Despite the Senior Day win in their home finale against USC, the overall picture remains the same: Stanford is struggling through a season to forget. The Cardinal has dropped five of its last six and eight of its last ten in the Pac-10, and is now on the outside of the NIT and looking in (more on that in future articles – stay tuned). The recent stretch represents quite a fall off for Stanford, who started the season with a 10-0 run through the non-conference schedule and a 3-3 start to league play that had them, however improbably given the attrition from last season, in mock NCAA brackets.
Now, the Cardinal sit at 5-11 in conference, good enough for ninth in the Pac-10, and 16-11 overall, strong enough to clinch its 16th straight winning season. For the Cardinal to do any more, they'll need to make a run in the Pac-10 Tournament. Stanford will start battle in the Staples Center next Wednesday against the No. 8 seed, likely current No. 7s Oregon State (13-14, 7-9 Pac-10) and USC (16-12, 7-9), but possibly current No. 6 Washington State (16-13, 8-9) or No. 5 Arizona (18-11, 8-8). With a win, the Card would then play the top seed next Thursday, either Pac-10 leading Washington (23-7, 13-4) or current No. 2 UCLA (22-7, 11-5).
Stanford has yet to win a Pac-10 road game in seven tries, and enters today as a ten-point underdog, as big of a line as they've had to face this year. Host UCLA, also ten-point favorites, downed the Cardinal 97-63 on Jan. 31.
Arizona State 90, Stanford 60
The Sun Devils quickly quashed the dreams of Johnny Dawkins and the 2008-09 Cardinal, who entered their Pac-10 opener a perfect 10-0. In a sign of things to come, Stanford's lack of interior defense proved absolutely fatal, as ASU forward Jeff Pendergraph's 31 points on 14-of-19 shooting more than accounted for the final margin.
Pendergraph's 11 rebounds (five offensive) helped ASU to a +8 rebounding margin, and guards James Harden (the squad's MVP) and Derek Glasser added 17 and 13 points, respectively. Harden's 10 assists helped ASU to a +10 assist margin. Lawrence Hill, with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting, was the only Cardinal player to crack double figures.
Arizona State (21-7, 10-6) is winning with defense, as the Sun Devils have held their opponents to 60 or fewer in 10 of 16 Pac-10 games. In the Pac-10, the Devils have been swept by both Washington schools, the biggest blemish on their season to-date, but swept UCLA, Arizona, and the Oregons, and split against USC. The Devils are one game behind second-place UCLA in the league standings, so their season finale versus Cal (21-8, 10-6) could well be for third, as the Bears are currently tied with ASU in the league. Out of conference, the Devils beat top-100 squads BYU, Nebraska, UTEP, and San Diego State, while losing 87-78 to Baylor. The Devils are also 11-2 at home this year, including 5-2 in conference.
Harden leads the Devils with 21 points per game, Pendergraph adds 14 ,and guard Richard Kuksiks adds 10. Offensively the numbers are average, bordering on good: 48 percent overall, 37 percent from deep, and 69 points per game. One superlative offensive stat is that the Devils make 74 percent of their free throws, with six of its seven top scorers above the 70 percent mark. The other is that ASU's stars are really accurate, with Harden shooting 51 percent overall and Pendergraph an incredible 67 percent. Between the clutch players being the most accurate and the free throw percentage, if ASU is in a tight game late, they figure to win more than their fair share.
(By the way, ASU is my Pac-10 NCAA Tournament sleeper. Cal gets way more hype with an identical Pac-10 record. I don't trust Washington at all, especially defensively. Everyone knows about UCLA and they're unsteady as of late. This team plays good defense, it can score from all five positions, and, as mentioned above, clutch player accuracy and free throw shooting figure to tip the scales in the inevitable last-minute thrillers in the Tournament. Sign me up.)
Defensively, ASU is playing at a Final Four level, no exaggeration. In terms of overall defensive efficacy, think of last year's Stanford's -- the Devils just rack up their stats with more athleticism on the wings, and less Lopez-twin domination in the post. Opponents shoot 41 percent overall and 32 percent deep, stingier numbers than last year's Cardinal, but this year's Pac-10 is weaker without scorers like OJ Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez, and WSU's Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. Call it a tie.
Like last year's Stanford, and like most really good defenses, ASU doesn't do anything fancy. They outrebound opponents by just three boards per game, and force only 13 turnovers per game (though they allow an incredibly low 12 assists per game). Nonetheless, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as ASU allows just 59 points per game…
… Given Stanford's defense in the paint, and the night Pendergraph has shown he's capable of against this D, that should be plenty. Look for ASU to play at a controlled pace, feeding Pendergraph possession after possession, slowing down the tempo, and not blowing the roof off their building, ala UCLA when Stanford last visited. But they'll lead comfortably throughout, get to work in their subs, and rest up for their battle with Cal on Saturday. They'll win in one of the most boring games this season for the television audience, and one of the most frustrating for Stanford fans. After last year, call it a dose of Stanford's own medicine.
Vegas: Arizona State 71, Stanford 61
The Bootleg: Arizona State 72, Stanford 56
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 Actual: UCLA 76, Stanford 71
Predicted: USC 79, Stanford 74 Actual: Stanford 75, USC 63
Predicted: Arizona State 72, Stanford 56
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