Who were those masked men?

CJ checks in with his weekly look at the state of Stanford basketball, and can scarcely recognize his team. Both the heights and valleys achievable by the Card are like none seen in recent years, as revealed by the LA games this past week. Though without dwelling too much on the past, CJ looks ahead with a keen eye to two very important games this week with the Arizonas...

The SoCal Trip: Perhaps more than any other performance this season, Stanford’s game against UCLA demonstrated why this Stanford team bears little resemblance to any other Stanford teams in the Monty era. The offense was carried for long stretches by the penetration of our perimeter players, especially Barnes and Jacobsen, and the team improvised like it rarely has before. Stanford was able to match UCLA’s overall quickness, and gained what was probably the decisive advantage when Monty slid Julius over to the point. Cedric Bozeman, who is quick for a kid who goes about 6’6” or 6’7”, is not quick in absolute terms for a point guard, and Julius was able to exploit his quickness advantage repeatedly by breaking down Childress’ high school buddy time after time down the stretch. It was a performance reminiscent of Julius’ outing in Cal I. Casey was also able to penetrate effectively, as UCLA lacked the quickness at the wings that it traditionally has. On the other end, Stanford did an excellent job of limiting the open looks for Billy Knight and Jason Kapono. It was one of Stanford’s better defensive performances on the perimeter in some time. The cause for concern from the UCLA game was the foul trouble our fours experienced; then again, that’s nothing new for Teyo and Justin. The zebras were in rare form, whistling Gadzooks for a couple of dubious fouls, and nailing anybody who breathed on Matt Barnes in the paint.

The USC game elicited quite a response from booties. Some posters thought our players lacked intensity overall and were outhustled by USC. Others thought Monty had a horrible game, particularly with regard to our handling, or mishandling of USC’s press. Everyone agrees Stanford blew a great opportunity to move way up in the rankings (almost certainly into the top 10). It was a disappointing performance to be sure, and there’s plenty of blame to go around, but in retrospect, this game may not turn out to be quite the disaster many thought it to be at the time. The bad news is that one of Stanford’s weaknesses was exposed for all other teams to see. We did not handle the press well, and others may learn from USC’s approach. The good news is that Stanford took the game down to the final minutes despite missing the player who is arguably the best center in the country, and despite a shocking 27 turnovers. So despite Stanford’s serious troubles with USC’s press, it obviously did a few things right. In particular, Stanford played solid half court defense, particularly in the first half of the game. Even the defense went downhill after Teyo fouled out five minutes into the first half, but that’s to be expected when both the Mantis and Teyo are unavailable.

Stanford’s troubles with the press bear some examination, and no doubt the staff has been and will continue to work on our press-breakers. There were some very specific things that Stanford did wrong as a team, and individual players did wrong, that I expect will be corrected. First, Stanford was disorganized after made baskets. Several times, players looked like they didn’t know who should inbound the ball and where they should set up. USC had too much time to set up its press exactly the way it wanted. Also from a strategic standoint, the tendency to inbound the ball to Casey near the corner was problematic. There’s a reason for the “coffin corner” cliché in basketball. When Casey (or any player) receives the ball near the corner, obviously it’s easy for the double team to use the sideline and baseline to trap him. When this happened, Casey had trouble dribbling away from the double team along the baseline, and his attempts to pass along the baseline were predictable because he didn’t have other options. At the risk of stating the obvious, I would look for Monty to avoid having the inbounds pass go to Casey in the corner from now on. Two players seemed to try to do a little too much by themselves against the press. Julius and Josh were each stripped more than once when they maintained their dribble too long. I would look for Julius and Josh to give up the ball more quickly and decisively against the press in the future. Lastly, USC’s quickness advantage prevented Tony from beating the press. Obviously, a lot of adjustments need to be made. Summing it up, I would expect Stanford to face future presses with better organization after opponents’ made baskets, fewer passes to Casey in the corner, and less half-the-length-of-the-court dribbling by Julius and Josh.

The Arizona Schools: Obviously, Curtis’ health is going to have a huge impact on this week’s games. On paper, Stanford should be able to handle ASU easily if Curtis can go. ASU is not a good three point shooting team and struggles at times with its rebounding. On the other hand, ASU has one of the few big men in the conference that could give Curtis some trouble. Prewitt has a very solid all around game and might be able to draw C-Bo away from the basket, limiting his shot-blocking and shot-altering opportunities and opening up the lane. If Curtis can’t go, Prewitt could give Stanford real headaches. One other area of concern is ASU’s quickness. ASU is near the top of the conference in steals, and in the wake of the Card’s performance against SC, there is obvious reason to be concerned. Overall, I like our chances if Stanford brings it’s A game or even its B game. But the Card can’t mail this one in or ASU could steal one, literally and figuratively.

Arizona is a tremendously inconsistent team, capable of beating any team in the country on a given night and capable of an ugly outing when you least expect it. I think Stanford matches up reasonably well with Arizona this year, with the exception of the point guard position. Arizona has a very quick backcourt, with Jason Gardner and Will Bynum logging most of the minutes. Arizona will have a significant quickness advantage at the one, and our point guards will be hard pressed to contain Gardner. This may be another of those games where Monty may have to turn to Julius at the point due to the opponents quickness. The allocation of minutes among our point guards will, as usual, be something to keep an eye on. Stanford will have a quickness advantage at the forward positions. Jacobsen, Childress, Davis and Johnson should be able to outscore their counterparts on Arizona. As usual, the foul situation for Teyo and Justin will be a key. Luke Walton is not quick, but he’s extremely crafty and could draw some cheap fouls from Teyo and Justin, to the extent those two guard Walton. Of course, Jacobsen may guard Walton a fair amount of the time. If Curtis can go, he should have a big advantage against Arizona’s posts. Frye is an excellent shot-blocker, but he’s still pretty raw. Expect him to have some trouble adjusting to Curtis’ versatility. Going way out on a limb here, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Justin and Teyo combine for significantly more points than we’re used to seeing out of them. They have a quickness advantage over Arizona’s fours, which I suspect Monty will try to exploit.

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