Stanford hits the road to Arizona
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The Stanford Cardinal
2014-15 W/L: 18-10 (9-7)
2014-15 Current Pomeroy Ranking: 39
Adjusted ORtg (Points Per 100 Possessions): 109.2 (4)
Adjusted DRtg: 102.5 (5)
Adjusted Pace: Possessions Per Game: 66.2 (5)
Most frequent lineup used in last 5 games: M. Allen (So.), Randle (Sr.), Brown(Sr.), Hunphrey (Fr.), Nastic (Sr.)
The Arizona State Sun Devils
2014-15 W/L: 15-14 (7-9)
2014-15 Current Pomeroy Ranking: 63
Adjusted ORtg (Points Per 100 Possessions): 100.3 (8)
Adjusted DRtg: 104.9 (8)
Adjusted Pace: Possessions Per Game: 65.4 (9)
Most frequent lineup used in last 5 games: PG Tra Holder (Fr.), SG Gerry Blakes (Jr.), SF Savon Goodman (So.), PF Shaq McKissic (Sr.), C Eric Jacobsen (Jr.)
Stanford's desert gauntlet begins Thursday night at Wells Fargo Arena against Herb Sendek's Sun Devils. Arizona State has feasted as the "trap" game opponent at times this year, most recently by stealing a game from a UCLA team clearly focused on Tucson when they were on the court in Tempe. The Sun Devils have also vanquished Arizona on their home floor. Those truths in conjunction with Stanford's now binocular distance from the NCAA Tournament make it unlikely the Cardinal suffers any kind of mental letdown against Arizona State, so let's look at the basketball component.
One thing that's been constant for the Sun Devils all year long is an offense that struggles to score consistently. Their past weekend in the Rockies is a perfect example. ASU was held to a mere 41 points against Utah, then rebounded for 81 in a loss against Colorado. Now, Utah is an excellent defensive team, one who just held Arizona to 63 points, but 41 is preposterous. What happened in Salt Lake City? The Sun Devils just couldn't find the bucket from anywhere. They shot 19% on 3-16 shooting from beyond the arc, and things weren't really much better inside the arc either. ASU made only 11-34 of its two-point shots, good for 32.4%. They rebounded in Boulder, shooting 40% from 3 and 53% from inside the three-point line, but what really boosted their ORtg to a robust 114.1 was a free throw parade. The Sun Devils had a free throw rate of 50%, and earned 25 points on 39 attempts from the line. Considering that the Buffs themselves had a 51% FT rate, it seems likely the numbers of that game were impacted more by the officials than the teams themselves.
Arizona State's offensive profile is pretty much what it was when they played Stanford at Maples. This is a team heavily reliant on the three point shot. In Pac-12 play, the Sun Devils get 30% of their points from the three and 38% of their field goal attempts are three-pointers. Those are both the second highest percentages in the conference. Unfortunately, they only make 33% of those shots, which is 8th in the conference. One problem is that the guy who takes the most three pointers, Junior guard Gerry Blakes, is awful from that distance. Blakes is shooting 29% on the season, even though there are more reliable options in Bo Barnes (37%) and Shaq McKissic (35%). Now some of Blakes' diffuculties may be that because he has the ball so often at the end of the shot clock and is forced to take some bail out shots, but the reality is that he's just not a very efficient offensive player. His 93.4 ORtg supports that, and that's a huge problem when the player in question is taking a whopping 31% of his team's shots while on the floor.
The other aspect of ASU's offensive struggles is its proclivity for turning the ball over. The Sun Devils give it up on 21% of their possessions, the highest rate in the conference. They also eat the most leather in the league, getting 14.7% of their shots blocked. So we have a team that struggles to hold onto the ball, and when they do are very likely to take threes, which they don't make very often. That's pretty much a recipe for struggle.
Defensively, Arizona State has problems. They allow opponents to shoot 53.5% on eFG, and it's not like they struggle to cover any particular area of the court. Teams shoot 39% from three against ASU, which is the highest mark in the conference, and they shoot 52% on two-point shots. In the first meeting, Stanford wisely limited its three point attempts and brutalized the Sun Devils inside. Nastic, Brown, and Randle were a combined 16-27 on two point shots, and they only took 7 threes, making five of them. Arizona State was able to make enough first half threes to stay in the game. After making 8-14 3PA in the first 20 minutes, however, the well ran dry in the second half. ASU went 0-7 in the final 20 as Stanford ran away from the Sun Devils on its way to an 89-70 triumph.
The Stanford who played Arizona State on January 24 would probably have little problem handling the Sun Devils even with the venue shift. However, the fact that ASU takes so many threes is a problem, because the teams that have victimized the Stanford defense since then have been ones who stretch and scramble the defense and produce corner threes. Overall, Stanford is essentially in the middle of the league in 3-point defense, but a team like ASU can get hot and exploit mediocre defenses. Add to that Stanford's inability to force turnovers (16% TO Rate-10th) and it seems clear that Stanford's going to have to win this game on offense.
That wouldn't be so bad except that Stanford is being led by two tired Seniors in Brown and Randle whose shooting slumped massively in February, and didn't exactly rebound in its March debut. ASU is not a great team, but the truth is neither is Stanford. This should in all likelyhood be a close game, and one can only hope that Stanford's desperation is enough to make the difference.
The Arizona Wildcats
2014-15 W/L: 26-3 (14-2)
2014-15 Current Pomeroy Ranking: 3
Adjusted ORtg (Points Per 100 Possessions): 113.5 (2)
Adjusted DRtg: 87 (1)
Adjusted Pace: Possessions Per Game: 65.5 (8)
Most frequent lineup used in last 5 games: T.J. McConnell (Sr.), Stanley Johnson (Fr.), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (So.), Brandon Ashley (Jr.), Kaleb Tarczewski (Jr.)
There really isn't any point in going over all the appropriate superlatives to describe this team. They are the class of the conference. They do everything well. They do not depend on any one player or any one facet of that player's game. The triumph in Salt Lake proved that conclusively. Arizona's best player, Stanley Johnson, went 3-19 from the field, but led the charge on the offensive glass, securing eight offensive rebounds in muscling the Kitties past the Utes. Their Pac-12 best defense is also rated third nationally. They have size and depth, and they haven't dropped a home game all season long.
So where will Stanford be when it heads into McKale Center? If they are able to win against Arizona State, than they will quite simply be playing for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. If UCLA beats USC tonight (Wed.), the Cardinal can not earn a bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. Of course, if they sweep the desert, they won't need to do any more than win its opening round game to secure a bid. That's of course pie-in-the-sky thinking, but what's the alternative? The most likely scenario is that Cardinal gets a split, and then must advance to at least the conference semis (more likely the finals) to get invited onto the blue carpet. Should that reality come to pass, there will plenty of time for hand wringing. But let's talk about Saturday afternoon.
Stanford, on paper, has the offensive balance to make the Arizona defense work. Nastic provides a legit post presence, and the team's three-point shooting still needs to be respected despite Chasson's drastic recent slump. The story of the initial meeting really was the pick and roll. Arizona's bigs blitzed Stanford's ball handler, leading to turnovers, confusion, and ineffectiveness. Coach O'Toole talked about possibly popping a player up to the opposite elbow to counter the blitz, but it remains to be seen whether they implement that tactic in the rematch. The Dorian Pickens three-point attempt to end the first half against the Wildcats was also a "special" designed to take advantage of Arizona's aggressiveness via the skip pass. Stanford's going to need an answer for this one way or the other on Saturday.
Guarding the Wildcat pick and roll was an even bigger challenge for the Cardinal. Rotation confusion led to third players (neither the ballhandler nor the screener) leaking open for high percentage shots, and T.J. McConnell rarely misses wide open teammates. There is no one answer to dealing with Arizona's attack, but the mobility that Humphrey and Reid Travis offer is going to have to play a role if Stanford is going to hold the Wildcats to a score it can eclipse. Humphrey only played 12 minutes in the first game, and Travis didn't play at all. There's no way the addition of these two in their current forms (Humphrey has come miles since then) doesn't give the Cardinal some kind of boost. The only question is whether or not it's enough?
Ultimately, this game falls on Stanford's seniors. Chasson spoke explicitly about a Pac-12 title even after losing the first game to the Wildcats. Stanford isn't even going to crack 4th place in all likelihood. Michael Humphrey stated explicitly that making the tournament was an absolute expectation after beating Cal. Nobody has more to gain this weekend than the core Seniors of Chasson, Anthony, and Stefan. This season is the defining chapter in their legacy, and should that legacy be a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, they can can leave the Farm knowing they left the program on the rise and in a better state then when they arrived. Should they fall short, they become the seventh team in Coach Dawkins' eight seasons to fall short of CBS/TBS/TNT/TRuTV exposure. The task is formidable, but so is the reward.
What's it gonna be, Fellas?
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