1. It's not too early to crank up The Bootleg hype machine and declare Mike Montgomery the early leader for the national coach of the year awards. The Cardinal's undefeated record prior to the return to action of Josh Childress will make even the East Coast media stand up and take notice of the brilliant coaching job by Montgomery. With UConn and Duke loaded with ridiculous talent, it's hard to imagine either Jim Calhoun or Mike Krzyzewski becoming a sentimental favorite.
2. Chris Hernandez is posting mind-boggling numbers in some of the key statistical categories that measure a point guard's efficiency. Assist to Turnover Ratio: 3.2 to 1. 3 point shooting: 57.7%. Free throw shooting: 94.7%. Lest anyone think that Hernandez is racking up these numbers by being overly conservative and not looking for his own offense, Chris is averaging 10.6 points per game.
3. Hernandez and Matt Lottich have received a great deal of national attention, even from such notable Cardinalphobes as Dick Vitale, and that attention has been well-deserved. But it's high time that the Stanford frontcourt receive some accolades as well. Not only has the Stanford frontline (absent Josh Childress) shut down such vaunted frontcourts as those of Gonzaga and Kansas, but the also Cardinal have posted some remarkable numbers on the offensive end as well. Check out the field goal shooting percentages for Stanford's top frontcourt players: Justin Davis: 57.8, Rob Little: 56.6, Matt Haryasz: 54.5, Nick Robinson: 52.5, Josh Childress: 54.5, Joe Kirchofer: 62.1.
4. Stanford has been at its best thus far when it maintains a relatively quick tempo and runs controlled breaks. The Cardinal caused Gonzaga major headaches with its transition game, and even induced Washington State to engage in a faster paced game than the Cougars are used to. If there are any doubts about whether Stanford should continue to look for transition opportunities and generally to play at a reasonably quick tempo even when fastbreaks aren't available, those doubts should have been eliminated by the game against Washington. When the Huskies pulled to within four in the second half, Stanford pushed the tempo and quickly upped the lead to double figures. Justin Davis and Matt Haryasz each wreaked havoc by beating the defense down the floor and Stanford created some nice open looks on the perimeter as well, with Robinson knocking down a couple of critical jumpers.
5. During the preseason, Stanford fans were concerned about Rob Little's and Justin Davis' track records of getting into foul trouble. Props to both for their significant improvement in that area and for drawing a large number of fouls on their counterparts.
6. As Childress' minutes increase in the coming weeks, the coaching staff will face some difficult decisions with regard to the allocation of playing time and the roles of the Cardinal wing players. Robinson will eventually back up Childress at the three, but once Childress gets to the point where he can play 25-30 minutes per game, Pops will be free to back up one or more other positions. Against relatively small, quick lineups, Robinson could see some time at the power forward position. However, I would like to see him back up Lottich at the shooting guard position as well. Although he is not a great outside shooter, he has demonstrated that he can be an adequate scoring threat from the perimeter. Dan Grunfeld may be a slightly better shooter from deep (although he is currently in a mini-slump), but Robinson more than makes up for any shooting deficit with his defensive presence, ability to handle the ball and play in transition. I would look for both Grunfeld and Fred Washington to see minutes at the two, but Robinson can, and in my opinion should, be the primary backup at both wing spots. In tight games in which the bench is "shortened," Lottich, Childress and Robinson should get the lions share of the minutes at the two and three spots.
1. Stanford. The Cardinal would be a #1 seed if the season ended today.
2. Arizona. Arizona would be a #2 seed if the season ended today.
NCAA Tournament Bubble:
1. UCLA. The Bruins are on the verge of moving off the bubble list and onto
the list of tournament teams.
2. Oregon. No shame in losing to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, but lack of competitiveness raises even more questions about the Ducks and whether the Pac-10 can get a fourth team into the dance. The loss of Aaron Brooks is likely to doom the Ducks' chances of making the big dance, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now and leave them on the bubble.
3. Arizona State. Badly needs quality wins (in addition to 11 conference victories), and Arizona presented one of the few opportunities the Sun Devils will have. The Stanford game Thursday is huge for ASU; if it cannot pull off the upset, it will have to win at Maples or McKale to get a quality win. This could be ASU's last week on this list.
1. Kal. The Weenie Nation is wondering whether Leon Powe will stick around
another season to play for a team that currently faces an uphill battle to make
the NIT. It may be just a matter of time before kal fans put coach Ben Braun
under the microscope. The hype surrounding the freshman class has bought Braun
some temporary goodwill, but sooner or later kal fans will start asking the
difficult questions, such as why the Bears don't have more tournament
appearances and wins during Braun's tenure despite the fancy new gym and
virtually non-existent admissions standards.
2. USC. Might not be on this list much longer.
1. Washington. Still less than the sum of their parts, the Huskies have
serious talent and are more dangerous on a given night than several of the teams
2. Washington State. Marcus Moore's game is much improved, even if his scoring is down.
3. Oregon State.
This Week's Games
Stanford has swept both Arizona schools on the road each of the past three seasons. While it's tempting for fans to look ahead to Saturday's matchup against the Wildcats, Thursday's game looks like a potential ambush. The Sun Devils have played the Card tough in recent years and will be looking to avenge last season's narrow loss in Tempe. ASU is relying even more heavily on center Ike Diogu than it did last year, and Stanford's bigs will need to rise to the challenge. Stanford is likely to double Diogu liberally, and unless the Cardinal big men experience foul trouble, they should be able to keep him in check and force ASU's misfiring perimeter players to win beat them. A veteran squad like Stanford should know better than to look past the Thursday game, and Monty will undoubtedly drill it into the players' heads in practice that they will lose if they don't match ASU's intensity.
The game against Arizona presents a fascinating contrast in styles. Arizona is extremely small and quick, and relies on the ability of its players to create, preferably in the open court. The Cats are far less comfortable playing at a slower pace and lack any semblance of a post game outside of Channing Frye. Stanford, by contrast, is playing as much as ever from the inside out, and as the statistics cited above illustrate, Stanford's bigs have consistently done damage inside. Channing Frye can deal with one of Stanford's post players, but the Cardinal will have a mismatch available at the other post spot throughout much of the contest, as either 6'4" Hassan Adams or 6'6" Andre Igoudala frequently will be forced to defend that second post player. Little, Davis and Haryasz will have to exploit their size advantages if Stanford is to prevail. Another key will be Stanford's ability to keep Arizona's forwards off the offensive glass. Adams and Igoudala have been killing opponents on the offensive boards, and if Stanford plays a lot of zone defense as expected, the Card could give up more offensive rebounds than usual. In the end, I see the game turning on Arizona's ability to knock down perimeter shots. Stanford's interior players (possibly aided by the zone defense) should be able to prevent Arizona from slashing to the hoop and converting on lob passes with their accustomed frequency. Arizona is likely to get plenty of open looks from deep, however. The Cats, and in particular Salim Stoudamire, have been extremely streaky thus far, so it's anybody's guess how they'll fare from behind the arc on Saturday.
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