Hoops Opener Recap & Commentary

Stanford men's hoops is back in action, and there was a lot to be learned from Tuesday night's modest exhibition opener against Athletes In Action. We saw a mild surprise in the starting lineup, and took in the developments for a host of players. Of particular note was the strong play from all three true freshmen...

Before getting to the game action itself, I think it's very worthwhile to recap Coach Eric Reveno's pre-game chalk talk, which was probably the most insightful I've taken in these past few years. Part of that derived from 100% of the time dedicated to talking about the Stanford team, since he didn't spend five seconds discussing Athletes In Action. But to the point, the info he gave on where things stand for this team provide great context to watch the game. Here are some highlights...

  • Chemistry is a word tossed around liberally in sports, but it's an immediate focus of this coaching staff right now. The search is still on to see which line-ups click - which players excel with each other. Thus, much caution was given with respect to what that night's starting line-up means
  • Turnovers are a significant concern, and Rev actually told the audience to look at how the team is taking care of the ball. He named a 2:1 target for assist:turnover ratio, but lamented a 1:2 ratio seen too often lately in practices and scrimmages. There is a particular concern about turnovers by the post players.
  • In talking about Rob Little, he stressed how much Rob still has to learn about the language they use in practices and games. For whatever reason, Rob just didn't come from a program that gave him that base. So when Rev is talking to him about his "inside shoulder," Rob doesn't know "inside" from "outside." This adds some color to his development and progress.
  • Regarding Curtis' foot, there is little reason to be concerned. The surgery did its job, and they are continuing to adjust his orthotics as they discover how his foot is reacting.
  • A question was asked about Matt Lottich's "injury," and ML sitting out some of last week. Rev's reaction was classic. He was puzzled about any injury, and then remembered that Matt sat out a bit from a dislocated finger. But that apparently doesn't count as an "injury."
  • The team is working on a 1-2-2 zone defense, that will be increasingly important this year, though man defense is still the bread and butter of this team.
  • The age-old question came up again about how much the team will run this year, and Rev gave the same answer that Stanford has given through the years. They are better equipped to run than ever before, but the team runs after defensive stops. They aren't going to run after the ball goes through the net. The onus is on the team's defense to allow the offense to run.
  • Josh Childress was reported to have really turned his assertiveness around in the last week

Now, for some of the more notable notes I took from Tuesday's game against Athletes in Action...

  • The starting line-up put Josh Childress in his first start in his first game at Stanford, something even Casey Jacobsen didn't do. The staff is experimenting, and we can shy away from extrapolations, but I think this starting line-up is for real. Josh has absolutely turned the corner in his offensive mentality. He was looking to create just about every chance he got. And we got to see for the first time just how special of a creator he is. He slashed, but looked to finish. I hadn't been seeing that in practices. It was notable that J-Chill took more shots (15) than any other player in the game, even though he was seventh in minutes. 5-for-15 isn't encouraging, nor is 0-4 from deep. But Monty never pulled in the reins, which is encouraging.
  • Josh trimmed his afro by a lot, which is a disappointment. Apparently, his mother made him do it...
  • Another notable stat was that Justin Davis fouled out in 14 minutes of play. One of the fouls was bogus, and a couple came on block attempts. That's not all bad. More interesting was the fact that Justin picked up 3 fouls in less than 2 minutes when he had to play center, with Nick Robinson at the 4. I don't think that's a line-up I like.
  • You could hardly have fewer data points, but Justin's free throws looked markedly better, as he went 2-for-2. Something didn't look right on Josh Childress' free throws, despite his 4-for-5 night from the stripe.
  • Chris Hernandez certainly impressed, and looked better than any freshman point guard we've seen in a debut since Brevin. He's very confident running the show, and handled the ball well. 3 turnovers to 3 assists is not the showing he wanted, but he talked through exactly what he did wrong in those plays after the game. He really does have a high basketball IQ. He's also aggressive in pushing the ball up the floor, and quick to break the press. The great surprise to me was his 3-for-3 night from deep, which was a game-high. Understand that Chris' three-point shot was arguably his greatest liability in high school. If he's turned this around, watch out. On the flip side, he didn't take another shot from the field. At this point, he's looking just to run the show. Don't expect him to be creating many shots inside the arc.
  • I was very concerned to see Chris with ice on his back late in the first half. He told me after the game that just the day before, his back acted up on him. He doesn't have a history of this, so it's too early to know what it means.
  • Curtis Borchardt looked good around the basket, hitting all four of his shots - all four deep under the basket. No visible signs of injury. Unfortunately, there are also no visible signs of his range. Either he hasn't shaken off the rust, or he is making a concerted effort to play the low post. C-Bo didn't record any blocks, but he had at least one block that was called as a questionable foul. I don't think his defensive assertiveness has evaporated. Overall, one board short of a double-double in 21 minutes isn't shabby. Just might have to adjust our expectations for him stretching the defense.
  • Rob Little played at a very high level of energy and intensity, and has a game very reminiscent of Mark Madsen. Though I think Rob is at least months, if not a year, ahead of MadDog at this stage. Even though Rob's offensive arsenal is seriously limited right now, he tied for third in scoring with 10 points, and pulled down 7 rebounds in just 17 minutes. One of his buckets looked ugly (tossed up a little prayer than banked in after he tried to attack a defender), but he generally scored in a very Madsen-like fashion. He also played the 4 exclusively in the game, from what I saw. Note that he was the first post off the bench, ahead of Joe Kirchofer. Frankly, even with some improvement from Joe, I think Rob is probably the better player on day one than Joe is starting his third year in the program.
  • Casey was phenomenal, and has yet again elevated his game. He is attacking the basket more than ever, and looks to have improved his ball-handling. A behind-the-back move attacking along the right side of the baseline was particularly excellent. Watch his passing, though, which might be the most significant addition to his game. He draws double-teams like Oski draws flies, and he's making some excellent passes to find the open man (including a couple no-looks). That game-high 6 assists is no accident, folks. He nailed his first two treys of the game, but then missed his next five. Of course, he didn't miss any of his six shots inside the arc, and he got to the stripe on three shooting fouls.
  • Tony was very steady, though not any more aggressive than we've seen before. He's clearly the weakest candidate to run the break when Stanford has the chance. Of course, with this year's defense, there might not be many break opportunities to be had. 5 assists to 0 turnovers is going to make up for that quite a bit, in contrast to the 5 assists to 5 turnovers between Chris and Julius. Also note that Tony stroked both of his three-point attempts. Both looked very nice. Though at least one Bootie offered a dissenting opinion on the HoopsBoard, I think Tony has great form. But just like Chris, he didn't try any other shot from the field. Looks like the scoring from the PG position could be pretty one-dimensional this year.
  • Julius Barnes picked up plenty of minutes, at both guard positions, even though he didn't start at either. One of the first substitutions put him on the floor with Tony, moving Casey back to the 3. Julius had 3 turnovers (though one came when Rob Little couldn't get his inlet pass after getting shoved in the back - no call), but I think he's made significant strides in running the team. At least, running the offense within Monty's system. He had a tough shooting night, but I still feel is a very valuable player to have on the court. I like the idea of him at the 2 when Chris Hernandez is at the point.
  • Matt Lottich might be the odd man out with Josh picking up confidence and playing time, since that pushes Casey to the 2. When Casey moves to the 3, you often saw Julius at the 2. Matt had an interesting line, 0-for-2 from the field (both threes), but all 5 points from the free throw line. I didn't see a quantum leap forward in his defense, but we've got problems all over the court in that category.
  • Kyle Logan made two great baseline moves, which I've consistently seen as his greatest strength. He's explosive and can beat a lot of defenders there. But his tentativeness to finish was remarkable. As sad as this is, I don't see any reason to believe that Kyle has turned the corner on his confidence problem. He just doesn't flow out there. We'll have to watch how many more chances he'll get .
  • Nick Robinson didn't show anything offensively, though he had back-to-back threes that looked like they should have gone down. Nick rebounded well, but made a different lasting impression on me. I thought he might have played the best defense in the game. Good lateral movement and didn't lose his man. Nick can earn plenty of PT from Monty on defense and rebounding.
  • Now to the most concerning note of the night: defense. I thought it was awful, at least by Stanford standards. The drop-off from two years ago to last year was significant, particularly down the homestretch in Pac-10 play when Stanford got torched in several games. I'm concerned that another drop-off is waiting for this season. What the Collins twins gave inside is very hard to make-up, and the challenges in interior defense are obvious... but it was the guards I saw getting lost and burned repeatedly Tuesday night. Poor job on switching, which left a disturbing number of open threes for AIA. They only hit 9 of 30, but I didn't like seeing them get more than half of their field goals up from that distance. You can rationalize why this could be a good thing - "forcing" teams to beat Stanford deep, but I stand by the concern that it was poor defense. I saw back-door cuts and open passing lanes. Not good...
  • To end on a lighter note, there was some Boot-relevant action at halftime. Bootleg co-founder Jim "Rainman" Rutter shot from behind the arc for a thousand bucks in seed money. Unfortunately, he missed for a full thirty seconds, and missed ugly. In a brief interview after the game, the infamous Rutter shook his head in shame and fought back the tears. He talked of back spasms, tough lighting, and being forced to start from his weakest spot on the floor. He also picked a rotten night to wear his bowling shoes. We all shed tears that evening, as the thousand bucks could have been a wonderful start to a dream of ours, Bootleg Ventures. So many side projects we could have run with...

The Bootleg Top Stories