Preview: Stanford at Colorado State

The Bootleg welcomes back Daniel Novinson to the roundball side of our virtual office, offering the faithful his expertise on the Cardinal's second road game of the 2008-09 season. See what's been working and what hasn't for Stanford so far this season, plus the key stats and notes on the Rams before Sunday's game in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The Basics
Stanford (4-0) at Colorado State (3-6)
Sunday, 4 p.m. PT

Stanford Update
Take these with a grain of salt, because four games in (against creampuff competition) is mighty early to be drawing any conclusions, but here's what we've seen out of Johnny Dawkins' Stanford thus far.

The Good
1. Steals – Stanford finished with 4.4 steals per game last year. This year, they have thirty steals through four games. The starting backcourt, Landry Fields, Mitch Johnson, and Anthony Goods, lead the way with six swipes apiece.

2. Clear Delineation – One of fans' biggest gripes with Trent Johnson was over his substitution patterns. Fans would not only disagree with how much playing time a certain player received, but also with the ambiguity that certain substitutions created – a player who knows he's going to play his 30 minutes per game is going to be more confident than a player who keeps getting inserted and removed seemingly at random, or so the thinking went. This year, whether or not you agree with which personnel are seeing minutes, there's a clear delineation between who's a starter, who's a viable backup, and who's not on track to see meaningful minutes come Pac-10 season.

The starters, Goods, Johnson, Fields, Josh Owens, and Lawrence Hill, are each averaging between 24 and 30 minutes per game.

Three guys are first off the bench: Jeremy Green, Kenny Brown, and Drew Shiller. They average between 12 and 16 minutes per game.

Elliott Bullock and Jack Trotter are deeper on the bench, each averaging seven minutes per game.

No one else is averaging more than four minutes per game.

Obviously, players develop over the course of the season, especially on such a freshman-laden team as this one, but right now, Dawkins has developed a clear system of minutes distribution.

3. Free Throw and Outside shooting – Stanford's making 77 percent of its free throws and 41.6 percent of its threes, up from 69 percent and 36.6 percent, respectively, last year. Brook Lopez was a great free throw shooter, so much so that the early numbers which have climbed in his absence are all the more impressive. (Though the less said about Robin and Fred Washington from the charity stripe, the better.)

The Bad
1. Inside presence – No need to pinpoint multiple issues when this is the 600-pound elephant in the room. Preseason conventional wisdom said this team could get carved up inside, and everything we've seen thus far suggests that could still be the case. Consider…

a. 51% FG allowed. Stanford's winning these early games by 20 points, yet its opponents are averaging 51% overall shooting. It's worse than it looks too: take away the sub-30% three-point shooting, and opponents are making over 59% of their twos. Last year, Stanford's opponents shot only 39.6% overall and just 42% inside the arc. The bad news: this year's schedule is only going to get tougher.

b. Rebounding. This year, Stanford's barely outrebounding its opponents, 32.5-31 on average. Last year, that margin was 39-31.

Now it's patently unfair to compare this year's team to last year's team. A significant regression inside was expected given an offseason that saw Stanford's two seven footers leave as first-round draft picks, the head coach depart amidst controversy and hurt feelings, and the ever-constant backdrop of tougher recruiting restrictions. Stanford's five starters are 6-1, 6-3, 6-7, 6-8 and 6-8, so this team's not winning with size. Still, there's a difference between battling to a draw inside and getting clobbered in the paint, and Stanford needs to do the former to make this season respectable. That they're not able to significantly outrebound the Podunk U's of this world, or stop their posts, is a bad sign. There's no other way to spin that.

On Deck
Colorado State and Stanford share one opponent in common, Colorado. Stanford beat the Buffaloes 76-62, while Colorado State lost 75-56 to their in-state rivals.

Still, Colorado State may be better than their 3-6 record suggests. Their loss to a II squad (St. Martin's of Lacey, WA) at home is mighty ugly, but they fell 72-71 to 8-0 Minnesota, and lost by just two to USF. That's three points separating them from a winning record.

Statistically, Colorado State is remarkably standard. The only thing that jumps out is their propensity for turnovers, 15 per game, with opponents averaging 6.3 steals per game. Stanford's new pressure defense should be able to force some Ram mistakes.

Colorado State is also a poor shooting team, at just 36% beyond the line and 45% overall. In a way, then, the Rams will serve as a bellwether for Stanford's shooting defense – if this team gets hot Sunday, it's going to be a long season.

Colorado State has three scorers in double figures: guard Marcus Walker (17 points), and forwards Andy Ogide (14 points) and Andre McFarland (12 points). Stanford should comfortably cruise against CSU, but how they deal with the two forwards should be a good test moving forward.

Prediction: Stanford 78, Colorado State 64

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