Editor's Note: The following story contains commentary from the writer's "real-time" views of the on-court performances and decisions of our men's basketball team. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our team's obvious desire and commitment.
1. The atmosphere.
Tim Kawakami, Ray Ratto, Darren Sabedra, and Jake Curtis were the print guys I saw in the house covering Stanford. Not a bad showing, though obviously it pales compared to UCLA's. Same with our 1.5 sections of the Honda Center to their, oh, say, six. Whoever the Bruins choose to support on Saturday could have a major effect. I'd guess the Vegas line will be Stanford -2.5. [My roomie Zhihao says that's spot on. We then predict the MSU-Pitt and Kansas-UNLV lines, unseen, accurate to within a half-point. Mom, it's my job, not an addiction.] Anyway, home-court edge is worth two points, so if UCLA's fans go hard against us, the game's essentially a toss-up.
Oh, and I got an angry email for saying something on my KZSU broadcast to the effect of, "Well, after seeing Kentucky's and Cornell's cheerleading squads, it''s no mystery which one is full of Ivy League students and which one is full of SECers." I stand by my statement.
2. The NCAA.
Let me continue to quickly get all of the negativity out of my system. Now, don't get me wrong, courtside seats as a 21-year old, an opportunity to meet Stanford fans all over the country (and several today): this has been the best "job" of my life and I'm most certainly grateful. But there's a difference between gratitude and willful blindness.
The latter is apparently a requirement to work for the NCAA, who not-so-kindly told me that I couldn't bring the can of Diet Coke that they gave me 30 seconds earlier onto the floor. Okay, post-9/11 security, don't want me pulling an Oregon and throwing a can at Kevin Love, I disagree but I get it.
No, actually, and I can't make this up, I'm told, "We have a no-tolerance
policy for corporate logos."
Where does the hypocrisy stop? On the court, anyone want to guess how many of the ten players battling for Marquette and Kentucky at that moment will graduate with a degree that will teach them anything meaningful? Off the court, I resolved the crisis…by pouring my Coke into a blue cup with a giant Dasani logo on the side. Guess logos are okay, as long as the NCAA gets a cut. They don't seem to mind the omnipresent CBS eye and its $6 billion contract. Anything to support its
athletes, of course. student-
3. Offensive rebounding.
I sympathize with the blue-collar factory worker losing his job to automation and foreign labor more than ever before, now that a machine is transcribing every press conference at the Tournament: http://www.asapsports.com/show_interview.php?id=48301. There goes my spring break to Acapulco.
So I'm not going to retype everything word for word, but I wanted to highlight a key quote. After we got clobbered on the offensive glass by UCLA (18-5), we came back to win on the offensive glass against Cornell (just 13-10, but they missed 50 percent more shots than we did, so they had a lot more opportunities). Overall, the 47-25 rebounding edge left no doubt.
Trent Johnson reiterated what I said after that final UCLA loss, namely that penetration against our guards killed us on the offensive boards. As the twins had to shift over to try to block Collison and Westbrook, as Mitch Johnson and his teammates were often a step behind, no one was left on the weak side, which is where most rebounds go:
"Sometimes, because we have size and we're not rebounding well, it's because we're getting outquicked to the ball and other teams may have better athletes," Trent Johnson explained after the Cornell win. "For the most part today we were very aggressive, but we got a quickness advantage to the ball at times."
Which is why Marquette scares me. It's not size, but quickness, that neutralizes our size advantage.
4. More rebounding!
Another point of interest on O-boards: the majority come from our four in our offensive sets. Taj Finger (clearly a four), Robin Lopez (plays the four when his brother's on the court) and Lawrence Hill (a four/three, depending on personnel) are the team's first, second and fourth-best O-boarders, even though they're just fourth, fifth and seventh in minutes. On a per-minute basis, they're the clear-cut top three o-boarders, with Finger, the team's purest four, in the lead by a mile. All told, the trio has combined for 225 of Stanford's 448 O-boards on the season.
Of course, no telling how much those stats are skewed by the fact that Brook Lopez has shot more and drawn more double-teams than any of them – and it's a lot easier to get an O-board off someone else's miss, when there's no one guarding you.
Oh, and the big guys are getting the love. "The best tandem in all of college basketball in the front line," Steve Lavin just said of the Lopez twins on SportsCenter. Incidentally, I've seen a whole lot more about Stanford than Wisconsin, Pitt or Xavier, the other three seeds who all played today. Can't complain about East Coast bias today. [Okay, Dick Vitale just pounded the table and proclaimed, "Survive and advance baby. Survive and advance. Duke had to win six games. Now they have to win just five." I take it all back.]
5, 6, 7. A fan's perspective.
Fellow senior Zhihao Zhang (aka Cardinalmaniac08) actually made our 7 a.m. flight to Orange County, and if for no other reason than that, he deserves this space in my column. He's now been to 76 Stanford sporting events this year (for the record, he says today's game ranks in the top-10) and I love his blog reports from every contest, so let's give him the floor to share his Cornell thoughts:
Stanford 77, Cornell 53
Finals provided a nice distraction from basketball and the four days between the Pac-10 Championship Game and the NCAA 1st rounds went by pretty quickly. I managed to get subsidised tickets through the 6th Man Club. Supposedly, the 6th Man was initially only allotted 20 tickets, but they ended up securing 75. Still, they were in high demand and issued based on how many priority points we had. Luckily, that wasn't an issue for me. Unfortunately, due to finals, quite a number of 6th Man members were unable to make it down to the first round game, but purchased tickets with the intention of making it down Saturday.
With a take home final due Thursday afternoon and a 7 a.m. flight to Orange County in the morning, I had to pull an all-nighter and so it was an extra long day of basketball for me. After some logistical issues, I made it to my gate just as the plane was boarding. The flight to OC was filled with basketball fans and I heard a few "Go Stanford" cheers as I boarded in my 6th Man shirt. Alex and I sat next to a fellow Stanford fan and got some early morning basketball talk under our belts. After landing, we took a shuttle to the hotel that Daniel had kindly offered us to crash in with him. There was a Cornell fan who good naturedly gave us some grief as we got on, but conceded that we would probably blow them out and had booked a flight out of Anaheim at 6 p.m. He asked to be dropped off at a drinking hole across the road from the Honda Center. It was only 9 a.m.
After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we made our way to the Honda Center and met up with some friends, a fellow senior and So-Cal native, and the alum I had met when we played the L.A. schools a couple of weeks ago. I also later met up with Cardinal Junkie - the guy who inspired our blog with his video blog of Stanford's amazing 2003-2004 basketball season. We first met at the Old Pro before our whole odyssey began and had continued to keep in touch. It was nice to finally catch up again. I also bumped into another Stanford fan who I had met at the ASU game in Tempe. He remembered me and this time, had his two adorable kids with him. We chose not to dwell on that game too much.
I wasn't that impressed with the overall Stanford turnout. I thought Kentucky, Marquette and Cornell fans did a pretty good travelling and it seemed that a whole bunch of Cornell students (definitely outnumbering 6th Man) made it to the game. They were very enthusiastic and were standing and cheering throughout the 2nd half, even as they were getting blown out. In the first game between Kentucky and Marquette, we were mostly rooting for Kentucky, just so that we could avoid Marquette's outstanding guards and pressing defense. Crawford of Kentucky gave it everything he had, but their valiant comeback fell short and Marquette advanced.
As for us, we started out sloppily, turning the ball over and giving up a couple of offensive rebounds, but our defense was dominating and we very soon righted the ship and started hitting shots. It didn't hurt that we were much bigger than them. We even got out and ran the break with reasonable success. Hopefully that will dissuade Marquette from crashing the boards hard. Hey, one can dream. Everyone got playing time and we hit a good amount of 3s. Hopefully this will give the guys confidence come Saturday's game. When we did get the ball into the post, I liked how both Lopez twins kicked the ball back out to open shooters. Robin was great today and seemed even more focused than usual. He's definitely looked good these past few weeks. The part of me that likes to overthink things is afraid that his draft stock may have soared to the point that he may seriously reconsider staying in school (assuming that was his initial plan). Oh well, there's nothing we can do except appreciate what we have and enjoy the moment.
All in all, the game was just what the doctor ordered. Cornell was clearly outmatched and unable to deal with our size. I'm glad that we didn't screw around for too long and put them away early enough so that the bench was able to get substantial minutes. It might come in handy on Saturday. Coming into the tournament, all I wanted was to get past the first weekend. Marquette's in our way and it's not going to be easy, but if we can play to our potential and pound them with our size – size that they haven't seen before, Houston beckons. Let's do this. Go Card!
We are 3 seniors who decided that we wanted to make the most of our final year of Cardinal sports as undergrads. We set a goal of attending 100 sporting events and are documenting the entire experience on our blog. We're currently at game No. 120 and are gunning for 150. The USC football game was without a doubt one of the highlights so far. We are also hoping to go to every single men's basketball game (home and away). You can view our game recaps, away games travelling schedule and learn more about us at: http://cardinalmaniacs.blogspot.com/
~Albert, Alex & Zhihao
8. Actual analysis of the Cornell game: Shutting down top guys.
Yeah, I'm admittedly light in that category, and yeah, it is nominally my
job, but come on, it's Cornell, we were ahead by 36 at one point, everyone
looked great. It's really hard to evaluate how we're going to do against a team
with a pulse after this exhibition. (Although Mitch Johnson's struggles to stay
in front of Louis Dale, as posters have mentioned, were neither a surprise nor a
positive omen.) But what stood out most to me was our ability to stay on
Cornell's two sharpest shooters, Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale.
I think the biggest difference between the NBA and college basketball is that while everyone in the NBA can create and knock down open looks, only two or three guys are real scoring threats on most college basketball teams. Teams that are exceptions (like UCLA and USC) are both rare, and also present real problems, particularly for us.
That's because, at most times, we have two or three guys on the court
(Washington, Robin Lopez, a healthy Goods, Fields and Hill on longer, but slower
guys, Finger on a guy his size) who are great defenders. If the other team has
only two or three real scorers, this works out really well for us. Look at Ryan Anderson or Jon Brockman's struggles. But if the other team can light it up from
everywhere, well, our weaker defenders (Johnson, Brown, Finger against a bigger
guy) have to be guarding someone and the results aren't pretty. (By the way,
Four Marquette players reached double figures against Kentucky.)
But Cornell's only real threats were Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale, each guys who shoot over 40 percent from the field and from deep. They were a combined 1-of-15 in the first half, and Cornell shot just 16 percent on the period. Mission accomplished.
"They've got quite a few guys, Fields and Hill, who are pretty long on the perimeter," Wittman said. "So then, you know, they have the two seven-footers down low. So even if you shot fake and try to drive in the lane, they can alter shots as well. But, you know, they're a great defensive team, probably one of the best defensive teams we've played all year."
9. Around the Tournament: 14 of the 16 top seeds winning, and virtually all of them in sleepers? This is easily the most boring Opening Day of the Tournament in memory.
Around the Pac-10: Boo for USC, and aww shucks for Arizona, who played hard but came up short.
Hurrah for UCLA, who allowed 29 points, the fewest anyone's ever scored since the field's expanded to 64. I know it's mandatory for every talking head to say that a 16 will beat a one-seed any year now. However, given how many more resources top-level schools throw into college basketball now versus 20 years ago, how many more crappy conferences and auto-bids there are now versus 20 years ago and how much more attention is spent to recruiting and, as a result, how many fewer top players slip through the cracks, it seems that the opposite would be true. I don't think a #16 will beat a #1 in the next ten years.
Bottom line on the conferences though: No one remembers if the SEC's fifth-place teams won or lost their first or second round games. Or if their top two teams won by one or 21 in that first weekend. All people remember is Florida chopping down the nets twice (and Joakim Noah's ugly visage. Similarly, all that's going to matter for the Pac-10, on the heels of perhaps its best season ever, is how far the league's top teams go. If two Pac-10 squads can slip into the Final Four, everyone's going to be singing the Left Coast's praises. (I also think this is a big reason the ACC's so overrated and the Pac-10 so underrated. One league has two great teams and a bunch of mediocre ones pretty consistently, while the other has five good teams, but no great ones many years.)
10. To come: I'll be interviewing Marquette's Scout.com publisher tomorrow, and should have his thoughts up shortly. Marquette reminds me a lot of another six-seed with a ton of athleticism and not that much inside: USC. (Sorry, never bought the Gibson hype.) And everyone knows how bad the Trojans have made us look. (For the record, I predicted we'd cover the spread easily today, I'm not a total pessimist.)
In the meantime, how about some self-promotion? I'm surprised none of my fellow curmudgeons on the site have commented on a feature about the changing student body (http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2008/3/6/sixthManShortage ). And here's my newspaper-style recap from the Cornell contest: (http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2008/3/15/stanford77Cornell53UglyButItWorks ).
Let's hope Stanford keeps it up Saturday.
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