NIT First Round Preview: Boston U.

Ah... the squeak of the sneaks are back and the sweet sounds of the swish are heard once again in Maples Pavilion. Stanford men's basketball tips off its season with a tough test against the Terriers of Boston University in the NIT opener. Don't even think about looking past this game which Mike Montgomery calls "a tough first round draw for the NIT."

Boston University @ Stanford
6:15 pm (PST) tip-off

In a nutshell, Stanford has the advantage of playing this NIT opener at home with a bigger and more athletic team, at just about every position.  And as I analyze what B.U. likes to do, tries to do and is capable of doing, I will build a case for why Stanford reasonably should win this game on paper.  But one overriding factor should honestly scare you just like it scares this Stanford coaching staff: the Terriers are an experienced team that bring everybody of significance back from an NCAA tournament team last year.

B.U. ostensibly has every iota of firepower of chemistry that they did at the end of last season, when they won the America East conference championship in a 22-10 season and reached the NCAA tournament.  In fact, they have added two key cogs back to the active roster who were in street clothes at the conclusion of that season.  Combo guard Matt Turner was lost to injury (shoulder) after just six games and ended up taking a medical redshirt, while center Matt Czaplinski took a non-medical redshirt his first year in the program.

This game feels like big, bad Stanford against the lil' mid-major, at the indomitable Maples no less.  But the truth is that last year's edition of the Cardinal was a far cry from the superhuman incarnations we enjoyed the previous few years, and the only two players who could consistently score from that team are gonzo.  Stanford is starting this season with huge unknowns at just about every position on the floor (plus injury), while B.U. comes in still rolling with an intact roster that approximates the product you want to achieve at the end of your season.  Frankly, there could not be a worse time for the Card to face the Terriers.  I say this smells like trouble.  And readers of my previews on this site over the past several years know that I am not an alarmist.

But before you go lay your coin on B.U. with your local bookie, let's take a look at the nuts and bolts of what B.U. actually does.  Holistically, I think they carry a huge advantage in experience (even though they similarly start a sophomore, senior and three juniors), but we should examine their talent and tendencies...

In short, I would label them a poor man's Stanford team from yesteryear.  They are soundly coached with a tremendous focus on ball control and defense, with a starting point guard who sported a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio last year and the #10 field goal defense in the country.  The coaching philosophy is that if you play hard defense and smart offense, and then slow the game down, the percentages can slide in your favor even against a more athletic team.  To that end you will see the Terriers employ a 3/4 press on defense, though do not confuse this conceptually with what USC did to Stanford last year.  Those were trapping defenses intended to force turnovers, while this B.U. press will be intended primarily to slow the game down, stop transition opportunities, and allow their defense to set up.  After the press, you may see them fall back into a 2-3 zone that will dare Stanford to shoot the ball.  They like to play their defense back at the basket, patiently and error-free.

On offense, this is a team that likes to shoot the three and does so across all five starters.  They set a school record for three-point field goals made last season, and logic would indicate that another year of seasoning for the cast should make them more dangerous.  They shoot from outside because they are small and lack the athleticism to create shots at many spots on the floor.  Lots of ball movement and screens set to free up shots.

Probable Starters:

PG #3 Kevin Fitzgerald Jr. 6'3" 198 3.5 3.6 (A) 41.8 28.6 52.3
CG #22 Chaz Carr So. 6'0" 182 13.5 2.7 (A) 43.8 37.2 75.2
SF #30 Billy Collins Sr. 6'7" 205 12.0 8.1 (R) 44.1 48.2 65.6
PF #24 Jason Grochowalski Jr. 6'6" 218 7.8 3.7 (R) 40.7 31.9 74.7
C #43 Ryan Butt Jr. 6'8" 258 8.1 4.8 (R) 42.8 34.1 74.0
  • Fitzgerald is a point guard a few people will appreciate but many will bemoan.  He plays his position with very low risk, and consequently maintains a high asssist-to-turnover ratio.  So long as the other four guys on the floor are executing, I suppose you can live with that, but Stanford knows they are facing a kid with almost no threat to score.  He is easily their worst starting perimeter shooter, and lacks any tools to create his own shot or finish when he attempts to drive the paint.
  • Carr was a phenom last year as a freshman for the Terriers.  Small in stature (he's not six feet) but big in explosiveness and aggressiveness.  He has a good handle, lateral quicks and a quick release with his shot that will let him shoot over taller defenders when you think he can't.  Dangerous kid, doubly so because we are about to see how good he has become after his first off-season.
  • Collins is a transfer from Rutgers who can score in bunches when the offense sets up for him.  He is a bigger kid who loves playing on the perimeter, waiting to come off screens for pull-up jumpers.  When he gets that going, he can be pretty good.  Somehow pulls down eight boards a game, which I don't much understand... and possibly speaks to desire and anticipation as rebounding tools.
  • Grochowalski gives up a little in height to Collins but he plays more like a forward and is a little bigger body.  He will take the shot outside when given to him, but he likes to play a little closer to the basket and looks for high percentage shots.  Led the Terriers with 18 points on 8 of 11 shooting (!) in their exhibition game.
  • Butt may be just that of the 6th Man Club's jokes, but he can do some things inside.  He has a few moves, pretty good hands and a savvy for gaining position on his defender.  He's an awful rebounder for his size and position, though.

Key Reserves:


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