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. It won't show up in the stats…
… but from my angle, it looked like Anthony Goods got a piece of McNeal's
three with 1:45 left in overtime. The line was dead-on, and the shot would have
put Marquette up 84-80, all but winning it. Anthony Goods is underrated on D –
just look at his three steals Saturday. He's made a big improvement from
previous seasons on the wins-championships side of the court, which is all the
more important because of his offensive regression.
2. It's kind of crazy to suggest this…
… in a game where they score 48 of Stanford's 81 points, but why not go to
the twins more often? My rationale is this: when Stanford really needs buckets
down the stretch, they're going to Robin, and, especially, Brook. I slept
through a lot of my Econ classes, but I think the term here is revealed
preference. The fact that the ball goes to the twins when Stanford most
needs to score implies that the coaching staff recognizes they're the best
option. Well, let's take it a step further. If Brook and Robin are the best
options, why not go to them every possession? There's no unwritten rule that
says Lawrence Hill or Anthony Goods need a certain number of shots, so why not
go to the twins and try to optimize our scoring on every possession, not just
the ones down the stretch?
3. The reality is…
… two guys obviously can't take 100 percent of your
shots. If Brook kicks out of a double team to Anthony Goods for a wide-open
three, what's Goods supposed to do – pass it back down low? So given that
opponents will try to take away your primary scoring options, Stanford's shot
distribution against Marquette was pretty close to perfect:
Brook Lopez - 20
Robin Lopez - 10
Anthony Goods - 10
Mitch Johnson - 7
Lawrence Hill - 6
Kenny Brown - 4
Taj Finger - 3
Fred Washington - 0
I guess I'd like to see a few more looks for Robin Lopez and Taj Finger and fewer for Anthony Goods, who needs to realize that he's shooting closer to 30 percent than 40 percent as of late and adjust his shot-to-pass ratio accordingly. (But that's really nitpicking because it's pretty tough to get more looks in the post for Finger and Robin Lopez – when an opponent sags down low, it's the perimeter that opens up. And of our perimeter options, Anthony Goods is as good as anyone.) Looking at shot distribution more broadly, we took only 14 threes and made seven of them because they were so open. Trent Johnson talks about going inside-out, and he talks about the need for the team to maximize its offensive efficiency. By having the right people taking the shots, Stanford squeezed every possible point out of its possessions, and that's why we're booking plane tickets to Houston right now.
4. Another big, hidden key...
… is the great job the staff does with its distribution of minutes. We comment, rightfully, that they're not always spot-on with late-game strategy. And benching players with two first-half fouls is dumb, as was the length of time that the twins sat out yesterday, so I suppose it's ironic that I'm writing this now. But you look at the final stat sheet, and you see that Mitch played 44 minutes, Anthony 41, and the twins the majority of game (Brook would have had a lot more if not for the foul issues, the one Achilles' heel in the staff's minutes distribution.) Our rotation has shortened so we have essentially four full-time starters and then Fred/Taj/Kenny rotate in the fifth slot and give the four starters limited breathers. I think that's a pretty optimal lineup, too. The staff is really good at this stuff.
5. Trent Johnson had this coming...
… he's received seven technicals in his entire Stanford career, but five since Valentine's Day. Any one technical, by the nature of the violation, is going to be a judgment call, and so it will always be possible to say, ‘Oh, Johnson shouldn't have been ejected yesterday,' or ‘Oh, he wasn't protesting that badly against ASU.' But if three's a trend, five's an ingratiated pattern, and Johnson needs to adjust. After three years on the beat, I see he's team-first, he genuinely cares about his players in a way too few coaches do. I get it. But life isn't black and white. And while Johnson has a lot of good qualities, he also has a temper issue that's been simmering for awhile (five technicals since V Day, the postgame meltdown against USC I chronicled when he had his staff go hunting for Bill McCabe) before it abruptly came to a boil yesterday.
Bottom line: just like Johnson teaches his players to learn from their weaknesses on the basketball court, so must he. Officials are emphasizing decorum and calling more bench technicals now than ever, but Johnson got that memo over the summer, along with every other head coach in the land. It's up to him to adjust.
6. You've heard about…
…Mitch Johnson's 16-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (though not enough, it's a pure passer's equivalent of scoring 53) and his 3-of-3 shooting performance deep. What's underrated though is his defensive performance against Dominic James. James, who Anthony Goods compared to a stronger Tajuan Porter with a better finish, got his nine points – on 4-of-16 shooting. If anyone's read Moneyball (and you should, it's a great book), you know Michael Lewis' story chronicles the struggles of players like Kevin Youkilis and Nick Swisher to rise in baseball because of the establishment's bias towards players would might not have been as productive but "looked good." I think a similar bias works against Mitch Johnson. Look at the numbers, and he's indisputably having a better season than Goods or Hill. But Goods has a better-looking stroke and Hill has better length, so they get the accolades – Mitch just gets the assists.
7. The biggest change…
…over the latter half of Stanford's season has been the offensive emergence of Robin Lopez. Now it's time for him to take it a step further and get some confidence, nay, cockiness, in himself. I'd like to see him be more aggressive down the stretch and demand the ball. Washington State was a (much welcomed) exception to the rule, but it's usually Brook who demands the rock with the clock running out (double or triple-team be damned) while Robin is more of a shrinking violet. And maybe that was appropriate given his offensive skills last year, but there's no way he should have started 5-of-5 yesterday, only to finish the game with only 10 total shots. It's often his defender who's doubling on Brook – so give Robin the rock!
8. Brook Lopez…
…how about them free throws? 10-of-11 on the game, which is what won the game for Stanford, though everyone understandably went gaga over the final shot. And such a pure stroke. It's easily the most fluid on the team, even though the taller you are, the worse of a free throw shooter you are because it's hard to get all seven feet of your body dipping and releasing in perfect synchronicity. If he were 5-4, Brook would be one of those guys you see on Butler or Davidson or somewhere, shooting 52 percent deep and 90 percent on free throws. Stanford was under 50 percent from the line in the first half, but because of Brook, finished at 80 percent in the second.
9. The eyes of Texas…
…will, again, be upon Mitch Johnson. You have to figure that Rick Barnes' most favoritest matchup will be isolating D.J. Augustin, far-and-away his best player, against his fellow point guard Johnson. Tom Creen did a nice job of isolating McNeal time and again against Kenny Brown, and I expect Stanford will have a similarly uphill matchup stopping Augustin at the point guard position Friday. Then again, I just sung Mitch's praises against the lightning-quick James, so maybe he's found another gear. Texas, like any top-ten team, is going to present us with tough matchups on the perimeter, and whenever our point guard has to be a primary defender, we're in trouble (Arizona, Oregon and UCLA do better against us than their season results would indicate). Then again, Texas strikes me as a team that wins as much with length as they do with speed, which obviously plays to our advantage. We'll have edge down low, with the ‘Horns' tallest posts "just" 6-10. Like we did against James and Marquette, I like showing Augustin and Texas some zone, and I like switching Fred Washington onto the hot hand at times.
10. Of all the regions…
…to be placed in, Stanford got some bad luck with the Texas draw. (Although we were very lucky to get Cornell, instead of, say, Georgia.) The other three seeds are facing Davidson, West Virginia and a very beatable Tennessee. And how about UCLA and UNC's paths to the Final Four? Between the officiating, the late-game finishes, and the way their bracket is falling apart, maybe this will be UCLA's year. (FYI: No national champion has played the highest possible seed every round. Getting way ahead of myself, I don't see Memphis or UCLA losing, so the only way we'd catch a break would be in the national finals.) But as for a tentative Texas prediction? Obviously, we're going to focus on Augustin and A.J. Abrams on the perimeter, likely hiding our weakest defender on Justin Mason. He'll be a big key.
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