Who'll show up?
Look, we love Stanford basketball as much as anyone, but let's say it how it is: the proverbial fat lady is all but taking a victory lap after her encore performance. For many then, this weekend will have an L.A. flavor not just for the opponents but for the focal point. That's right, folks, harken **SPELLING'S RIGHT, WORD IS JUST STUPID** back to those E! celebrity-watching shows before the Oscars: who's coming in the VIP entrance to Section 13 and what are they wearing? (San Jose Mercury's Darren Sabedra reports on the story)
Will it be students in their Sixth Man gear, all 100 strong?
Will it be students not in their Sixth Man gear? And if so, will they be allowed through the Redcoats… err… red carpet? (This author attests to the veracity of comment 23: San Jose Mercury's Jon Wilner offers up his opinion, along with many others)
Will it be old geezers? Old geezers who make more noise than 20-year old students? Old geezers who make more noise than empty seats?
Judging by the past three games, perhaps the biggest surprise would be if the Stanford basketball team itself showed up. The Cardinal blew a 22-point first-half lead at Cal two weekends ago, before suffering a sweep in Oregon last weekend.
The Card have lost four straight Pac-10 games, and three of those losses have come in games in which Stanford was favored. Up until this most recent conference slide started Feb. 8 vs. Washington, Stanford had only lost two games the entire season as a favorite. Suffice it to say, either the team is failing to improve, or the rest of the conference has quickly found out how to stop the Cardinal.
Perhaps it's the latter, because Stanford's deficiencies this season are obvious. With 14-feet of Lopez gone, the middle is nougatty-soft *another word, stupid Microsoft*, especially on defense.
Opponents have adapted, scoring 63 percent of their points on two-pointers, No. 2 of all 344 Division I teams, on 51.7 percent accuracy, 38th nationally. With such weakness inside, Stanford's powerless to force opponents out of their game plan – just 23.6 percent of Cardinal opponents' shots are three-pointers, the lowest mark in the nation. (The only team in the Top 25 in both the AP poll and that mark, a major reason for Stanford's failure this season. You guessed it: Duke. This deserves some further analysis, because most of the teams atop this list are truly awful: KenPom.com Rankings).
Whether it's a function of philosophy, personnel or both, neither are changing overnight, and so Stanford is stuck with the defense it has. UCLA outscored all Stanford opponents this season in a 97-63 Jan. 31 win in L.A., and figures to be able to exploit the Cardinal again tonight. The Bruins actually hit 11-of-15 three-pointers in the game, but they shot 38-of-60 (63 percent) overall – so inside, or outside they had no trouble scoring. All five Bruin starters scored at least nine points, while Anthony Goods led the Cardinal with 15.
Senior guard Darren Collison leads UCLA with 15 points, five assists and 1.7 steals per game, while swingman Josh Shipp adds 13 points per game. Collison, Shipp each make more than 40 percent of their threes, while – Holy Batman – guard Michael Roll is hitting 54 percent from downtown, over an 82-shot sample this season. Statistically, true freshman guard Jrue Holliday and forward Nikola Dragovic are the least efficient scorers, so Stanford would want to force the ball into their hands, except that the pair shoots "only" 49 and 46 percent overall, respectively, higher than Stanford shoots as a team. Pick your poison.
We haven't even mentioned UCLA's defense. No need. It's good. It's always good. Collison is a tremendous on-ball defender who's given Mitch Johnson as much trouble as anyone over the years. Dragovic and Alfred Aboya are superlative defenders in the paint. They're undersized going against true centers, but unfortunately for Stanford, that doesn't figure to be much of a factor.
The one reason for optimism is that UCLA has lost three of its last four, but I chalk that up to fluke – if you toss a coin that lands on heads 80 percent of the time long enough, you're going to get a streak of three of four tails. (Wow, guess it's no secret I'm getting a masters in health statistics.)
But the Bruins do trail Washington and Arizona State with the Bay Area roadie and a visit from the Oregons lingering. They're not as good as they were last year or the year before that, but they're still mighty strong.
Vegas makes UCLA just a seven-point favorite over the Cardinal, largely because five of the Bruins' seven losses have come away from Pauley, while Stanford is 12-2 at home.
Anyone want to take that bet?
Vegas: UCLA 76, Stanford 69
The Bootleg: UCLA 82, Stanford 64
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
Predicted: Stanford 62, WSU 56 Actual: Stanford 65, WSU 54
Predicted: Washington 89, Stanford 76 Actual: Washington 75, Stanford 68
Predicted: Stanford 82, Bakersfield 64 Actual: Stanford 85, Bakersfield 50
Predicted: Cal 85, Stanford 74 Actual: Cal 82, Stanford 75
Predicted: Stanford 74, Oregon State 63 Actual: Oregon State 66, Stanford 54
Predicted: Stanford 80, Oregon 65 Actual: Oregon 68, Stanford 60
Predicted: UCLA 82, Stanford 64
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