After downing Boise State 96-76, Stanford (19-12) finds itself in the quarterfinals of the CBI, just four victories away from finishing as the nation's clear-cut 98th best team. To advance to Wednesday's semifinals, however, Stanford must first win at Wichita State, which will either be the toughest or easiest remaining game Stanford could possibly face in this tournament – this author can't decide.
Updated CBI field (All ratings are Sagarin ratings.)
61. Stanford @
123. Wichita St.
92. Northeastern @
88. Vermont @
106. Oregon St.
113. Charleston @
Why Wichita State might be the easiest game left for Stanford is a matter of simple math: the Shockers are the lowest-rated team in the field.
Why then, do I fear Wichita State might also be Stanford's toughest remaining game? Two reasons: First, the difference in Stanford's performance at home versus on the road is larger than most teams and Wichita State's home/road discrepancy is even larger. The Shockers are 0-3 against top-100 opponents on the road, yet 4-0 against top-100 opponents at home. One of my favorite college basketball number-crunching sites, teamrankings.com, shows the Shockers would be a top-100 team if just their home games constituted their entire season. Wichita State, however, isn't even in the Top 200 when just looking only at its road results. Similarly, Stanford is 5-4 against top-100 opponents at Maples, and 1-7 when visiting top-100 opponents. Overall, the Card are 14-4 at home and 5-9 on the road.
Secondly, Wichita State has to be one of the toughest venues remaining in the field. The Shockers drew an announced 6,600 for their opening-round CBI win, and while Stanford is down, the Cardinal have to be a bigger draw than Buffalo, meaning that gym is going to be rocking. No commercial airlines fly direct to Wichita, so Stanford basketball is faced with the unattractive options of: (a) convincing the powers-that-be to pony up the money in the midst of a once-in-a-generation recession to charter a flight to Wichita (for a tournament of little long-term significance that already is costing Stanford far more than the 1,000 in attendance Tuesday grossed), (b) flying commercial with a layover, or (c) flying direct to a nearby city (Kansas City, Mo., three hours away, is the largest city within five hours, and finding a direct flight there is no assured bet) and taking a bus the rest of the way.
However the Cardinal ultimately arrive in Kansas, this Wichita State contest is eerily similar to a game Stanford played three years ago. The Card are in the second round of a second-rate postseason tournament, after an easy, double-digit opening-round win at home. They're visiting a small Midwest school in the Missouri Valley Conference in a small, out-of-the-way Midwest town, and travelling there will be a logistical nightmare. The Cardinal have suffered through a disappointing season, but have a corps of seniors they want to send off strong with a win. Sound familiar?
Bring back George W. Bush, Kelly Clarkson, Trent Johnson, and Chris Hernandez. It's March 2006 all over again, and the Card are about to walk into an absolute ambush in Springfield, Mo.: a 76-67 loss to Missouri State in front of 5,500 strong.
True, that Missouri State team finished 22-9 and is far better than this year's Wichita State. Then again, the 2005-06 Card started slow, but finished 11-7 in a stronger Pac-10, and that year's stars, Chris Hernandez and Matt Haryasz, could well be the best two players on the 2008-09 Card were they to suddenly discover an extra year of eligibility.
Scouting Wichita State
Wichita State is a statistician's dream: never has a team taken "regression to the mean" so to heart. The Shockers are a perfectly even 15-15 overall, and finished 8-10 in the Missouri Valley Conference, tied for fifth in the ten-team league. However, while there are plenty of near-.500 teams, the Shockers have achieved their .500 record in nearly perfect form, never winning or losing more than two straight games in a 13-contest streak dating back to January.
The Shockers have been in games with more than 11-point lines only twice all season, and haven't been in a game with a line of over nine in all 2009. They are also a perfect 14-14 against the spread this season. KenPom lists 38 different team statistics for each of Division I-A's 344 teams. The Shockers rank in the top or bottom 50 squads in just one of those 38 statistics: their percentage of offensive rebounds allowed on the defensive end is 12th best in the nation.
Okay, so other than being in the middle of nowhere and thoroughly, impossibly average, what else is notable about Wichita State? Their best wins include Siena, Cleveland State, Illinois State, and Creighton, all teams ranked between 60th and 80th, while their worst loss came against Missouri-Kansas City, barely a top-300 team, in their second game of the season. Fitting for the blandest team on earth, their five starters each are capable scorers, averaging at least seven points per game, but none are superlative scorers, with freshman guard Toure Murrin and junior guard Clevin Hannah leading the way with 11 points per contest.
As hinted at before, the Shockers' team numbers are remarkably average. (The one exception is rebounds, where the Shockers enjoy a 34 to 29 edge, on average.) The Shockers commit one more turnover and two more assists per game than opponents, but both Wichita State and its opponents have assist-to-turnover ratios pretty close to the accepted average of one. Wichita State is also eerily similar on the offensive and defensive ends in all three categories of shooting accuracy, making 44 percent of field goals, 33 percent of threes, and 69 percent of free throws, compared to allowing 44 percent overall accuracy, 35 percent of threes, and 70 percent of free throws. The Shockers win their average game 63-62.
As flat as Kansas is (and scientific studies have demonstrated the state is flatter than a pancake: http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2003/07/25/kansas030725.html), that's how incredibly average the Shockers are in just about every basketball statistic or measure known to man. So, they'll serve as a Rorschach test for the Card, playing in a manner that reflects Stanford's own strengths and weaknesses. Comfortable in this knowledge, this Cardinal fan can safely go out on a limb and predict the following:
- Wichita State will have a big offensive rebounding day and Shocker
posts will score at near season highs.
- Landry Fields and Anthony Goods will lead the Card in scoring, each knocking down clutch jump shots down the stretch.
- Mitch Johnson will have a few points, a lot of assists, more rebounds than you thought a guard could grab, and a pass or three that makes you shake your head.
- Lawrence Hill will score somewhere between three and 22 points, depending on how many shots he chooses to take.
And, oh yeah…
Stanford will squander a chance to put the game away in the early second half, be neck-and-neck with the Shockers down the stretch and have a last-second opportunity to escape Wichita with a victory. The Card will come oh-so-close before missing that clutch shot, suffering their fourth one-point road loss of the season.
Seeing as this game reminds of Stanford's season finale three years ago, it seems only fitting to end with the immortal words of Trent Johnson: "It is what it is." Stanford's played long enough this season that we know exactly who the 2008-09 Cardinal are, and if we know anything about Wichita State, it's that they're going to play exactly to form, and let the Card's true identity reveal itself. Stanford will fight its butts off, but, as has been the case all season long, there'll be just one hole too many on this year's roster for Team Johnny Dawkins to plug.
I hope I'm wrong, but if not, congrats to Mitch Johnson, Lawrence Hill, Anthony Goods, and Kenny Brown for giving it their all for four straight years.
The Bootleg: Wichita State 66, Stanford 65
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, WSU 53 Actual: WSU 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 Actual: Stanford 74, Arizona State 64
Predicted: Arizona 75, Stanford 68 Actual: Arizona 101, Stanford 87
Predicted: Washington 82, Stanford 73 Actual: Washington 85, Stanford 73
Predicted: Stanford 85, Boise State 64 Actual: Stanford 96, Boise State 76
Predicted: Wichita State 66, Stanford 65
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