It was a real chic pick to take Western Kentucky on Thursday. I mean the Hilltoppers were coming in with an 18 game winning streak and lots of momentum. They had Chris Marcus, who supposedly was going to give Curtis Borchardt all he could handle - not the other way around. Western Kentucky's 28-3 record was also tough to bet against. The game got close in the second half, but Stanford controlled tempo throughout and never lost the lead after recovering from a 3-0 WKU start. It was a tough defensive battle in which Stanford really showed some grit and set up a matchup against the steamroller that is Kansas. Or is Kansas really that invincible? This is a team that had a more than a legit chance to fall to Holy Cross on Thursday. The Crusaders had a three-point lead with around five minutes left and had Roy Williams more than worried. His demeanor on the sideline really had me thinking he was contemplating what to say in a potential losing postgame press conference. Nevertheless, Kansas came through ,but now don't look like the same team that went undefeated in the Big 12, literally and figuratively. They were exposed against Oklahoma and Holy Cross and could be without their star starting guard, Kirk Hinrich, the leader and glue of the team. I don't expect him to play Saturday, as he didn't practice Friday, so look for a lineup shakeup tomorrow when the two teams hit the court.
PG - Tony Giovachinni vs Aaron Miles 6-1 175 Fr. 6.8 ppg 6.8 apg .333 3FG%
Is very good friends with Josh Childress, and the two were strongly considering being a package in the recruiting war a year ago. Miles is averaging 6.8 assists, which is second best in the nation for a freshman, and is very quick. He is not the type of guard Tony has success against defensively or offensively. He is similar to TJ Ford in court vision and awareness, but not quite as lightning quick. Even with all his assists he usually hasn't been counted on to lead a team as Hinrich usually fills that role. This will be a large test for Miles. He is still a great player, but it will be interesting to see how he reacts to now being the guy everyone is counting on to lead and produce. He could have his way against Tony but I feel Julius Barnes can stay with him if given the chance to defend him. Barnes can match his quickness and has two more seasons under his belt; he might be able to rattle the freshman. Not a great chance for that, but worth watching.
SG - Julius Barnes vs Jeff Boschee 6-1 185 Sr. 13.4 ppg 2.4 apg .471 3FG%
Boschee is the three-point specialist, far and away more dangerous than his other two starting guard mates. Similar to Jason Kapono, if you leave this guy open, count it. Unlike Kapono, though, Boschee is a great defender; he will likely guard Jacobsen at times as well as guarding Barnes. He doesn't have tremendous height or speed but uses great instincts and timing to shut down opponents. He isn't in the mold of wing players who give Stanford trouble but you never know with great shooters. Boschee could one game go 1-13, but the next go 11-13; hopefully he can be caught on a bad day Saturday. Julius had a decent game against Western Kentucky as he hit some shots, but missed some open ones. His perimeter defense was very good at times and is going to play a major role in this game, along with Justin Davis and Josh Childress. Boschee should be a containable matchup if Hinrich doesn't go, as the perimeter defense can key on Boschee.
SF - Casey Jacobsen vs Keith Langford 6-4 200 Fr. 7.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg .297 3FG%
Look for Langford to join the starting lineup with Hinrich inactive. He is a very good freshman with an outside shot and good penetration skills. Averages 7.5 points per game in a limited role and could excel in a starter's role. He is a freshman, though, and hasn't started on a stage this big in his life. It is tough to have freshmen lead you into your big games, but it looks like Kansas will have to do this with Langford, Miles and post player Wayne Simien. Casey has to breakout and really carry his team. Listening to him talk Friday morning on the Tony Bruno show, he sincerely feels like Stanford should win this game. He wasn't sugar-coating anything and saying stuff like "We will give it out best shot", he flat out said he thinks the Cardinal should do very well on the other side of the 1 seed vs 8 seed game. Look for Casey to have trouble with Langford's speed, but to have a big game in the biggest game of the season. He has struggled in his tourney games, but he can go a long way with a big performance Saturday.
PF - Teyo Johnson vs Drew Gooden 6-10 230 Jr. 20.3 ppg 11.4 rpg .509 FG% .762 FT%
This is a matchup for which Stanford has probably been talking and plotting a strategy ever since the brackets were released. Gooden is a flat out awesome player; he has speed, a good outside shot and a great post game. He is a top five pick in the draft next year when he leaves and will get big dollars. This will take an effort such as Stanford's vs Tim Duncan a few years back. While I don't believe Gooden is quite as good as Duncan, the effort will have to be very similar. Gooden should be either the Player of the Year in the country or the runner-up. Teyo, as well as Justin Davis, will get their shots at Gooden defensively but I don't expect either of them to have much success. He is just too good. Gooden can get his points if the Cardinal contain Nick Collison, Gooden's frontcourt mate. Justin Davis had a breakout game of sorts Thursday, with his alley-oop and very good defense. I would expect him to perhaps get the start, but Teyo has been starting for a while now and Monty is reticent to change things up at this point. I hope Stanford can keep Gooden within the 15-18 points range, maybe even get some fouls on him like they did to Marcus. That could undoubtedly alter this game.
C - Curtis Borchardt vs Nick Collison 6-9 250 Jr. 15.2 ppg 7.9 rpg .596 FG% .594 FT%
Collison is an interesting player. He sometimes disappears but at other times he plays like the McDonalds All-American label he earned out of high school. He still managed to average 15 points a game but picks up cheap fouls and can go long periods of time without scoring. I feel like he will have huge problems against Borchardt on both sides of the basketball. I follow the Big 12 somewhat, but I don't recall any player with Curtis' height and skill level. Most of those players end up guarding Gooden anyway. Collison doesn't have the height but he has the quickness to stay with Borchardt. He also likes to go on the perimeter, which could pull Borchardt away from the basket. This is going to be a great matchup, and the Cardinal will go as long far as Borchardt can take them. He needs to keep Gooden off the glass, especially the offensive glass, which was a problem against the Hilltoppers.
Overall I feel like this a going to be a great game. I hate to see an injury to a guy on another team as a break, but it is what it is. Hinrich is a very underrated player who can break down a defense and score points in a hurry. He shoots 47% from the three-point line and 15 points per game! Even if he plays, he won't be anything close to 100%, and I personally feel like he will not play. Kansas also doesn't press, which is a huge help and could really turn this into a halfcourt game. If Kansas starts to get into transition and scores easy baskets, it could be a long night. But if it is a halfcourt game, that monkey on Roy Williams' back might get a little bigger.