And not much else.
That's what appears to be on the line this weekend, when the Washington schools visit Maples. With a 3-6 mark halfway through the Pac-10 season dousing the optimism generated by a 10-0 start, the Cardinal appear to be playing for NIT seeding, barring something truly remarkable. Then again, the only Pac-10 teams who appear clearly better than the Cardinal are UCLA and Arizona State. If Stanford wins all the close ones after an 0-3 start in one-point games, if the Card sweep the Washington schools and start to build momentum… who knows? Crazier things have happened, and besides, what's fandom for if not irrational optimism?
Figure Stanford needs a 6-3 finish down the stretch to have a fighting NCAA shot. Sweep this weekend and sweep the Oregons, and that's just two wins between at the Arizonas, versus the L.A.s and at Cal. Recent Stanford teams have torn off runs far more impressive than that. (Of course, recent Stanford teams have never had stats that look like this…)
Stanford (13-6, 3-6 Pac-10, RPI: 74)
Now that Stanford's exactly one rotation through the Pac-10, we can break down the Card's in-conference numbers with some legitimacy. Further, we can compare these numbers to last year's numbers to see where Stanford's slid, and compare in-conference to overall numbers to see if any players are getting worn down by the tougher schedule.
My first thought on looking at the conference stats (and judge for yourself at Stanford Team Stats ) is that they're actually darn good for a 3-6 team. (That makes sense, as statistically, Stanford's about 4.5-4.5, with all those one-point losses effectively ties.) For all the gripes about lack of size, Stanford's getting outrebounded by all of 1.2 boards per game. Raise your hand if you wouldn't have taken that in a heartbeat preseason. For all the gripes about slowness in the backcourt and youth all around, the Card have seven more assists and the same number of turnovers as Pac-10 opponents. Who wouldn't have liked that preseason?
The stat that really flabbergasted me is that for all the gripes about how Stanford has no presence in the paint, the Cardinal actually make a higher percentage of twos this year than last year, when two future NBA first-rounders were the offensive focal points. Stanford's accuracy on twos, threes, and free throws is very similar to last year's, and the Card are actually scoring one more point in the 2009 Pac-10 season than the 2008 campaign.
The "other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" statistic, of course, is the defense. Opponents are shooting 51 percent overall and 40 percent deep for 73 points per game, which is actually surprisingly low given how awful those percentages are. Last year, by contrast, each of those numbers were about 10 units lower – opponents managed 40 percent overall shooting, 32 percent from deep, and less than 63 points per game. Stanford arguably graduated its four best defenders last year, the Lopez twins, Taj Finger, and Fred Washington, and this is the result.
Individually, Lawrence Hill, Landry Fields, Kenny Brown, and Will Paul are doing as well in conference, if not better, than they were back in 2008. Jeremy Green and Mitch Johnson are each shooting about two percent worse against the tougher competition than their season average, and Drew Shiller 11 percent worse (but on a small sample size). Perhaps the falloffs that go the furthest toward explaining the transition from 10-0 to 3-6 belong to Anthony Goods, who shot five percent worse in January than his season average, and Josh Owens, whose accuracy has fallen off from 55 percent overall to 46 percent in the Pac-10. Stanford's scoring about five fewer points per Pac-10 game versus overall, and the tandem of Goods and Owens is scoring 5.1 fewer points per Pac-10 game versus their average.
Plus, if ever there's a defense (perhaps less so this year, however) guaranteed to make opponents struggle, it comes to Maples very soon…
Washington State at Stanford, Thursday, 7:30pm (No TV)
On our second trip through the Pac-10, we're going to assume everyone has a basic familiarity with the other starting 45 guys in the league, and spend less time with the foreplay of introducing the other team and setting up the squad's season to-date.
Getting down to business then, here are Wazzu's key numbers this season:
- The Cougars are 4-5 in the conference, 12-9 overall (RPI: 90), and have lost three of their last four. Then again, two of those recent losses were by a combined four points to the L.A. schools, and the win was at Arizona State, quite possibly the best team in the Pac-10, so who knows?
- The Cougars beat Stanford at home by one and needed overtime against Oregon State (before the Beavers started actually winning). Seems this is a team that plays to the level of its competition.
- WSU's defensive numbers are similar to Stanford's last year: opponents shoot 37 percent overall and 34 percent deep. The Cougars still can't score though, winning their average game by a 59-53 margin.
- Rebounding, however, has become a strength, with WSU +4 in its average game.
- Hill and Goods led Stanford with 15 apiece in the teams' first matchup, a 55-54 Cougar win. For WSU, Rochestie had 21 and Thompson 13.
Vegas: Stanford 63, WSU 58
Prediction: Being a contrarian has worked for me thus far in life, so why not in basketball predictions too? Stanford's gotten unlucky – they're not as bad as their record or the taste in your mouth indicates. For WSU, meanwhile, look for the tendency to let weaker teams linger around bite them.
Stanford 62, WSU 56
(For the record, I generated the above without looking first at the uncannily similar Vegas line.)
Washington at Stanford, Sunday, 2:30pm (FSN)
- Washington's 16-5 overall, 7-2 in conference (RPI: 17), and 14-2 after a slow start. The wins include an 11-point beatdown of UCLA, who'd lost by no more than three to that point, a 13-point win at Arizona State, and a 20-pointer at WSU. Probably the best wins of any team in the conference.
- Washington's one loss, in triple overtime at Cal, is a quality loss. Their other, however, was 106-97 at Arizona, as the Huskies seemingly wound back the clock two seasons and forgot how to play defense just like the good ‘ol days.
- Goods had 19 (but on 18 shots) and Hill 16 in Washington's 84-83 win in Seattle. Brockman had 19 (on 21 shots!), Isaiah Thomas had 18 and Matt Bryan-Amaning 17 (on only nine field goal attemps) for the Huskies.
- A three-man defense would work here as well. Thomas, Brockman, and Justin Dentmon (since when could he score?) each average about 16 per game. No one else is in double figures.
- The Huskies are only shooting five percent better overall than opponents (46 percent to 42 percent) and three-point accuracy is virtually identical (35 percent to 34 percent), surprisingly mediocre for a team with the Huskies' record.
- Washington's blow-you-out-of-the-water stat is rebounding, where the Huskies are +10 per game.
- On a related note, he may appear to start his every move with a travel, but Jon Brockman averages 11 boards per game, and absolutely killed Stanford on the glass the first time around. Brockman had 18 boards, including 12 offensive rebounds, in Seattle, as Washington finished +16 on rebounds in a one-point win. 12 offensive rebounds by one guy? That's just shameful.
Washington's wins to-date are legit, and so is their rebounding prowess. As Stanford's easily worse than most on the glass, so I don't see why Brockman goes off for at least his average of 11 boards, and the Huskies are at least +10 overall, their season average. With Stanford opponents making more shots than they miss, I don't think The Fighting Dawkins can afford to give anyone ten extra shots per game.
Washington 89, Stanford 76
Predicted: Stanford 65, Arizona State 60 Actual: Arizona State 90, Stanford 60
Predicted: Arizona 69, Stanford 67 Actual: Stanford 76, Arizona 60
Predicted: Washington 78, Stanford 65 Actual: Washington 84, Stanford 83
Predicted: Stanford 57, Wash. State 53 Actual: Wash. State 55, Stanford 54
Predicted: Stanford 76, Cal 72 Actual: Stanford 75, Cal 69
Predicted: Stanford 75, Oregon 65 Actual: Stanford 77, Oregon 55
Predicted: Stanford 75, Oregon State 58 Actual: Oregon State 77, Stanford 62
Predicted: USC 75, Stanford 68 Actual: USC 70, Stanford 69
Predicted: UCLA 78, Stanford 62 Actual: UCLA 97, Stanford 63
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!