The time has finally arrived and now the games have extra meaning. Despite all of the up-and-down events that have transpired with Stanford basketball, it is time to put everything behind and look forward at a good Western Kentucky team. The Cardinal cant be shaken by the tournament because too much now is at stake. There has been a lot mentioned this week about NCAA seeding and how a lot of teams have been slighted. Western Kentucky is one of those teams that was no doubt tough to seed. They come in as a 28-3 basketball team with a lot of wins against lesser-known opponents. While this hurt them in seeding it doesnt really say much about the Hilltoppers. They are a bit of an unknown as they could be a dominant team stuck in a league with weak competition, or they could be another team that falls in the mid-major stereotype. I have a feeling they are more like the first example. I believe anyone is dangerous when they have a superstar, and Chris Marcus from all accounts is a big-time star. He has missed a lot of time this year with an injury but will probably find something extra for tourney time. I think there is no question that Stanford needs to play their best possible basketball to make it out of this weekend, still with Final Four dreams. It all starts this Thursday against Western Kentucky:
PG - Tony Giovacchini vs Patrick Sparks 6-1 170 Fr. 10.4 ppg 3.5 apg
Amidst the rubble which was the USC game, Tony had a decent performance. He once again struggled against the press, but hit some open shots, which was definitely encouraging. Tony now will have to exert leadership on the court as as he is the only senior on the team in this tourney. He has played in three tournaments, albeit a limited role, but he still knows the off-the-court ropes, as well as the pressure associated with the NCAAs. Sparks, the Hilltoppers freshman point guard, appears to be a decent player. He is averaging 10 points per game and shoots 43% from beyond the three-point line. This will obviously be his first tournament, which means he could be a little timid. He isnt the quickest player, which should help Stanford, but he will knock down the open three. Tony needs to be a vocal leader on the court this weekend when times get hectic. (Hopefully they wont) Overall this should be a matchup Tony should be able to keep under control. He isnt facing a Jason Gardner, or a Brandon Granville for that matter. Hopefully his three-point shot stays with him this weekend and he gets the offense going.
SG - Julius Barnes vs Derek Robinson 6-1 185 Sr. 10.6 ppg 5.2 rpg
Robinson is the emotional leader of the team. He is quick and should keep Barnes on his toes. He also shoots well on threes at a 44% clip. He has 400+ steals in his career, which means he is great on the defensive end. Still averages around 10 points per game on the offensive end as well. Robinson should be a priority on defense after center Chris Marcus, as he is the guy who gets the Hilltoppers going. Barnes has been on a down swing; he unable to continue his success he had in the desert against USC. He was 0-5 from the three-point line, and a few of those shots he was wide open. It would be so nice for Barnes to have another game similar to his Cal one where he ran off 27 points. Remember that way back when? If he can have a game in the 13-17, point range I think Stanford has a great shot at winning this game. These two players, while they arent the featured stars of their respective teams, will have a great hand in who wins the game.
SF - Casey Jacobsen vs Filip Vidnov 6-4 200 Jr. 6.9 ppg 3.0 rpg
Filip Vidnov oesnt really have a major role with his team. Vidnov shoots 38% from three-point range and only averages seven points per game. He is a big guy at 64 200 lbs and will surely try to push Jacobsen around. He is known as a rough player and could pick up fouls early. He probably will have a wealth of subs trying to constantly put somebody fresh on Jacobsen. Jacobsen has struggled to his standards the past couple of games. He also has had some bad tournament games with national audiences: scoring 5 pts against UNC 2000, allowing 37 pts to Marvin O Connor 2001. These are the games which all the people in the country, including NBA scouts, watch. Hopefully there is more motivating Casey than the NBA but it shouldnt hurt. I really think he is going to put on a show, as I dont see a guy on the Western Kentucky roster that matches up with him too well. Casey should be motivated and ready to put up some points this weekend, which will hopefully translate to a couple wins.
PF - Teyo Johnson vs David Boyden 6-8 230 Jr. 11.4 ppg 6.1 rpg
This is another matchup that isnt going to get too much attention. Boyden shoots decently (34%) from three-point range for a forward, but isnt a big threat. He is a good rebounder and definitely benefits from playing alongside Marcus. Teyo has started to hit his 3-point shot, which could really help in the tourney. Teyo needs to just score 6-8 points and play good defense. If he does this, he will have done his job. He wont have to deal with a Sam Clancy, so that is a definite plus for him. I dont see much out of this matchup. Look for Todor Pandov to also be in this spot. One WKU poster said Pandov is going to be a future 1st round NBA draft pick. I will believe it when I see it.
C - Curtis Borchardt vs Chris Marcus 7-1 285 Sr. 16.4 ppg 9.4 rpg
The main heavyweight title fight in the paint. Ding ding! Perhaps the two best centers in college basketball (Boozer and Clancy, while very skilled, arent true centers). Scouts will be in abundance as two 7-foot 1st round NBA draft picks do battle. Marcus doesnt have the scoring stats of an elite superstar, but he certainly is one. He also hasnt been himself this year, sitting out half the season with a broken foot. Marcus is really tough to move around in the paint. He will have close to 40 lbs on Curtis, which could be really tough when Curtis wants to get rebounding position. Borchardt might want to utilize his dribble drive to the basket as Marcus feet surely dont move too fast, and Curtis could blow by him. Curtis will be at the high post more, as Stanford needs to keep Marcus from clogging the paint area. He will dominate the boards if they let him just sit in the paint and block/change shots. This is the best center Stanford has faced in a long time and will need a maximum effort from more than just Borchardt to stop him. He shoots 70% from the field, which is an absolutely staggering number. Borchardt continues his dominance as well and could have his way at times with Marcus. Borchardt will definitely not get the down low position he likes as Marcus is going to be able to push him off the post. Borchardt will need to use his superior quickness and get Marcus into foul trouble. I dont know if he has a tendency to pick up bad fouls, but hopefully he does and he can watch the majority of the game from the bench.
From looking at this team they have a very similar style of play to Arizona. True they dont have the athletic talent that the Wildcats have, but it gives you some kind of idea what kind of a team they are. They run a motion offense and like to slash and dish off of the high post. A lot of times as well they set a high screen and try to get some pentetration points. They will constantly push the ball up the court and love to get transition threes. They play a man-to-man, in-your-face defense and will also employ a man-to-man press. This is different from USC, who had a zone press.
Here are the keys to Stanford winning the game:
1. Push the ball on the break, avoid falling into the press.
2. Block out, especially on Marcus.
3. Execute plays; this should be easier as Western Kentucky obviously hasnt faced Stanford.
4. Execute the Game Plan!!!!
5. Rebound, Block out and Rebound more.
Overall this is a game that Stanford can win. They need to play a very good game as this isnt your typical nine seed, but definitely a game in which Stanford has a chance to advance. I checked out a little practice on Monday and Monty is getting very vocal and trying to get these guys ready to play. It should be a very close game but I think Stanford has what it takes to get a hard-earned victory. The team that played Arizona in Tucson needs to show up, and if that occurs, you have to like the chances.