Tuesday Hoops Practice Notes

I sidled over to Maples Tuesday to catch the final practice for Stanford before they departed for St. Louis. The effort over these past two days has been superb, and bodes very well for what this team might do come Thursday... and Saturday. Read on for the highlights and lowlights of Tuesday's workout.

The focus and intensity with this team might be at an all-time high this season. I saw a very good practice Tuesday, and was told that Monday was probably the best practice this team has had in at least two months. If Cardinalmaniacs™ are worried about a flat Stanford squad, looking to mail it in when they hit St. Looie, toss those concerns aside. No screwing around, not many mistakes, and execution is getting crisper.

  • The early part of practice was spent running the offense 5-on-0. The emphasis was on running the plays to find the second, third and fourth options. I was almost giddy watching, for several reasons: Monty is running this to help hammer home that the guys need to get comfortable beyond the first option, the first look. How many times have we seen the offense "hurried" where someone jacks up the first open shot they see, with 25 seconds left on the clock? There are benefits to making the other team work hard and long on defense, and getting not just good looks, but the best looks. Furthermore, this is preparing guys for the ball and their shots deep into these plays. I think some of the "chippies" we've seen missed, or some of the passes we've seen bobbled, derive from a lack of readiness or comfort deeper into the shot clock on some of these plays. Smart to work toward that end, in my opinion. I was also so impressed because the plays were run very cleanly - guys knew exactly where to be, and moved like clockwork. Finally, the shooting at the end of these plays was sick. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the shooting over this 20 or so minute period hovered around 75-80%. And there wasn't a disproportionate number of shots down low to inflate this percentage either. Josh, Julius, Casey, Tony and Matt were hitting everything in sight. Chris, Tyler, Nick and Teyo were pretty darned good, too. All of this should be tempered by the reminder that there was no defense, which obviously makes it tougher to execute the motion and run around in the key. You can't expect this performance to be replicated in a game, but it still impressed me enough, versus other times I've watched this team go 5-on-0, that I think Kansas could have been run out of the building. Wow.
  • The shooting was still very good through much of the rest of practice, with two standouts: Tony Giovacchini and Matt Lottich. Tony was clearly the best shooter throughout this practice, and I know it frustrated the heck out of Chris to see shots reasonably well defended go in from three-point range. Lotty had a very good practice overall, but finished with the red & white scrimmage on fire. He hit 4 of 5 treys and almost single-handedly lifted the white squad to victory. They led 21-16 before a pair of late three's from the starting reds grabbed the 22-21 win. Tony hit the final game-winner. The coaches all saw what I saw with Matt Tuesday, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Matt get some important minutes off the bench if Monty is looking for some shooting. If this team wants to replicate a 1998-like run, Matt is probably the guy to fill the role Mendy played in the Charleston game. In fact, the parallels for these two are rather striking thus far...
  • Josh looked like he really has broken out of his shooting slump, but when he did have misses in shooting drills late in practice, you couldn't miss his massive frustration. Teyo has been the most visibly emotional competitor in my eyes these past two seasons, but I think Josh might give him a run for his money. I do worry that the kid is just too hard on himself when he misses - like cornerbacks in football, shooters need to have a short memory when they don't make a play/shot.
  • I know several Booties who are frustrated when Stanford big men don't finish inside with dunks, and a prevalent theory is that Monty doesn't let them throw down. I'll say that a lot of plays the Card ran Tuesday finished with emphatic dunks, and Monty wasn't at all displeased. A few actually called to execute an alley-oop finish. I think he's happy to see that finish so long as you don't decrease your percentage in the process of trying to reach the rim from afar. When guys are under the hoop and lay it in during a game, that looks like an individual choice and decision. Those same guys weren't the least bit bashful about rattling the rim as I watched. And Monty doesn't let things slide in practice that he won't stand for in a game. By the by, Tyler Besecker threw down an alley-oop dunk to finish off one set play - certainly the first time I've seen that.
  • Monty also wanted to simulate as much ball pressure as possible during 4-on-4 or 5-on-5. The staff see this as part of Western Kentucky's guard play, and this is obviously something Stanford hasn't dealt with through several losses this season. I'm honestly not convinced that this team can effectively pull off such a simulation in practice. If you want to simulate trapping pressure, you just run 5-on-6, but individual ball pressure can't be easily manufactured. I'm suspicious that Stanford can't really prepare for this, no matter how important they think it is.
  • Also wanted the team to work hard on getting through and around high ball screens. I've felt this is a weakness for this team all year, and don't see much improvement to date, to be honest. Mark this down as another ongoing concern of mine.
  • One more down note: the free throws just aren't there for this team, even in practice. You might remember the case of Mark Madsen a couple years ago, who could hit 80-90% in practice, but had game time problems. Well, I see inconsistencies for a lot of guys on this team even in practice. Ugh.
  • Stanford does give some time to zone defense, contrary to what many Booties might think. They practiced running it and executing against it Tuesday. I do believe the zone is getting better, and think Monty might be willing to whip it out during the tournament if he needs to change things up against an effective offense. I think WKU has several shooters who can hurt you when they're "on" (they might be as streaky as ours this year), so it remains to be seen if such a zone would get busted quickly or not.
  • I saw another wrinkle or two from Stanford that is best not disclosed at this time. But suffice it to say, there are a couple things in Monty's back pocket that won't show up on film as teams scout and prepare for the Card in the NCAAs.
  • Next week is finals week for this team, and that's already taking its toll on some guys. Even though this should be "dead week" on campus, many students and recent grads know that some profs have projects or papers due during "dead week." Tough timing for these guys.
  • I noted Casey Jacobsen again asserting more leadership in this practice. He pulled Chris Hernandez aside at one point to help him with the execution of the previous play. During the red & white scrimmage, he also pulled his guys together for a huddle right before they hit their 6-0 run to grab the win.
  • Kyle Logan is working his butt off to get rehab'ed. Between stretches, the bicycle, sprints and lateral shuffles, the senior known to his teammates as "Cup" is doing everything he can to get back to playing health and condition.
  • When the team ran endline-to-endline sprints at the end of practice, Kyle, Curtis and Julius were the only guys who didn't run.

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