It's Tournament Time!

Another blistering loss to USC. A blistering seeding and bracket "pod." Maybe the toughest NCAA first round opponent for Stanford since the Brevin years. It's been quite a week, and there's a lot on Cardinalmaniacs' minds. CJ offers up his commentary and analysis on Stanford's position and prospects in the Big Dance, including WKU and KU.

Seeding Issues. My prediction after the loss to USC was that we'd be a seven seed. I think that's what we deserved. The committee gave us an eight seed, but there's not much to complain about when the committee gets it approximately right. There are many other teams that were seeded far lower than they deserved to be. Stanford's first round opponent, Western Kentucky, probably should have received no worse than a seven seed, and had decent case for a six seed. WKU has a 28-3 record coming into the tournament, and hasn't lost since late December. WKU achieved that impressive record despite not having its best player, Chris Marcus, for the better part of two months due to a foot injury; it hasn't lost since Marcus' return to the lineup. Even though WKU plays in a relatively weak conference and the RPI weighs strength of schedule heavily (in a sense, it comprises 75% of the formula), WKU comes in at an impressive #28 in the RPI. By contrast, Stanford comes in at #38 in the RPI. The other "mid-major" team that was screwed by the committee is Gonzaga. Enough has been written about the Bulldogs that there's no need to elaborate here.

Of the teams that were seeded higher than they deserved to be, Oregon jumps out at me as the team least deserving of its high seed. Oregon won the Pac 10 outright, but played an easy out of conference schedule. There's no way a major conference team with an RPI in the thirties should be a #2 seed. The committee undoubtedly struggled with the seedings for Oregon and Arizona. Arizona has simply had a more impressive season overall than has Oregon. Although the Ducks won the conference title, they played an easy non-conference schedule that padded their record. By contrast, Arizona played an absolutely brutal non-conference schedule. Given the quality of Arizona's opponents, their record is more impressive than Oregon's, and all of the major computer rankings agree. Ultimately, the committee probably felt it had to give Oregon a better seed than Arizona because Oregon beat Arizona both times the schools met. Nevertheless, I don't think Oregon earned anything better than a four seed.

Our "Pod". Much has been written about Western Kentucky on the message board. Despite the moronic flames from some of the WKU fans, there was at least one very good breakdown of their players that's more informed than anything I could provide, so I won't try to go into any detail here.

Although it's fashionable to pick WKU (and some very knowledgeable guys like Andy Katz are projecting a win over Stanford), I don't see the Hilltoppers pulling the "upset." They certainly have a decent chance to win, but I like our chances better. Western Kentucky will have to rely heavily on Chris Marcus. While Marcus is a very good center, he's not polished on the offensive end. He's been able to put up impressive numbers in large part because he's had such a big physical advantage over opposing centers. His moves in the post are not polished, and he has relied quite a bit on his ability to bull through opposing fives and/or to shoot right over them. He won't have that luxury against Stanford, unless Curtis gets in foul trouble. Overall, I don't think Western Kentucky has the type of roster that tends to give us trouble. WKU doesn't have a particularly impressive combination of size and athleticism, and I don't think that they'll be able to take Stanford out of its game. WKU isn't particularly strong at the one and four – Stanford's weakest positions. The Vegas line, which has Stanford at – 4, sounds about right to me.

If Stanford is able to advance to the second round, it faces an unfavorable matchup in Kansas. Kansas is arguably the best offensive team in the nation, and it features a tough inside-outside attack. KU has three very good post players in Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Wayne Simien. Although Gooden gives up a couple of inches in height to Curtis, he matches up better with Curtis than Chris Marcus does. He's got a nice mid-range jumper and back to the basket moves. He'll be a handful for Curtis. Kansas has the potential to hurt us at the four, as Collison and Simien both have the size to go right over Teyo. Justin would need to play extremely well, and Stanford would need to get contributions from Rob and Joe, if the Card is going to hang with Kansas' frontcourt. In the backcourt, Kansas features a trio of effective, albeit small, guards. Kirk Hinrich is not especially athletic in the run-jump sense, but he's quick with the ball and has a very good first step. When KU nearly knocked off Duke in the second round of the tournament two years ago, the Jayhawk's offense down the stretch consisted of Hinrich beating Jason Williams off the dribble on nearly every possession and creating after the penetration. He gets lost in the shadow of Gooden at times, but Hinrich has the potential to cause major headaches for the Card defense with his penetration if Kansas needs it. Oh, one other thing -- Hinrich shoots 49% from three. Kansas plays Jeff Boschee, a coverted point guard, at the two. He's got good court awareness as a former point guard, and shoots 47% from 3. Aaron Miles is a natural point guard who plays both guard spots for Kansas. He's a future superstar with excellent point guard skills and good quickness, but at this point he is less dangerous than Hinrich and Boschee. Miles is only a mediocre three point shooter.

The difficulty with a possible matchup against Kansas in the second round is that KU has so much offensive firepower. It has an excellent rotation in the post and outstanding perimeter shooting. KU has the potential to really hurt us at the one and four, our obvious areas of vulnerability. The one advantage Stanford will possess if it goes up against Kansas is that Kansas is lacking in good medium sized players. Miles, Hinrich and Boschee are all in the 6'0" to 6'2" range. Collison, Simien and Gooden are all in the 6'9" – 6'10" range. Thus, one of Kansas' few weaknesses is that it is vulnerable to good mid-size wing players. Stanford will have the opportunity to exploit that weakness, small as it may be, with Casey, Josh and, if Monty is willing to play him at the three, Teyo. Stanford will need to have a good performance from those three as a group if it's going to have a chance against Kansas should it reach the second round. KU is also a little bit vulnerable to athleticism, so Monty may go with the "athletic" lineup of JB, CJ, JC, JD and Curtis more than usual. Fortunately, Kansas' base defense is man to man, and it doesn't feature the type of press – falling back into a zone defense that is our worst nightmare.

Random thoughts and predictions. Gonzaga's lack of quickness in the backcourt is going to be its downfall in the second round against Arizona. I expect Arizona to beat the Zags with surprising ease . . . UCLA may match up better with Cincinnati than with Mississippi. If the Bruins get past that first round matchup, I like them to beat the Bearcats. How flat is the Bowling Green area? Western Kentucky's campus is at 230 feet above sea level, yet they're called the Hilltoppers. I like Maryland and Kansas to reach the final four, and am still deciding between Duke and USC in the South and Oklahoma and Arizona in the West.


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