The Oregon Trip. The Cardinal return from Oregon with a split, no doubt frustrated by the fact that the team nearly pulled off a difficult sweep. The victory over Oregon State demonstrated the importance of getting contributions from players other than Casey and Curtis, as Josh stepped up with a very big game that was reminiscent of his performance against Purdue. It must be of some concern that Oregon State more or less played us even until their frontline got into foul trouble. Nevertheless, it was a good win over a decent team in a hostile environment (despite the failure to sell out the arena). The Oregon game was certainly one of the most interesting I've seen in some time. Stanford got remarkable performances from Casey and Curtis, who combined for 61 points on 22 of 37 shooting and 13 rebounds. Stanford made 28 of 62 field goals overall, 6 of 12 three pointers and 17 of 23 free throws. Stanford turned the ball over only seven times and was outrebounded by one. Hard to believe that we lost this one with those numbers, but chalk it up to Oregon's balanced attack and better execution down the stretch. Oregon had five players in double figures, while Stanford had two. Our third leading scorer had 5 points. Stanford had a rough outing on defense, which was made harder by Oregon's balanced attack. Neither team played much defense, but Oregon's defense was just a little better. Oregon was credited with 5 steals to our 0 (though I thought Lottich should've been credited with one). Despite the disappointment associated with a close loss, the Card can take some positives away from the game. Not too many teams in the country are capable of taking Oregon down to the final minute at MacArthur when Oregon is playing well, but that's just what the Cardinal did.
The games in Oregon made some things clearer, but also raised some interesting questions. It's clear that Rob Little is not going to be relied on to play a lot of minutes. Rob played just four minutes in the two games combined, although the particular matchups presented by the Oregon schools had quite a bit to do with that. It's also clear that Monty wants to inject more shooting into the lineup by playing Matt Lottich in situations with the outcome still in doubt. Matt played a total of 20 minutes in the two games.
Perhaps the most interesting questions raised surround the point guard position. Tony and Chris each played exactly 20 minutes against Oregon State. Against Oregon, Chris played 21 minutes and Tony played 17. Tony started both games, but Chris ran the point down the stretch in both games. Just when you thought things couldn't get more intriguing at the point, they did. Another question raised over the weekend is the role of Teyo Johnson. Teyo was a 40% shooter from three last year, but he passed up numerous open looks from the top of the arc against Oregon. The Oregon defenders gave Teyo the shot, but he wouldn't take it. It's not at all clear whether Teyo has been instructed not to take that shot or whether he passed up the shot of his own volition, but either way, it's an interesting development, particularly for those of us who would like to see Teyo play some three this year and going forward.
Pac 10. With out-of-conference play all but completed, it's possible to draw some conclusions about the Pac 10's standing among the conferences. The conference's RPI is a close second to the SEC's. The media is starting to pick up on the strength of the Pac 10, as well as the conference's parity. Two issues ago, Sports Illustrated declared the Pac 10 the country's strongest conference based on its performance in OOC games. The high profile win by UCLA against Kansas only helps the conference's cause. After Arizona's impressive wins against Maryland, Florida and Illinois, its two conference losses, combined with some narrow wins, further suggest that the Pac 10 is strong and deep. Here are the estimated RPI's of the Pac 10 teams (through Sunday):
83. Arizona State
108. Oregon State
160. Washington State
Looking way ahead toward the NCAA tournament, it's possible that the Pac 10 could garner an unprecedented 6 bids. Yes, we all know that the Pac 10 has a long history of only getting 3 or 4 bids, but the conference has not seen such strength in the middle of the conference (teams 4-6) in a long time, if ever. If the tournament field were selected today, the conference would certainly get 6 bids. I'm not going to stick my neck out yet and predict 6 bids, but I will predict that 5 bids are a near lock, with a sixth being a possibility.
Quick takes from around the conference and the nation . . . Free throw statistics from the Oregon/Cal game: Cal: 8-11; Oregon: 32-45 . . . UCLA and USC have the most talent in the conference, but possibly the two weakest coaches . . . Luke Jackson: six jump shots made while lowering his shoulder and jumping into his defender; offensive fouls called: 0 . . . North Carolina needs to play four games over .500 from here on out just to be eligible for the N.I.T. (my best prediction of the year – calling UNC the most overrated team in the nation pre-season; my worst – Justin Davis, defensive stopper) . . . Michigan State, at 9-7 and an RPI of 60, is looking squarely at the N.I.T . . . the Pac 10 will continue to be the premier conference for developing point guards, and Errick Craven will be the next great one.