Men's Basketball Hits the Road

The Bootleg's Daniel Novinson presents the faithful his expertise on the Cardinal's first two road contest of the Pac-10 season. Check out the key stats and notes on the Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars, along with his final score predictions before this road swing through Seattle and Pullman.

Stanford embarks on its first 2009 Pac-10 road trip this weekend. The Card will visit Washington (10-3, 1-0 Pac-10, RPI: 38) Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Washington State (8-5, 0-1 Pac-10, RPI: 132) Saturday at 7 p.m. Sagarin ratings suggest Washington should be three-point favorites over Stanford, while the Card should be favored by one over Washington State. Here's how The Bootleg sees it shaking out…

Season Results:
Washington started off just 2-3, falling inexplicably at Portland and, understandably, at Kansas and vs. Florida. Since then, however, the Huskies have won eight straight, though Oklahoma State is the only top-80 team of the bunch. The Huskies are 4-2 against top-100 foes, 6-1 against teams outside the top-100 and 9-0 at home. They're also 8-3 against the spread. One reason why: their defense has been stronger than expected, with the under 7-3 in Husky games.

Stanford has similar records against top-100 teams (3-1), non-top-100 teams (8-0) and the Vegas spread (8-3), so the biggest source of concern is probably Washington's 9-0 home mark. The Huskies have cracked 80 in five of their last seven home games, and Stanford's D certainly demonstrated its weakness in the face of an inside attack against Arizona State.

Washington State should fall to Stanford, if you're judging by what each team has done to date. The Cougars have slightly underperformed expectations (4-7 against the spread), so that their season can be concisely summarized as a two-part tale. Against top-100 teams, Washington State is 0-5, suffering home losses to Baylor, Gonzaga. and, last week, Washington, along with a neutral-court loss to Pittsburgh and a loss at Trent Johnson's 12-1 LSU. The culprit is obvious: the Cougars have scored no more than 52 in any of those games.

This is no Oregon State though: the Cougars are respectable. Against all teams outside the top-100, Washington State is 8-0, with none of those squads cracking 55 points. Unsurprisingly, given the Cougars' offensive struggles against top teams and defensive dominance against also-rans, the under is 8-3 in Washington State games this year. Looks like it's 2006 all over again for the Cougars.

Stanford is a similar 8-0 against teams outside the top-100 but, in contrast with the Cougars, is 3-1 against top-100 squads and 8-3 against the spread, suggesting they've performed better than expected thus far. But given last weekend's bipolar performance and the question of how the Card will play in its toughest road tests yet (Stanford is just 3-0 on the road, with no action against a top-100 opponent), the essentially even line seems fair.

Scouting Washington:
Most of Washington's stats are pretty unremarkable. They shoot it well (46 percent overall, 34 percent deep), but not exceptionally so; they win 77-64 on average, consistent with their up-tempo style and about what you'd expect after the non-conference schedule. The 64 percent free throw shooting is low, but the law of averages almost dictates that it's going to rise with time. But I think Washington is a tough matchup for Stanford because of the one stat that jumps off the page: rebounding.

Washington has been big for years, with 6'7" 255-pound senior Jon Brockman the team's scoring leader (16 points per game) and the face of the program. Freshman guard Isaiah Thomas (let's hope he doesn't have a future as an NBA GM) scores 15 points per game and senior guard Justin Dentmon (major: interdisciplinary art) adds 13 points per contest. But Brockman and the Huskies live or die in the paint, and they've been thriving there thus far this season. Their +11 rebounding margin is their one superlative statistic, and for an undersized Stanford team that's shown susceptibility inside, perhaps the worst strength for Washington to have.

Key matchup: The Cardinal should be able to spread the Huskies defensively and score their share of points, but they'll need to keep the rebound margin close to have a chance in what's arguably the Pac-10's toughest environment. Nothing this season has shown me Stanford has the manpower to do that.

Prediction: Washington 78, Stanford 65

Scouting Washington State:
You know what you're getting from Washington State. Call them the Ohio State of men's basketball (minus the propensity to choke in big games): little flash, little offense, but solid fundamentals and an unbreakable defense. Opponents are shooting just 35.1 percent overall and 33.2 percent deep against the Cougars, for 50.8 points per game. Meanwhile, Washington State only averages 59 points per game on mediocre shooting and a 0.9 assist-to-turnover ratio, but does outrebound opponents by 5.6 boards per game.

C Aron Baynes (11 points), G Klay Thompson (11 points) and G Taylor Rochestie (10 points (who has a striking resemblance to Jimmy Fallon: Taylor vs. Jimmy) are the double-digit scorers. G Daven Harmeling (seven points, 43 percent deep) is the only Cougar remotely representing an outside threat, and centers Caleb Forest and Nikola Koprivica split time to round out the starting five.

As an aside, what an unreal starting five. First, all five guys are white. How many Division I schools can claim that? Second, and of far more interest to my snarky side, all five have vaguely new-agey, snooty-sounding names. Aron, Klay, Taylor, Daven, and Caleb: the combination is too good to be true. Sounds like the Ferrari-driving Orange County high school guys on some MTV reality show, except their names are so stereotypical even central casting rejected them.

Let's just say that Joe the Plumber wouldn't want to hang out with these guys. Can't say I blame him.

Key matchup: Stanford versus Washington State's defense. Do we get 2-of-13 or 7-of-13 from Anthony Goods? Lawrence Hill and Landry Fields have both had loud games and quiet ones; do they let the Cougars silence them? Can an inside scoring threat emerge?

Prediction: Stanford 57, Washington State 53

Stanford Pac-10 Predictions:
Prediction: Stanford 65, Arizona State 60 Actual: Arizona State 90, Stanford 60
Prediction: Arizona 69, Stanford 67 Actual: Stanford 76, Arizona 60
Prediction: Washington 78, Stanford 65
Prediction: Stanford 57, Washington State 53

Note: With college basketball games every day, stats may have changed slightly since the article was published. RPI ratings come from at 9pm PDT on 1/7/2009.

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