Preview: Stanford at Santa Clara

Men's Hoops Editor Ray Salloom offers a closer look at Tuesday night's road contest at the Broncos. See who the main players are for Santa Clara, how the Cardinal match up statistically with the Broncos, and what Stanford will need to do to go 8-0 in the Johnny Dawkins Era.

The Stanford Cardinal (7-0) look to stay unbeaten on the season as they take on the Santa Clara Broncos (5-6) at the Leavey Center at 8:00pm on Tuesday, December 23rd.

Stanford is coming off a hard fought, yet nearly wire-to-wire, victory over the Big Ten's Northwestern Wildcats at Maples Pavilion, 65-59. In that contest, the Cardinal's Anthony Goods got back on track after a subpar performance versus Northern Arizona, scoring 20 points on 8-12 shooting, while senior point guard Mitch Johnson was a perfect five-for-five, including the game clinching three-pointer in the final minute, helping Stanford run their record to 7-0 on the season.

Stanford is looking to win their third road game of the year against a team they have met on a semi-regular basis over the years. Their matchup with Santa Clara this season marks the 78th time the two neighbors have played each other, but only the 11th time they've played on the Broncos' home court. The last time Stanford traveled to Santa Clara it was 2004, just the fifth game in Trent Johnson's tenure as the Cardinal's head coach. Stanford fell to the Broncos, 86-76, moving them to 2-3 on the season. In that contest, it was a nip-and-tuck affair until the home team used a 12-3 run to break open a tie game. Travis Niesen netted a double-double, including 31 points and 11 rebounds, to lead the Broncos to victory. Stanford was paced by Dan Grunfeld who scored 26 points for the Cardinal.

The 2008 edition of the Santa Clara Broncos are also led by a big man, senior center John Bryant, who has evolved into one of the better big men on the West Coast. After struggling through endurance issues his first two years at the WCC school due to his weight, Bryant started to slim down his junior year and his game showed great improvement, increasing his per game averages from 10.4 points/6.7 rebounds/23.2 minutes his sophomore year to 18.0 points/9.6 rebounds/27.8 minutes his junior year. So far in 2008, Bryant leads Santa Clara in scoring and rebounding, netting an average of a double-double through 11 games this season at 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per contest. Bryant also is shooting very well from the field and the charity stripe, making nearly 62% from inside the arc and 86% from the free throw line. However, Bryant only goes to line about four times per game, which seems a little low for a man with such a big presence inside the paint.

Santa Clara has used a variety of starting lineups thus far in 2008. Of the 13 players who have had some time on the floor for the Broncos, 10 of them have started at least one game and only one (junior transfer out of Texas Tech, Decensae White) has played more than 30 minutes per game. The only players who have started every game are the aforementioned Bryant and sophomore shooting guard Michael Santos who played sparingly during his first year. Two other players score in double figures for Santa Clara, including freshman guards Kevin Foster and James Rahon, averaging 11.0 and 10.1 points, respectively.

Looking at the statistical comparisons between the two teams, Stanford and Santa Clara shoot about the same from the field on an overall basis (45.5% vs. 45.6%), but the Cardinal shoots far superior from beyond the arc, outshooting the Broncos by a 39%-34% margin. Both squads shoot above 70% from the line, with Santa Clara at 75%, Stanford at 73%. Santa Clara outrebounds opponents by four a game, while Stanford is virtually even on the boards. An advantage for Stanford is that the Cardinal have recorded 15 assists a game, while getting their opponents to turn over the ball 19 times per contest. Santa Clara turns the ball at a rate of 15 per contest, so the Cardinal may be able to exploit the Broncos offense with their new attacking defense. Finally, Santa Clara outscores opponents by a 61-58 margin, while Stanford, despite closer games the last two times out, is beating teams by an average score of 76-64.

To win this game on the road, Stanford will have to continue to shoot the ball well from beyond the arc and do a better job of defending inside the three-point line. So far this year, Stanford opponents are shooting a paltry 29.1% from outside the arc, but are allowing teams to shoot an astounding 55.2% from inside the three-point line. With the best presence they've seen inside this year going for the Broncos, Stanford will have to make Bryant and his teammates work for every bucket out there or it could be a very long night for the Cardinal.

It is homecoming for Stanford associate head coach Dick Davey as he returns to Santa Clara, a university where he was the head man for 15 years, but spent 30 years with the program. Davey won 251 games at the West Coast Conference school, including 20-win seasons four times and multiple appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including two upsets in the Big Dance, the bigger by far being his #15 seed Broncos upending #2 seed Arizona 64-61 in 1993.

After playing Santa Clara, the Cardinal break for Christmas before coming back to Stanford for a pair of non-conference games versus the Big 12's Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-3 as of 12/22) on Sunday, December 28th at 7:00pm and the America East's Hartford (4-8) on Monday, December 30th at 7:30pm. Pac-10 Conference play begins just a few short days later as Stanford welcomes Arizona State and Arizona to Maples Pavilion for Friday/Sunday tilts as 2009 begins.


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