10 Takeaways: MBB vs. Oregon State

It was a classic "tale of two halves" game for Stanford Thursday night against Oregon State, with an unimaginable turnover affliction in the first half followed by an impressive second half and masterful final 10 minutes. We present a series of 10 insightful observations, opinions and statistical notes from the Stanford win.

*  The only takeaway that really matters from this Oregon State game when examining the state of this Stanford team is the turnovers.  That retched first-half display of fumbling and bumbling was the worst I can ever - EVER - remember watching in any college basketball game.  Seven turnovers in a half is not good basketball, so what do we call seven different players turning the ball over for Stanford in the first half?  The ineptitude of the passing was best described not just by the 16 turnovers, but also adding in the fact that Stanford connected for only four assists.  The ball security was so horrific and widespread as to defy description and analysis.  Throwing the ball away after rebounds.  Bad entry passes.  Bad perimeter passes.  Coughing it up when double-teamed.  Dribbling the ball off your own leg.  And on and on.  The only word I can use to describe the problem is "epidemic."  Turnovers today are a disease for Stanford, crippling its very being and spreading throughout.  Everybody is infected.  You can try to pin it on the guards, but forwards Lawrence Hill and Brook Lopez totaled seven turnovers against zero assists in the first half.  Fans want to talk about shooting and scoring, but the Washington game last Sunday was lost when Stanford stopped rebounding and started turning the ball over repeatedly in the second half.  Giving possessions to your opponent disadvantages your ability to defend and takes away chances to score.  Until this turnover epidemic is remedied, Stanford can lose to anybody and lose in ugly fashion.

*  The fact that Stanford led the game by four points at halftime is partially a testament to the opponent and location - Oregon State is not very good, and they are even worse playing at Maples Pavilion.  But the Cardinal never trailed at any time in this game despite its absolute worst ballhandling and passing.  The Beavers are not that bad.  Instead, the recipe for Stanford to stay above water was defense and rebounding.  Those are two elements of Trent Johnson's often repeated hoops holy trinity, with the third part being ball security.  Stanford suffered abject failure in taking care of the ball, but they dominated on the glass (24 rebounds to 15) and held Oregon State to just 26.5% shooting in the first half.  Stanford's offense was poor, at 34.8% shooting and 0.0% from three-point range, but the defense and rebounding was simply too good.  This is why we constantly here Johnson say that he does not worry "when the ball doesn't go down" (provided Stanford is taking good shots).  The Cardinal have quietly become one of the best defensive and rebounding teams in the conference, and that is the primary reason they own an 8-5 record in the toughest Pac-10 in recent memory, despite some pretty uneven offense.

*  While talking about defense, kudos to the Cardinal for shutting out Oregon State junior Sasa Cuic.  The foreign forward is one of the Beavers' best players, and it was duly noted that Stanford barely scraped by in Corvallis against this team with Cuic injured and out of the lineup.  For Oregon State to get Cuic back and Stanford to lose sophomore Anthony Goods, this game could have gone the other way.  Cuic was frustrated right away on Thursday, picking up fouls and taking poor shots.  He saw limited minutes and chucked up 10 field goal attempts, all missing.  Cuic finished with zero points and four fouls.  Credit freshman forward/center Brook Lopez for the start of that defensive job, plus help from junior Taj Finger.  Oregon State was left with just senior Marcel Jones to carry the scoring load, and he did his best in the first half but was held scoreless until the 6:10 mark of the second half.

*  It also helped that Stanford shot atypically well at the charity stripe, hitting 10-of-12 free throws in the first half.  The Card finished the game 16-of-18 at the line.  Absent the team's best free throw shooter in Goods, that may not happen very often.  But an uptick in free throw shooting could be a quiet X-factor in the Cardinal's favor down the stretch these next few weeks.

*  The Cardinal looked clearly committed to better taking care of the ball in the second half.  One could argue that their offensive success shooting the ball, 54.8% from the field and 40.0% from three-point range, stemmed from that.  Stanford lost the ball just six times after halftime against 11 assists.  Most noticeable was how they closed the game.  For a stretch of 11 minutes, the Cardinal never coughed up the ball.  Only in the final seconds was that interrupted on a turnover by junior Peter Prowitt.  During that 11-minute run, Stanford exploded from a precarious one-point lead to a laughably confortable 20-point advantage.  Again, this is not a coincidence.

*  I've talked about this recently, but I saw it again Thursday night and feel it worthy of comment.  Sophomore Lawrence Hill is most acclaimed the past couple months for his perimeter shooting, but he opened the Oregon State game with his first two scores in the paint.  The first was an eight-foot turnaround jumper; the second was an offensive rebound putback.  Hill did heat up in the second half shooting from outside, but it is the dual weaponry of his scoring both inside and outside that is making him so valuable on the offensive end.  Another note: Hill twice scored after offensive rebounds, and both moves were lightning quick.  The sophomore does not have the lateral quickness of the league's best small forwards, but there is another kind of basketball quickness Hill displays which is excellent.  It is a reaction quickness, which I might compare to that of a linebacker in football, which goes beyond foot speed measured on a track.

*  On the subject of outside shooting, Stanford did not make a three-pointer in the game until Hill hit early in the second half.  With the defense they were playing, Stanford survived that outside shooting drought, but it was a taste of what can continue to be expected with no Anthony Goods in the lineup.

*  It is not impossible for sophomore point guard Mitch Johnson to provide some contribution shooting the basketball.  Yes, his form is not pretty.  Yes, his three-point percentage is the same.  But he can get it done and has gotten it done on several occasions at Stanford.  The failure comes when he does not even attempt perimeter jumpers (behind or inside the three-point line).  I did not see Johnson attempt any jumpshot in the game until the 17:20 mark of the second half.  That was disappointing to see, given the clear emphasis and responsibility that now comes for him to shoot the ball in Goods' absence...  On another note, kudos to Johnson for playing hard and chasing down rebounds and loose balls.  You may not have noticed that he led all Stanford players with eight boards.

*  One question asked by Cardinalmaniacs™ following the high ankle sprain to Anthony Goods was who would pick up his minutes?  Yes, Mitch Johnson is now starting at point guard, but he did not log monster minutes on Thursday.  He in fact played 29 minutes, just six minutes above his season average.  Goods was leading the team with 34.0 minutes per game, which means there were other much more significant benefactors in his absence during the Oregon State game.  Redshirt sophomore walk-on guard Kenny Brown benefited the most, playing 17 minutes - more than triple his season average (and he did not play any minutes in eight games this year).  Brown is a shooter, pure and simple.  Trent Johnson said as much afterward in the post-game press conference.  Somehow, we were inescapably impressed after the game with Brown having played the best of his Cardinal career despite hitting just one shot.  True, that three-pointer inside the 10-minute mark of the second half was a big spark in starting an 11-2 run to push a two-point lead to 11 points.  But Brown missed four other attempts including three other three-pointers.  What we admired about his performance was the energy he brought leaping for rebounds, chasing loose balls, running the baseline and defending.  I did not think it possible, but Kenny Brown sparked Stanford without shooting well.  His two steals and three assists all came in the second half, both marks new career highs.

Sans Goods, the focal attention has fallen on Stanford's backcourt.  But the loss also pressures the frontcourt, with more minutes now needed from Hill and Fred Washington playing "smaller" in the lineup than they would with a healthy Goods.  Compounding that situation is the recent slide by freshman center Robin Lopez, who twice in the past week-plus has been described by Trent Johnson as having "hit a wall."  Now there is a great need for juniors Taj Finger and Peter Prowitt to step up.  Both played minutes above their season averages on Thursday.  Finger had one excellent scoring play, when he gave a fake, spin-move and then fadeaway jumper against Sasa Cuic, draining the shot from 12 feet.  His greater contributions may have come on defense, including the aforementioned job in helping to shut down Cuic.  Prowitt had a decidedly more difficult time.  In his first-half five minutes, the 6'10" center looked like a shell of himself.  Three separate plays signalled an abject lack of confidence: 1)  His patented drive across the lane against the defender, typically followed by his hook shot, but in this instance he froze afterward and passed.  2)  After an offensive rebound under the basket, he made a noticeably weak move in an attempt to score the ball back.  3)  He double-clutched a free throw attempt and bricked it - the second time in the last couple weeks he has done that.  Prowitt has struggled at Stanford in regaining his confidence and timing after coming back from injuries, and he has little discernable confidence right now.  One moment in his favor in the second half came when he made that same move across the lane and this time took the hook shot.  He hit it.  That was a baby step for Prowitt, but more of those could enable him to be the contributor he has demonstrated in the past.

Bonus:  One key to Stanford's defense on Thursday was handling Oregon State's screens.  The Cardinal have been clipped by screens in several games this year and given up repeated high-percentage plays to their opponent.  In recent weeks, we have seen better preparation and execution against screens.  The good news Thursday night was that the Beavers did not threaten with strong perimeter shooters, which allowed Stanford to run under the screens and still recover.  Oregon State shot 3-of-20 from deep in the game.  The bad news is that it requires a different technique when defending a team like Oregon, who can shoot the ball often with all five players on the floor.  Let that be a focus as you view today's big game between the Cardinal and Ducks at Maples Pavilion.

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