Stanford Pac-12 Week 6 Hoops Preview
For a glossary on the advanced metrics used, click here.
The Stanford Cardinal
2014-15 W/L: 15-6 (6-3)
2014-15 Current Pomeroy Ranking: 29
Adjusted ORtg (Points Per 100 Possessions): 115.1 (2nd)
Adjusted DRtg: 106.4 (7)
Adjusted Pace: Possessions Per Game 66.1 (5)
Most frequent lineup used in last 5 games: M. Allen (So.), Randle (Sr.), Brown(Sr.), R. Allen (Jr.), Nastic (Sr.)
Stanford is 5-2 since it lost in double overtime to UCLA, a game in which the Cardinal hit a school record tying 15 three pointers. Interestingly enough, much more has changed since that first meeting than I'd have anticipated, from both sides. All of Stanford's numbers above have gone up, and not necessarily for the best. The offense, as we know, is working extremely well. Stanford's offensive rating is now the second best in the Pac-12, and it's up from 108 when it entered Pauley Pavilion. This is a team that can score, and that should be the case tomorrow night against UCLA, who brings a mediocre defense into Maples.
Unfortunately, the Cardinal's defensive numbers have swollen during this fortnight of offensive paroxysms, and it's the reason the Cardinal is playing .500 basketball for the past two weeks. As discussed in the Pac-12 Whiparound, Stanford is not defending the three point shot, and they are sending their opponents to the foul line at a preposterously high rate. Stanford's defensive FT Rate is 50.6%, the worst in the conference. Cleaning up these numbers is going to fall on the Cardinal guards, who almost certainly will be busy crashing down and double teaming UCLA's post players and then will have to recover under control to defend both the threes and the drives. Ball movement eviscerated Stanford in Pullman, especially passes to the corners, where Cardinal wing defenders helplessly tried to thwart three points shots from falling and drives to the paint from happening, most of the time with no success.
Stanford does get Reid Travis back, and even if he can only provide 15 minutes, that's going to fortify Stanford's frontcourt and hopefully allow for cleaner defensive possessions. Marcus Allen played only 18 minutes in that first game, and has since grown into a significant contributor for the Cardinal. It will be interesting to see how he plays against the Bruins this time around. UCLA goes with essentially a three-guard lineup most of the time, so once again, Anthony Brown at 6'6" is going to have a size advantage. In Westwood, that meant rising up and shooting threes. Hopefully, he and the coaches have a balanced and varied attack in store for the Bruins. Anthony needs to be utilized in the post, especially when Nastic is off the floor.
Stanford's pace has climbed steadily since it played the Bruins, and I'm not sure that's been a totally good thing. The offense has shown no ill effects to be sure. After getting three-happy in Los Angeles, Stanford has settled into a nice balance. Three pointers account for 33% of the team's shots and 32% of its points. That's good restraint from a team that shoots it better than anybody else in the league at 44%. The problem is the defensive slippage, which has not been helped by the quicker pace of play. Now let's look at the metamorphosis UCLA has undergone.
The UCLA Bruins
2014-15 W/L: 13-9 (5-4)
2014-15 Current Pomeroy Ranking: 55
Adjusted ORtg (Points Per 100 Possessions): 101.5 (7)
Adjusted DRtg: 102.6 (6)
Adjusted Pace: Possessions Per Game 63.6 (10)
Most frequent lineup used in last 5 games: PG Bryce Alford (So.), SG Norman Powell (Sr.), SF Isaac Hamilton (So.), PF Kevon Looney (Fr.), C Thomas Welsh (Sr.)
Pace is the biggest contrast between these two teams. When they first met, it was the Bruins playing at a high pace. Now, the Sons of Westwood have become a more deliberate team, emphasizing its strength in the paint with the recovering Tony Parker and Freshman 7-footer Thomas Welsh. Add match-up nightmare Kevon Looney to the mix, and you have a formula for improved play and giving Stanford headaches. UCLA is the best offensive rebounding team in the conference, and that's a problem for a Stanford team prone to fouling. If UCLA is able to pound the glass against Stanford, they are going to be able to get points at the foul line, which should allow it to keep up with the Cardinal. Pay close attention to free throws on Thursday. UCLA plays the cleanest defense in the conference, producing the lowest opponent FT Rate, while Stanford's D produces the highest.
One area of vulnerability that Stanford may exploit is the three-point game. UCLA is the worst team in the league at defending the three. They also are the worst 3-point shooting team in the league, getting only 24% of their points from beyond the arc. Furthermore, the Bruins do not typically earn points at the foul line. So we have a Bruin team that rarely fouls and rarely gets fouled, and a Stanford team that fouls everybody, everywhere. It's possible they just committed a foul walking to class. Seriously.
Another area of contrast is the turnover category. Stanford plays an exceptionally clean game, while UCLA's defense has the highest steal percentage in the conference, making it a top-third team in forcing turnovers. It's strength against strength here, and it's also going to be important. Strange that a team that forces as many turnovers doesn't play at a high pace, but that's been the situation for UCLA. They also have the most equitable possession allocation in the conference. They have four players who use 20-24% of the team's possessions and nobody above that tier. Stanford has two players in Randle and Nastic who use more than 26% of the Cardinal's possessions.
With all the contrasts in this game, it's difficult to predict who is going to seize the win. Ken Pomeroy projects this as an 8-point win for Stanford, but considering the match-up issues the Bruins pose, I think it's likely to be a much closer game. UCLA is going to come strong with the inside game, while Stanford's got a high-powered and balanced offense on its home floor. Whichever of these two mediocre defenses holds up best probably takes it, but it should be close either way.
The USC Trojans
2014-15 W/L: 9-12 (1-8)
2014-15 Current Pomeroy Ranking: 167
Adjusted ORtg (Points Per 100 Possessions): 92.2 (11)
Adjusted DRtg: 107.9 (9)
Adjusted Pace: Possessions Per Game 67.6 (2)
Most frequent lineup used in last 5 games: PG Jordan McLaughlin (Fr), SG Katin Reinhardt (So), SF Malik Marquetti (Fr), PF Darion Clark (So), C Nikola Javanovic (So)
There is no sense in bashing a program when it's down, and USC is down. Way, way down. Eastbound and Down. The best we can say about this squad is that they are very, very young. Their core is incredibly inexperienced and this conference is not the place for inexperience. Like many young teams, the Trojans are often in a big hurry (2nd fastest pace in the conference) but for no real discernible reasons. They have the second least efficient offense in the conference, and their shooting percentages from everywhere are terrible. I don't think this is necessarily an indictment of either their system or their talent. It takes cohesion and synchronicity to generate good shots at this level, and the Trojans just aren't experienced enough to do that over long stretches.
It's just as difficult, if not more so, to coordinate a good defense, and the Trojans don't excel there either. Compounding the fact that teams shoot a league best 53% eFG against the Trojans is that USC is also the worst rebounding team in the conference. So too many of their opponents' rare misses are ending up as second chance opportunities.
However, they were certainly good enough to take Stanford to the wire on January 11. One aspect of the team that will challenge the Cardinal is size. The Trojans go 6'6" on the wings with Marquetti and Reinhardt, so Chasson and Anthony will have to rely on quickness and screens to get clean looks on their jump shots. The 6'11" Javonovic is certainly sturdy enough to fight The Nasty Man, so as always foul trouble will be a key.
In a game it never lead, USC still managed to push Stanford to the limit at Galen Center. Stanford had problems with dribble penetration against USC, and that aspect of the Cardinal's defense has only gotten worse since. Stanford was also way too dependent on the three point shot, and an 0-12 second half form long range went a long way towards forcing Stanford to absorb a final Trojan possession that could have tied or won the game for USC had they been able to actually get a shot at the basket.
This is a Sunday night game,as was the first game between these two. Both teams will be rested. The bottom line is that Stanford is bringing way too much offensive firepower to the table against an inexperienced USC team. Lightning can always strike of course, and Stanford learned this past weekend what happens when you bring your best game only once in a Pac-12 week. For this reason alone, I think the Cardinal gets the job done Sunday night. The question is, will they be capping off a sweep or completing their third straight week of .500 ball?
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