Time to Look at LA

In this week's edition of hoops commentary and analysis from CJ, little time is spent reflecting upon the Washington games. All eyes are focused on LA, where two very big games rapidly approach. CJ has his thoughts on matchups and keys, as well as some stats on how Josh and Julius affect the team's fortunes.

Washington and Washington State. Stanford got back on track with impressive performances against the Washington schools. The team’s effort was excellent across the board, and most importantly, the Card didn’t have to rely on Casey and Curtis to carry too much of the load. Of particular note was the play of Julius Barnes, who scored 27 points in the two games and dished our five assists on Saturday. Julius had one of the more impressive plays of the season when he skied for a rebound, blew by the Washington “defenders” as he dribbled the length of the court and split two defenders in the lane, finishing with a sweet finger-roll. Perhaps equally impressive was a play where Julius drove the lane, was challenged by one of UW’s posts, and whipped a difficult pass to an open Jake for three.

The LA Trip. It’s tempting to conclude that Stanford is playing the best basketball in the conference now, as no other team in the conference has been able to manhandle Washington State and Washington to the degree Stanford did. However, Stanford rarely plays down to the competition the way UCLA and Arizona do. You can certainly expect UCLA to match Stanford’s effort this week, and, unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to see the kind of “effort” that led to UCLA winning a nail-biter against Columbia. Expect a tournament-like atmosphere at Pauley for a change.

Much is made of UCLA’s athleticism, but the team’s athleticism this season is not as impressive as it usually is. UCLA’s athleticism at the wings, which has traditionally given Stanford problems, is down this year. Billy Knight has very average quickness for a two, and Jason Kapono has below average quickness and athleticism. However, UCLA’s wings are much more dangerous shooters than has traditionally been the case. Keys to the game should be foul trouble (Curtis needs to have less foul trouble than Gadzooks), the ability of Justin Davis and Teyo Johnson to contain Matt Barnes and the ability of Stanford’s wings to limit Knight and Kapono’s open looks from three. (Knight is very deliberate in collecting himself before shooting, and does not have a quick release, so Julius Barnes should be able to use his quickness to limit Knight’s open looks.) Stanford should be able to score on UCLA’s defense; the key will be whether Stanford can contain UCLA’s offense and avoid the kind of shootout that occurred up in Eugene.

USC presents an interesting matchup for Stanford. USC is far more athletic than UCLA, but its lineup is on the small side. Our defense matches up well with USC’s offense, despite USC’s quickness advantage. Look for Sam Clancy to try to draw Curtis away from the basket, creating 12-15 foot jump shot opportunities for himself and, more importantly, opening up the lane for penetration. At the other end, Curtis will have a big advantage over Clancy, who, despite the fact that he plays taller than his actual height, will face a significant height disadvantage against Curtis. The toughest matchup for Stanford may be freshman Errick Craven. If Stanford can contain Craven and hold him under 10 points, I like our chances.

The Importance of Julius and Josh. On a hunch, I decided to track the scoring of Julius and Josh to determine whether the correlation between their scoring and our team’s success is as strong as I suspected. Here’s what I found:

Opponents Result JC Points JB Points Total Points
New Mexico W 12 5 17
Southern Utah W 13 5 18
Purdue W 21 8 29
Texas L (OT) 15 13 28
Long Beach W 5 11 16
Belmont W 5 9 14
Portland St W 12 16 28
BYU L 0 5 5
Michigan St W 2 19 21
Cal W 13 27 40
Cal L 3 7 10
Oregon St W 19 3 22
Oregon L 5 3 8
Washington St W 5 12 17
Washington W 10 15 25

The three lowest point outputs by Josh and Julius combined occurred in Stanford’s three losses in regulation. In each of those losses, Josh and Julius combined for 10 or fewer points.

Casey and Curtis are relative constants for Stanford on offense; they either score or force defenses to double them, freeing up opportunities for others to get open looks. Josh and Julius have been relatively inconsistent, as a quick glance at the above chart shows. As their offense goes, so goes the fortunes of the team to a great extent.

Tournament Projections. Here are the current RPI rankings of the Pac 10’s top six teams:

#2 Arizona
#15 UCLA
#29 Cal
#31 Oregon
#33 USC
#34 Stanford

The conference is rated the second strongest conference by overall RPI rating and the third strongest conference by nonconference RPI rating.

The Pac 10 is still on track to land five or six tournament bids. While the RPI is important, the committee looks at a number of other factors in the selection process. Quality road wins are key. A win or two this week by Stanford would help the team’s tournament chances tremendously. Ditto for Cal.

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