Watching the UNLV game probably inspired many different feelings for Stanford fans. You were probably very nervous when the Cardinal unveiled a starting lineup without introducing the name of Chris Hernandez. You probably got scared thinking that he might be sitting out with a very serious injury. You probably were awe-struck by the impressive performance put forth by Justin Davis and slightly perturbed by Jason Haas' inability to hit the rim on half of his shots. But the most reassuring feeling had to come from the inspired play of each and every Stanford player to step onto the floor. Stanford has dealt with injuries to top players this season, and their ability to fight through and get big performances from every player on the roster has been a huge boost for the Cardinal. Against UNLV, Stanford knew that without Josh Childress or Chris Hernandez someone would need to step up, and the result was that the whole roster answered the bell.
First, lets start with Chris Hernandezs direct replacement, Jason Haas. Haas struggled to hit his shots and went 1-for-5 from the field including a couple of ugly airballs. However, he was a rock of stability against pesky full-court pressure and had only two turnovers in 33 minutes of action. Haas also did a good job of initiating the offense and had five assists. There were a few times were he was pestered into making bad decisions, but overall, he was very solid running the point. Jason got some valuable experience against UNLV and this will pay huge dividends later on during the season - it is not unlikely that Chris Hernandez will miss a few more games with these back problems. It is nice for Coach Montgomery to know that when Chris gets hurt he can turn to Jason for some steady point guard play.
Nick Robinson is another player who has had to step up because of injuries on the roster. He has been very impressive in the early season as Josh Childress' replacement, and with the injury to Hernandez, Robinson got some very valuable experience as the backup point guard. When the team is fully healthy, the redshirt junior will be the type of player that Montgomery can pull off the bench with confidence. His line against UNLV (7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block) shows his ability to fill up the entire box score. He also has emerged as a good on-the-ball defender and made several nice defensive plays against UNLV. Robinson will also factor into the point guard situation and will be able to serve as a backup when Hernandez is forced to miss games, and will also allow Stanford to play with a big lineup. It is great to see Robinson playing well because he is a very versatile player and will provide a lot of options off the bench as the season goes along.
When Childress comes back from his injury and pushes Nick Robinson to the bench, there will be limited minutes for other swing players like Dan Grunfeld and Fred Washington. However, the few bench minutes that are not gobbled up by Haas and Robinson will be in very capable hands. Grunfeld has struggled with his shot early this season, but he is one of the smartest players on the team and still remains a deadeye shooter. He finds ways to score the ball and provides a competent backup to Matt Lottich. The wildcard off the bench at the swing positions is Fred Washington. Washington had his best game of the young season with six points and four rebounds, including three on the offensive end. More impressive was that this was done in only 10 minutes of play. Fred has the most upside of any player on the roster. He is still raw, but he has athletic ability that has rarely been seen on the Stanford Cardinal roster. If he is able to harness his excitement and athleticism he could be a huge contributor for Stanford down the stretch. If he is able to play consistently, he will give Coach Montgomery real problems in finding minutes for everyone when Childress is healthy.
Depth is also the hallmark of the frontcourt. All four players that man the "4" and "5" positions have had big games for the Cardinal this season. Justin Davis had his best game of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds against UNLV. Rob Little has had a few big games this early season and is usually a fairly consistent performer. Matt Haryasz continues to impress and delivered another fine game with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting and three rebounds against UNLV. Haryasz has been very efficient around the basket this season scoring on a variety of runners, scoops, lay-ups, and dunks. However, his most impressive shot against UNLV was a 17-footer from the wing. If Haryasz can consistently knock down the outside jumper, he becomes that much more dangerous. Joe Kirchofer is generally not a big scorer, but he is a banger who plays good defense and picks his spots on the offensive end. His performance against Kansas proved that he can produce when needed. Overall, this is a very good and very deep frontcourt. They excel in finishing plays around the basket and do a good job passing in the interior. The real benefit of having four competent big men is that not all of them have to produce all the time. If Stanford can get decent games from two of these four big men each time out they will have a great season and advance deep into the NCAA tournament. It is important that Little and Davis have quality backups because foul trouble is generally a problem with the two starters, and Davis has been known to have off games. Only needing quality outings from two of these four each time out gives Stanford some wiggle room and allows for the inconsistency that sometimes mars these Stanford big men.
When Josh Childress returns from injury Stanford will have the deepest roster in the Pac-10. The Cardinal go two deep at every position, and that does not count Fred Washington. So what does all of this depth actually mean? It means that when Stanford gets into foul trouble during the season they will have guys that they can turn to and know exactly what to expect off the bench. It also means that Stanford can handle injuries to key players on a short-term basis. Losing Chris Hernandez, Matt Lottich, or Justin Davis for a couple of games is not such a big deal when everyone one through 11 on the roster is capable of contributing. Depth will also allow Stanford to take advantage of pushing tempo and wearing down teams with little to no depth like Arizona. No team in the Pac-10 can match Stanford in frontcourt depth, and few teams have the experience that Stanford brings to the table. Having a formidable bench will be the last piece that Stanford needs to be a true title contender. It is true that teams have been successful playing with only five or six men in the past, but such a roster leaves no room for error. The early season performances by Stanford players have proven that any player on this roster can step up and play if the situation requires it. If Stanford is able to advance deep into the tournament this season, players, coaches, and fans alike will point to these first few months of the season when Stanford was forced to play more unproven players as the main reason why Stanford was so successful late in the season.
Okay everyone, here is the debut of my weekly Top 20. A few things to know about these rankings. First, I REFUSE TO BE SWAYED BY THE MEDIA POLLS AND TEAM REPUTATIONS. That means that Duke and UConn will not be at the top of my rankings simply because the national media loves them. I base my rankings on who a team has played and who they have beaten. You get big points for quality wins and lose points for losing to bad teams. Overall records are important to me, but not as much as who those numbers were compiled against. Wins over teams like Wofford, Penn, and Army mean nothing to me. If you beat a bunch of cupcakes you will not be rewarded in my rankings. I also will rarely rank a loser higher than the team that beat them if the two teams have similar records. Okay, with all that said, have a field day ripping the rankings apart.
1 - Georgia Tech (8-0) - Win over Uconn highlights a very impressive early season run and Preseason NIT championship.
2 - Stanford (5-0) - Victory over Kansas on neutral court, a good win over a tough UNLV squad, and the ability to deal with key injuries - especially to best player Josh Childress - earns such a high ranking for the under-appreciated Card.
3 - Arizona (4-1) - Huge week with wins over ranked teams Texas and Marquette. Only blemish this season was home loss to Florida by one point, but the teams ahead of them have had big wins and have stayed undefeated.
5 - Purdue (7-1) - Excellent performance in the early season, two-point loss to Oklahoma cant offset the huge win over Duke.
6 - Kentucky (5-0) - Impressive win over Michigan State with 80,000 hostile fans rooting against them. However, no quality wins puts them behind other undefeated teams like Stanford, Oklahoma, and Georgia Tech, and behind Arizona who has two quality wins.
7 - St. Joseph's (7-0) - Nice record in the early season, but Gonzaga is the only quality win. Still, this is a very good team.
8 - Gonzaga (7-1) - Big victories over Missouri, Maryland, and Georgia. Would be ranked higher, but at this point I refuse to leapfrog them over the St. Joes team that beat them.
10 - Kansas (5-1) - Had a nice bounce back week after loss to Stanford. However, the home win over Michigan St looks a little less impressive now that the Spartans have plummeted to 3-4, and thus, the Jayhawks lack a quality win.
11 - Duke (6-1) - Didnt look sharp early this season, but have played well since loss to Purdue. Still, the combined records of the teams they have beaten is 18-23, and they have no marquee win in the early season (again, Michigan State at home doesnt count as quality at this point).
13 - Louisville (4-1) - Defeated #1 Florida enough said. Tough early loss to Iowa is only blemish.
14 - Connecticut (7-1) - have played one ranked team and lost by 16. Rest of schedule reads like a true cupcake feast with Nevada, Yale, Sacred Heart, Lehigh, and Army all traveling to Connecticut. I refuse to over-rank them like the polls do until they beat someone good.
15 - Florida (5-2) - Tough week with losses to Maryland and Louisville. They do have the big road win at Arizona though.
16 - Texas (5-1) - Only early season test ended in a loss to Arizona. Wins over Wofford, Brown, Sam Houston St, Centenary, and New Orleans dont prove anything.
17 - Missouri (3-1) - Tough loss to Gonzaga this week, and no big wins in the early season
19 - Wisconsin (6-1) - Physical Badgers team always finds ways to win games. Probably should have beaten Maryland in what turned out to be a very close game.
20 - Cincinnati (4-0) - Havent really played anyone, but also havent won by less than 19 points.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!