The View from Virginia

Wrapping up our coverage of the Cardinal's 76-75 win at Virginia, Daniel Novinson checks in with his observations and thoughts from inside the John Paul Jones Arena. He runs through some of the revealing events he saw unfold in Charlottesville, as well as some telling quotes he gathered afterward in post-game interviews.

Sure, you knew Virginia junior point guard Sean Singletary was a great player.  And Stanford head coach Trent Johnson gave him the appropriate accolades:  "Our game plan against him was to pray.  I'm not one to throw praise around, but he's as good as it gets."

But here is what the TV cameras didn't pick up:  Singletary talked more trash than nearly anyone Stanford will face all year.  And 24 points later, I guess it is his prerogative.  But if you are looking for evidence of karma, how about that final score?

Depth chart, depth chart, depth chart.

Sure, you knew Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez started together for the first time since high school.

But here is what you might not have known:  Expect the twins to start together a lot more in the future, judging by Coach Johnson's post-game comments:

"If we're going to be successful, we're going to have to play those two together," Johnson said.  "We're going to have to keep it in the halfcourt, use our size and play big."

For Johnson, who discusses his lineups nearly as effusively as a monk on a 10-year vow of silence, that statement speaks volumes to my ears.  My fellow ‘08ers Peter Prowitt and Taj Finger may have seen their last starts in the foreseeable future, barring injury or exceptional match-ups against another team like Air Force with no true center.

More depth chart.

Sure, you knew Mitch Johnson played just 17 minutes.  And before we cite his four fouls as the reason, note that the sophomore played none of the final 2:30, with Trent Johnson subbing in Landry Fields.

In as many words, the elder Johnson explained that his point guard's offensive limitations were a liability that could not be tolerated against a Top-50 opponent for the final play:  "Landry could shoot the ball well.  We didn't think we could stop them, so we just wanted to get as many shooters on the floor as we could and get the ball in Fred's hands."

Again, maybe I am speculating too much, and maybe Trent Johnson was exceptionally effusive after his most exciting win since Chris Hernandez beat Oregon or Washington last season, but I do not see why the logic that caused Fields to see minutes at Johnson's expense would change moving forward.

Consider three points:

1) This team's ongoing shooting woes are forefront in Coach Johnson's mind.  He said post-game that the team's home woes can be wholly explained by their combined 21-of-86 shooting in the first halves of the Cal, Santa Clara and Air Force games, and he will be looking to fix this above all else with the Washington schools on deck.  "We haven't shot the ball well, and if you don't shoot the ball well, regardless of where you are, it doesn't matter," Johnson said.

2)  The competitiveness of this year's Pac-10.  Even if Johnson wanted to reward his older captain with more playing time, he might not be able to in a league where everyone but Arizona State and Oregon State has legitimate NCAA hopes.

3)  In limited minutes, Fields acquitted himself well enough Sunday: 2-of-2 shooting for five points, with a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.  After an ice-cold start to the season, the Orange County native says he is calming down and starting to find his shooting touch.

Depth chart, the last.

Just when I thought I was beginning to understand the substitution patterns, in came redshirt sophomore walk-on Kenny Brown.  And not to pick on Brown, who did only receive two minutes after all, but 10 different Stanford players saw first-half minutes.  Since when was the first half against a favored opponent garbage time?

Virginia's two best scorers (Singletary and J.R. Reynolds) went a combined 1-of-9 on plenty of open looks in the period, so if not for the wacky substitutions, I would figure Stanford could have been leading by nearly 10 at the break.  Those extra five points sure would have been nice down the stretch, no?

Foul play

After a few weeks off Pac-10 basketball, it was a shock to my eyes to see 49 fouls called in a relatively clean game.  But, as Trent Johnson says, it is what it is.  Expect plenty of games in this competitive conference with hyperactive officials to be won or lost at the charity stripe.  Example A:  Stanford shot 16-of-22 free throws in the win over Virginia and 18-of-29 in the Cal loss.  The implied four-point swing is exactly the difference in the games' final margins.

Given that the Lopez twins are fouled more than any of their teammates and have missed more free throws than any of their teammates, whether the duo can raise their accuracy could spell the difference between NCAA, NIT and spring break in Cancun.  After a combined 12-of-26 at the line over their last four games, the good news is that it can only get better.  For what it is worth, Lawrence Hill said post-game that the pair are the hardest-practicing players on the roster.

Looking ahead

Imagine how crazy we would be if we were all Virginia fans.  Sure, they creamed Gonzaga and beat a very good Arizona team, but they lost to Purdue and Appalachian State in the interim.  In an incredibly tough ACC (their next four games: at UNC, at Boston College, Maryland, Wake Forest), the Cavaliers may be cursing those two games come Selection Sunday.

For Stanford, meanwhile, this win is their first over an NCAA-caliber opponent (sorry, Bobby Knight, I do not see it).  Before everyone dismisses an NCAA berth as out of hand, consider that Trent Johnson started 6-7 and 4-6 the last two years; he rebounded to make the Tournament one year and came pretty close the other year.  Heck, at 9-4, Johnson is practically on pace for a #3 seed.

Not convinced?  Consider how much better this team is now than at the start of the season, and project that forward across the next two months.  And if you doubt me, ask senior Fred Washington.  "I feel we're growing after every game," Washington said.  "I feel like we picked it up in the second half of the Cal game, and we picked it up today."

Quick takes

–  Has anyone grown in the offense over the past year more than Lawrence Hill?  I remember as if it were yesterday Trent Johnson saying, "Oh that Lawrence.  He's a chucker alright," after another 3-of-10-type performance from the then-freshman.  This year, though, Hill enters this week at 54.8% shooting from the field.  The only player better than him is Fred Washington, at 56.5%, though Washington does not have a shot chart full of jumpers anywhere near Hill's.

–  Stanford desperately needs a lockdown perimeter defender.  Anthony Goods, try as he might, could not stick with Singletary.  And Singletary is good, but he is not the next-Ben-Gordon good.  I was surprised that Stanford did not try switching Mitch Johnson onto Singletary at all.

–  Whoever the perimeter defender is, the Lopez twins need to do a better job of calling out screens – Goods must have been blindsided a dozen times.  Virginia Coach Dave Leitao exploited the weakness, running the same screen and roll play that drew the foul on Fred Washington on the Wahoos' final possession countless times.

–  The new John Paul Jones Arena is nicer than most NBA arenas.  And it is true – the people in Virginia are nicer.

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