Etch's Sketch - 3/8

At the end of a bittersweet 26-1 regular season, Stanford fans are left in an interesting purgatory. We have much to reflect upon in the wake of the Washington road trip, but elimination formats in post-season play are also upon us. With another dose of depth and insight, Mike gives us a complete handicap of the Pac-10 Tournament, plus his new seedings for the top 16 teams in the NCAAs...


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Well, there's not much that hasn't been said about this past weekend. However, there are a few things to be taken from this weekend that I think are really important. First, this is not the Cardinal team you will see in the tournament. The Cardinal team you saw this weekend was one that was caught up with talk of perfection and was clearly afraid of losing. They played tight and missed shots that they usually make. They also looked physically and emotionally drained for much of the weekend. Stanford needs to get back to playing basketball like they did earlier in the season. Mostly, they need to hit the glass, take shots without fear, and play their aggressive style of defense. I honestly think that Stanford is capable of bouncing back from this loss and is capable of playing their brand of fearless basketball. This team, like any other, is at its best when they play to win rather than play to not lose.

Second, this was a good loss for the Card. I made the point that all of the close wins were just as good as losses and that Stanford was undoubtedly learning as they went along. I thought after the close game against WSU the Cardinal had learned their lesson, but I was clearly wrong. Before Thursday night, I had figured that the game against Washington would be a close hard-fought battle, but after seeing the game against WSU I changed my mind. I honestly felt that the Card would win by 15-20 points against UW after watching the close victory over WSU. The close victory, and the talk from Husky players about how they wanted Stanford to be undefeated so they could be the first to blemish their record should have enraged players on Stanford, but they seemed emotionless. Rather than coming out to crunch the Huskies early, they played passively and tried to not make mistakes. To my eyes, the team had forgotten the pain of losing and had convinced themselves that they could turn it on when ever they needed to. Because of that, Stanford clearly needed this loss. I really think this will focus them for the postseason. I had been against the argument that this team needed to lose before the postseason, but after watching them play on Saturday, I think this loss will serve them very well in the long run.

Third, Stanford needs Justin Davis. I think this was very clear all weekend. With Davis, Stanford has the deepest frontcourt in the nation. He brings a skill set to the team that no one else can match. He is the most aggressive player on the glass, he has a great array of low post moves and he is a consistent low post defender. Very few teams in the nation have a player who can deal with Justin Davis and with him the Cardinal starting lineup and bench become even better. Matt Haryasz is being groomed as the replacement to Davis, but after watching games the past few weeks I am convinced he is not ready to contribute as a go to player on a nightly basis. He is a very good player who has some great games, but the consistency and all around poise are not there every game. Once Davis comes back, this is a completely different Cardinal team.

Fourth, Stanford is not good enough to have bad performances from most of its players. Stanford is a very good team, one of the best in the nation, but very few teams can overcome what they tried to do on Saturday. Stanford played without their best low post player, had their best overall player pick up three fouls before the half, and had their best shooter go 1-11 from the field. Stanford got only eight points from the bench and had only two players (Rob Little and Chris Hernandez) shoot above 50% for the game. It is tough to win a game when only two of your players have good games. Josh Childress made some big shots to keep the Cardinal close, but he was really not a factor. Stanford can afford to have a few players have off nights (that is one of the benefits of having a deep team), but to struggle to the magnitude that they did on Saturday and expect to beat a game Huskies squad is not likely.

Lastly, Stanford really lost their composure at key times this weekend. They were lucky to escape Pullman and only got that victory because the Cougs were more rattled than Stanford. Matt Lottich shot an airball and hurried a runner, Hernandez had a couple of critical turnovers, and no one really seemed comfortable in any of the offensive sets late in the game. Plus, the rotation to cover three point shooters was awful. We only won because WSU made even more mistakes: missing free throws (especially one and ones), turning the ball over, and rushing shots. Stanford didn't get those breaks against the Huskies and won't from here on out. On Saturday the Card made many of the same mistakes: panicked shots when they were still in the game, no flow on offense, crucial turnovers, and absolutely atrocious defensive rotation late in the game. You got the feeling early that it was going to be an emotional afternoon. Players were upset and Montgomery was barking early and often. The team let the crowd and the refs get to them and never recovered. One of the strengths of this team is leadership and composure. My only response to that statement is that they better figure out what happened to it fast…

Stanford ran into a team playing for its life on Saturday and they were not prepared for the energy and emotion that their opponent brought to the table. The good news is that Stanford learned a lot from this loss. The bad news is that every game from here on out will be like the game on Saturday. Every team will be playing for its life, and if a team loses they go home for the year. Stanford needs to be prepared for this kind of intensity the rest of the way otherwise they will not return to San Antonio. However, the best news is that Stanford is coached by Mike Montgomery, is a veteran team that believes they should win every game, and certainly knows how to prepare to beat teams when they are the hunted. This should be a fun next month for Cardinal fans.


Pac-10 Tournament

Alright folks, the bracket is set, the NCAA tournament berth is ready to be awarded, so who is the odds on favorite to emerge from the three day slugfest in Los Angeles as the champion? Stanford was my overwhelming favorite before Saturday's loss to Washington. With an undefeated season on the line, there was no doubt in my mind that Mike Montgomery would go for the win in each game. However, now the tournament means much less to a team looking at a number one seed regardless of what occurs. I think the number one priority now for Montgomery is to get Justin Davis back in the flow of the game and rest his weary team. Montgomery probably could use two games to get his offense clicking with Davis, but don't expect him to tax his players in pursuit of the crown. Stanford looked very weary against Washington and missed many shots short and was simply out-hustled at times. Simply put, the last thing that this team needs is to play three games in three days. That doesn't mean Stanford is playing to lose, but Coach Montgomery won't be pushing his team to the max either.

So, here is my quick breakdown of each team in the tournament in order of how likely I think they are to win.

Washington

Why they could win: Lorenzo Romar knows first hand that nothing is a given with the selection committee. Just because several people have said that beating Stanford gets them into the tournament doesn't mean that is the case. Every team like Southern Illinois that loses their conference tournament and lets in a second team from a bad conference is killing the Huskies chances. Quite frankly, they are the best team in the tournament that has something to play for. They are athletic, have depth, and are well coached. Even if they face Stanford in the final, they are still the team that has more to play for and will probably do everything they can to win. I don't think they can beat Stanford when both teams have something equal to play for, but if they meet in the finals, UW clearly has more at stake.

Why they might not win: They are definitely on the tougher side of the draw for the early round games. UCLA has beaten them twice, USC can match their athleticism, and Arizona will be hungry for revenge after being swept this season. Plus, playing UCLA and USC is like playing road games in the tournament. Also, you have to wonder if Washington can have a letdown after the huge win over the Card. They better not, because in my mind, they probably still need two wins (maybe one if they lose very closely to Arizona) to make the tournament.

Outlook: I see the Huskies starting slow against UCLA, but having too much firepower in the long run for the sad-sack Bruins. I think they might catch a second round break and face USC if they can pull the upset victory over Arizona in the first round and cruise into the finals. Odds on tournament victory: 5-1.

Stanford

Why they could win: The Card are the best team in the conference hands down. Forget this past weekend. The team you saw was playing not to lose, not playing to win. It looks like the perfect season did get to the team and they appeared very fatigued and scared for much of the weekend. With all of this behind them, no one in the conference is better. No one is even close. The Card are the only team with a real inside game, they have the best depth, and are the best-coached team. Plus, USC is finally on the other side of the bracket.

Why they might not win: Again, is Mike Montgomery playing to win? My gut says no. I think he wants a few games to get Davis back in the flow, but I think that he now feels rest is most important for his team. Stanford could win the tournament, but they will have to do it with Childress, Lottich, and Hernandez all playing somewhere less than 30 minutes a game.

Outlook: I can't see the Card not making it to the final (their side of the bracket is pretty favorable), and the final will all depend on who they play and who needs the game more. Chances are the Cardinal's opponent will need it more and play with that in mind. Odds: 6-1.

USC

Why they could win: They are basically the home team in this tournament. Plus, they have a good history of playing the top teams in the conference well. A tournament win would most likely mean beating Arizona, Washington, and Stanford at home, and I feel that they could give all three of these a great game at Staples. They have the athleticism, they have a leader in Desmon Farmer, and they have experience in doing well in this event.

Why they won't win: They might be the worst coached team in the Conference. Coach Bibby has so much talent to work with and always finds a way to mess things up. Plus there is no consistent threat outside of Farmer to carry the team when he is not performing at high levels. Finally, they simply are not as good as the top teams in the conference and really don't enter the tournament with any momentum.

Outlook: While USC could defeat Arizona, Washington, and Stanford at Staples Center, I don't see any way that they beat all three. This is the type of team that is good for an upset or two, but can't really sustain momentum for any stretch of time. The bracket is just too stacked for a conference tittle. Still, this is a dangerous team. Odds: 10-1.

Arizona

Why they could win: They have the most highly regarded starting five in the conference. They have the talent to make a deep run, and for once appear to have the motivation as well. Usually by this time, Lute Olson has a protected seed wrapped up, but not this year. A conference title might be enough to raise the Wildcats up to the four seed that they so desire.

Why they won't win: They have no depth. It is tough to win three games in three nights playing only a few guys off the bench. Plus, while the Cats have the talent, they haven't parlayed it into results. Arizona is 1-5 against the teams they are most likely to face (USC, Washington, and Stanford). This is not your typical Lute Olson coached team. They play with lackluster effort on many occasions and have not played smart in crunch-time.

Outlook: Tough draw with the hometown Trojans in the first round. Arizona has the talent to beat anyone in the conference, but they are rather undisciplined and it will be tough with the thin bench to win three games in three nights. Odds: 12-1.

Oregon

Why they could win: Luke Jackson. We saw last year how a senior named Luke willed his team to the conference title, and this one can do the same. Jackson possesses the knack to single-handedly carry the team, and in a three game event, if one player gets hot he can make his team very tough to beat. If Oregon wins they will need a huge weekend from Jackson.

Why they won't win: Depth and a tough draw. If Jackson is cold the team is in real trouble. Oregon is really not that good of a team. They have some impressive results based on the performances of Jackson, but can he deliver three days in a row? The answer is probably not. Plus, a second round matchup with Stanford is not what this team wanted. Their best chance of winning the tournament probably involved someone else beating the Card. Oregon simply does not matchup well with Stanford despite an impressive showing in Eugene.

Outlook: Once again, it all hinges on Jackson. He is good, but I don't think he is good enough to win the whole thing. Oregon has a good shot at beating Cal, but would be overmatched in any other game they played. Odds: 15-1.

California

Why they could win: Young legs, good talent, and a low post game. Leon Powe and the rest of the fabulous freshmen certainly have the talent and the legs to compete for three days. Oregon is not a terrible draw in the first round and might allow the Bears to build a little momentum. If Ben Braun opens up the offense they are dangerous (ask Arizona), but he too often favors a conservative game plan.

Why they won't win: Because they haven't done so all season. This team has loads of talent and is 13-14. They have had three winning steaks all season, and only one of them was three games. It is tough to believe that this team will suddenly figure it all out and win the tournament. They have the talent to win a game or two, but they lack the discipline, teamwork, and fundamentals to win three in a row.

Outlook: The Bear will struggle to get out of the first round. Powe will have to be superb (and too often this year he has disappeared at the most inopportune times) to beat Oregon, and if they manage that, they likely face a mighty challenge in Stanford. Odds: 18-1.

Washington State

Why they could win: Because everyone always takes them for granted. I have assumed throughout this piece that the Card will beat WSU, and that is exactly what Dick Bennett is hoping the Card do in real life as well. This team is very well coached, and they have great ability in slowing the game down to a crawl and making teams earn EVERYTHING.

Why they won't win: Because Mike Montgomery coaches Stanford and will not allow his team to believe that WSU is a pushover. All he has to do is replay the game from Thursday and his point is proven. Stanford will not take the Cougs lightly, and there is little chance for WSU if Stanford brings their A-game. Even if the Cougs slip by Stanford, Bennett is the type of coach who is successful because he has time to implement game plans to make up for his team's weaknesses, and he won't have that luxury in a three-day event. Finally, they are simply not as talented as most teams in the conference.

Outlook: WSU might have had a shot if they could have gotten the number seven seed and been opposite of Stanford. The Cougs will play tough and not concede anything, but in the end they are not big enough or talented enough to win three games. Still, they have had a good season and are a dangerous and well-coached team. Odds: 22-1.

UCLA

Why they could win: They are the other home team in the event. They are also one of the more experienced teams in the conference and know what it takes to pull off an upset in this event. They have also defeated Washington twice.

Why they won't win: This team has way too many problems. They have been in a funk for a long time (2-13 after a 9-3 start) and are not really showing much hunger. They don't have a senior leader to play for and probably don't even believe they can win the tournament. All of this bodes very poorly for the Bruins. After such a promising start this team has really hit the skids is playing like the season is already over.

Outlook: Not good. This is the worst team in the tournament in my opinion. They have beaten Washington twice, but I can't see it happening again. Washington has too much to play for to overlook the disappointing Bruins. This team will certainly be one and done. Odds: 30-1.


National Rankings

A lot of changes in the seeding this week as quite a few teams came out and laid an egg in one of the most important weeks of the year. Several teams ranked 9-16 last week suffered through 0-2 weeks (Texas, Providence, Wake Forest, and Southern Illinois) while a few other borderline teams put up less than impressive 1-1 weeks (North Carolina, NC State, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Louisville). And Stanford was not the only top team dropping a game and looking sluggish this week (Duke and Connecticut lost as well). So, the rankings are definitely shaken up this week and some new teams have entered the fold.

1) St. Joseph's

2) Stanford

3) Pittsburgh

4) Kentucky

5) Gonzaga

6) Duke

7) Oklahoma State

8) Mississippi State

9) Connecticut

10) Georgia Tech

11) Illinois

12) North Carolina State

13) Syracuse

14) Kansas

15) Wisconsin

16) Cincinnati

Others receiving consideration

Arizona, Memphis, North Carolina, Providence, Texas, Wake Forest


The Regions

East

1) St. Joseph's- The Hawks are now in the driver seat for the number one overall seed. If they win the A-10 tournament they clinch the top spot overall. Still, this is a tough bracket for the Hawks. They get a team like the Bearcats in the Sweet 16 that will make them run and shoot a lot of threes, and then face either a physical Bulldog or Huskies team in the next round. Do you think the Hawks have an answer for Emeka Okafor? A lot of people around St. Joe's hope they don't have to find out…

2) Mississippi State- the Bulldogs probably need to make it to the finals of the SEC tournament to feel comfortable here. A few teams are breathing right down their neck (namely Uconn), and an early flame out in the SEC could mean a slip to number three. MSU probably can't make it to a number one seed, even with an SEC victory.

3) Connecticut- the Huskies are a very dangerous team, especially in this bracket. They probably took themselves out of the running for a number one seed with the loss to Syracuse, but a number two seed is certainly attainable with a couple of wins in the Big East tournament. However, with a bracket like this, the Huskies could easily be in the Final Four.

4) Cincinnati- A Conference USA team will be a protected seed, but no favorite has emerged yet. After a five-way tie atop the conference, the highest seed will probably be the team to emerge victorious in the conference tournament. Right now, Cincinnati has the strongest resume, but they are trailed closely by Memphis, Charlotte, and a Louisville team that could get hot.

West

1) Stanford - The Card's loss moved them down a notch, but they are still a number one seed. Even with a first round loss in the Pac-10 tournament, this team still has to be considered a lock for the top spot out West. This would be a tough bracket for the Card though. Wisconsin would certainly slow things down (think a more talented Washington State), and Oklahoma State might be one of the toughest matchups in the nation for Stanford because of their imposing inside presence and tough defense. Oh yeah, the Yellow Jackets are no slouch either.

2) Oklahoma State- the Cowboys are probably locked into a two seed if they win a game or two in the Big 12 tournament. A number one seed would take a tournament victory and a lot of help (either Pitt or Kentucky losing, and then losses by Duke and likely Gonzaga as well).

3) Georgia Tech- the Jackets have eight losses, but are one of the hottest teams down the stretch. The victory over Duke was huge and if they can carry momentum into the ACC tourney they could really move up the charts. A two seed might be a bit much to ask though because of the high number of losses.

4) Wisconsin- the Badgers are one of the beneficiaries of the poor weeks by some of last week's seeded teams. After a rough middle part of the season the Badgers have gotten hot and have earned themselves a high seed. This spot is not sewn up yet, but a couple of Big 10 tournament wins should do the trick.

Midwest

1) Pittsburgh- the biggest question for me was whether to make Pitt or Kentucky the number three overall seed. Kentucky has more quality wins (and some very impressive ones at that), but will finish second in their own conference. Pitt on the other hand has won the tough Big East and crushed Providence this past week. That is good enough for third overall at this point. However, they will need to win the Big East tournament to protect this spot.

2) Duke- Talk about a dangerous number two seed. The loss to Georgia Tech dropped them a bit, but they are probably only a Pitt or Kentucky loss, coupled with an ACC tournament championship, away from returning to the ranks of the one seeds.

3) Illinois- The Illini have been rolling as of late and because of the losses suffered by other top teams now find themselves as a three seed. The other teams behind them will keep the pressure on, but if Illinois advances to the Big 10 championship they should feel safe in this seed.

4) Kansas- The Jayhawks as a four seed certainly contributes to the depth of this bracket. Kansas has been rolling as of late and now has an inside track to a protected seed. Any slipups would be costly though, and the Jayhawks probably need two conference tournament wins to stay a number four seed. A conference tournament championship will likely mean a move to a three seed, especially if they beat Texas and Oklahoma State on the way.

Southeast

1) Kentucky- The Wildcats have one of the most impressive resumes in the nation. The only thing that makes them a bit iffy is the second place finish in the SEC.Winning the tournament will clear up any doubt heading into the NCAA tournament.

2) Gonzaga- The Zags probably did some damage to their resume with a close victory over Santa Clara. I know it was a close game against a team playing on their home floor, but the one thing the Zags had in their favor was how dominant they had been in conference. This doesn't drop their ranking any, but it may lead the selection committee to move a team like Duke into a number one seed over Gonzaga if a current number one seed falls.

3) North Carolina State- The Wolf Pack are very up and down. They continue to beat good teams but then struggle against the lesser squads of the ACC. They probably need at least one quality win in the ACC tournament to stay a protected seed

4) Syracuse- Another late surge from a team that was nearly on the bubble a few weeks back. The Orangemen have some impressive victories as of late (it doesn't get better than beating Connecticut and Pittsburgh in back to back weeks), and are riding all sorts of momentum into the postseason. They have to be the darkhorse in the always-rugged Big East Tournament.


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