular feature here at The Bootleg!

Welcome to the first ever Bootleg Hoops Roundtable where we gather folks who love, live, and breathe hoops...and then some. For our inaugural article, we have the following four folks joining us on our panel:

Drew Shiller - Former Stanford basketball player turned color commentator starting with the 2010-11 season. A multi-sport athlete, Drew came to Stanford via USF and contributed well for the Cardinal in his two seasons on the Farm.

John Platz - Former Stanford basketball player turned color commentator over 20 years ago now has the lead microphone in his hand, providing the play-by-play for all to hear. John certainly knows the game inside and out and knows more about the game than this editor ever will. John also is our sideline man for Stanford football.

"Roscoemaynard" - Former Stanford basketball player who has provided years and years of wisdom, witty remarks, and butt coil to The Bootleg through his time on the boards and through his weekly columns during the basketball season.

Poly81 - Former Stanford basketball player who has provided many years of his wisdom and witty remarks on The Bootleg

I posed five questions to the panel this week, ranging from their feelings coming out of the non-conference slate to what they think Stanford will do this week versus the Los Angeles school schools and beyond. Here's what they had to say:

(1) Stanford ends the non-conference season at 10-2 with their only losses versus Syracuse in the Pre-Season NIT Championship and at home to Butler.  What are your thoughts on how they played and progressed through the non-league slate?

Platz - Not surprised by a lot during the pre-conference portion of the schedule.  Defense is more important with this edition than maybe any other I've been associated with, in terms of competing successfully against the better teams.  Defense can be the differentiating factor for us.  Our defense can win a lot of Pac-12 games, and can keep us in NCAA Tournament games if we succeed in getting there.  But defense is the "necessary but not sufficient" condition in such games, need poise and ballhandling too.  We lacked the latter, at critical moments, in our two losses.

"roscoemaynard" - The team has played at a much improved level over last season. Much better offensively, both from a sense of purpose and from a shot selection perspective. Defensively we are good, flat good, but maybe we came back from the break not quite as focused. The play of Bright and Randle has been a revelation, both of them willing to take big shots or create for teammates.

"Poly81" - My disclaimer is that I haven't seen as many games as I'd hoped.  That said, it's tough not to be pleased with a 10-2 record.  I figured they would come out of the pre-season with an 8-4 record, so I'm optimistic.  Bright established himself as the point guard, and Randle shows signs of being the next dominant guard at Stanford.  Anthony Brown was a concern early on, but he seems to be back on track.  Owens has developed a much more consistent inside game.  He's initiating a little too much contact on his jump hook, but so far, so good (who knows how the Pac-12 refs will call it).  In my world, the last starter slot should go to Huestis, but in order to solidify it, he'll have to provide a more consistent all-around game.  Defense and rebounding - and scoring around the basket - are how he can make a positive impact.

Shiller - If you would have told Stanford fans before the season began that the team would be 10-2 heading into conference play, I think most everybody would have been extremely excited. However, losing to Butler was disappointing because of the timing of the loss - last game before the team broke for Christmas break, national TV, opportunity to be 11-1 and right on the cusp of top 25, etc. However, the non-conference slate was undoubtedly a success, and I'm very optimistic this team will have a great conference showing as well.

(2) Of those non-conference games, which game impressed you the most and which one really left you scratching your head?

Platz - Most impressive, Syracuse.  Head scratcher, Butler.   Orange has the veteran guards, 4s and 5s that are bigger and more athletic that virtually any other team, and in Joseph a great leader.  Unless they bump into UNC I'm not sure they lose in Tournament play.  And we were a conversion awor two away from putting them away.  Butler - see poise and ballhandling above.

"roscoemaynard" - No head scratchers for me. The two disappointments are Syracuse and Butler, games we should have won. The Butler game felt like one we lost early in the second half, we just came out flat to start the second half. I thought NC State and Okie State were nice wins.

"Poly81" - Syracuse and NC State showed that not only can Stanford match up with competitive, athletic teams, but that THEY are a competitive, athletic team.  The comebacks versus NC State should give them confidence as they enter the conference season.  The Butler game was somewhat of a head scratcher - it was a very winnable game, but defensive breakdowns at key junctures were disappointing.  I admit to not following the thought process of Coach Dawkins' substitutions, but in talking with some of the Stanford greats of the '70s, the consensus opinion was that it's likely due to the quest for finding a rotation that works.

Shiller - The win over North Carolina State was most impressive because of the fashion in which it was won. To come back from a double-digit deficit in the 2nd half is not easy and it showed that this team is both physically and mentally tough. The Butler loss was definitely the toughest to handle because although Butler is known for playing great defense, 17 turnovers (and it was really over 20 because I consider bad shots in traffic that are blocked to be turnovers) is too many against a team that doesn't necessarily play pressure defense. It was also strange to see Stanford get outrebounded by a smaller Bulldogs squad.

(3) Name the the top two/three things you'd like to see Stanford improve upon as they head into league play?

Platz -
(1) Poise with the ball, making good decisions with the pass, being able to get "your shot" with your own dribble.  (2) Perimeter defense, increasing overall defensive concentration, making it a 40-minute deal.  (3)  Free throw shooting - can always be improved, and against the upper half of the Pac-12 free throw shooting can mean a delta of 3-4 wins.

"roscoemaynard" - We need to get Dwight Powell, John Gage, and Josh Huestis more involved offensively. We need to consistently get Owens the ball. we need to push the fastbreak after some made baskets because we are pretty good offensively in the secondary phase of the break. That is where we can really spread the floor with Gage and locate Owens on the block.

"Poly81" - Besides free throw shooting?!  Defense and rebounding.  I find it hard to separate the two since a good defense leads to missed shots.  The big guys need to get more rebounds.  Admittedly, three point shots result in longer rebounds than in the good old days (ahem...), but better rebounding then leads to more fast break opportunities - which should be something this team does better.  I'd like to see Coach Dawkins shorten his bench, too.  After the starting lineup I mentioned before, I'd go with Gage then Powell off the bench for the big guys, and Harris - then Mann - at guard.  That said, if he continues to go with a 10 deep rotation, I wouldn't be averse to more full court pressure in order to take advantage of his bench (and fouls).

Shiller - I'd like to see Stanford improve on their assist/turnover ratio: 176 turnovers to 160 assists. Secondly, Stanford has steadily improved at the free throw line but they need to continue this trend, and not take any steps backward.

(4) Stanford opens up with UCLA and USC at home to start Pac-12 play.  How do you think the team matches up with each and what do you believe will happen versus the Tinseltown Twosome?

Platz - Given the Butler disappointment, I think Stanford will have a bit of "extra" focus against the Bruins.  Giving a high effort/energy performance is key for Stanford vs. UCLA.  USC is rebuilding and once again does not have a deep rotation - that factor, plus the unfamiliarity of Maples to the majority of USC's rotation guys, could weigh heavily toward Stanford's advantage in that game.

"roscoemaynard" - They both suck. We will kick their ass if we defend like we have been against similar level opponents.

"Poly81" - We match up well against USC and I'm not sure what to expect from UCLA.  On paper, UCLA should be much better than they are - Howland hasn't forgotten how to coach.  In fact, playing them now might work in Stanford's favor.  Nelson is/was a train wreck, so it's addition by subtraction for the Bruins.  Running against them should neutralize their size - and I don't think Smith can keep up.  Statistically, SC looks horrible, but they've played tough in some games (SDSU).  That said, a 42-36 loss to Cal Poly-SLO does raise some questions...(no offense to my Cal Poly friends).  While I wouldn't be excited with a split this weekend, I wouldn't be surprised (beat SC, lose to UCLA).

Shiller - Stanford should take care of business and beat both UCLA and USC at home. The Bruins are definitely playing better since Reeves Nelson was dismissed, but it's been against less than stellar competition (Penn, Eastern Washington, Davis, Irvine, Richmond). USC is bad - simple as that.

(5) Finally, what are your thoughts/expectations/feelings/predictions on how Stanford will do in Pac-12 play?

Platz -
The media poll had Stanford sixth.  Too low, imo.  The league is down - anyone want to hazard a POY at this point? - and that means a wider subgroup of teams could win this thing.  We're in that subgroup.

"roscoemaynard" - I feel like we could win the conference championship, particularly if Owens plays to the level he is capable of. 13-5 wouldn't surprise me at all. Probably 12-6 or 11-7. It is just that no one scares me any more and no one scoring at an elite level.

"Poly81" - I think the Cardinal has the potential to do well (anywhere from 1st to 5th in conference) but that happens only with improvement.  The conference isn't strong this year which might get them a win or two beyond current expectations.  If Coach Dawkins goes with my lineup (!), it will be a young team that makes mistakes early, but they could be a force as the conference tournament rolls around.

Shiller - There is no doubt that Stanford is a better team than they were last year, and definitely shouldn't finish 6th, where they were predicted to in the preseason media poll (I picked them 4th). Having said that, just because the Cardinal have raised expectations, people should not be thinking "Either we win the league or it's a disappointing year." I am going to be cautiously optimistic and say Stanford finishes in the top four, with a good shot of finishing in the top two and securing an NCAA Tournament birth. I know it's cliche, but this team's approach needs to be "one game at a time," and focus on getting to 1-0 and beating UCLA tonight.
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