Matt Lottich's ballhandling. Although Matt is known as a gunner, and he doesn't have the handle of a point guard, his ability to put the ball on the floor is underrated - and very important to Stanford's success. Matt's handle has allowed him to mix things up on offense and create when his defender gets up on him and denies him open looks from three. It's considerably harder to defend Stanford when its wings are willing and able to be triple threats, instead of merely jump shooters, and Matt has shown an ability to find seams in the defense, which adds some unpredictability to our offense and forces the defense to react. Matt's ability to handle the ball has also allowed Julius to take the occasional break from bringing the ball up the floor.
Josh Childress' defense. Josh's defense is rarely discussed in the media and on the message boards, but he's been a solid defender for Stanford. His D is usually only mentioned, however, on those rare occasions when he struggles, as he did against USC. However, Josh has been consistently good, and has a number of exceptional defensive games. For example, he (and Nick Robinson) shut down Luke Jackson, taking him completely out of his game at Maples. Josh's length has caused real problems for opposing wings, who find it exceedingly difficult to shoot over him. Josh has had more clean blocks of opponents' three point attempts this year than I can recall seeing from any other Stanford player in a career.
The leadership of Rob Little and Matt Lottich. Stanford has had a reputation over the years for lacking vocal leaders. There's probably more than a hint of truth in that reputation. Matt and Rob provide an unusual (for Stanford) level of vocal leadership.
Utah. Quick, guess what Utah's RPI is. Did you guess as high as 10? Utah is looking at about a #4 seed if the season were to end today. As Stanford fans know all too well, the preseason polls can skew rankings throughout the course of the season. Utah, the recipient of but one vote in the preseason polls, has finally managed to get ranked, coming in at #23 ranking in the AP poll this past week. The Utes remain unranked in the coaches' poll.
Dayton. Can you believe this team, which gets no love from the pollsters or the press, is two spots ahead of Stanford in the RPI rankings?
Shot selection. Teaching good shot selection is one of the biggest differences between a good offensive coach and a poor one, but the media doesn't place much emphasis on it. Few do it better than Stanford's Mike Montgomery. Lots of coaches get upset when their players take ill-advised shots, but not many force their players to improve by getting on them, and if necessary, benching them, for taking poor shots. The list of reasons why the UCLA Bruins underachieve under Steve Lavin is long, but shot selection has to be near the top of the list. Although the Bruins shot well against Stanford on Saturday, Lavin's squad can usually be counted on for a plethora of bad shots. Prime example: T.J. Cummings jacking up 16 to 18 foot jumpers on a regular basis. Monty would never let a mediocre shooter take those shots, especially from a 6'10" kid who is needed on the low block.
Ben Howland. If UCLA lands Howland, as many expect, it will have one of the best coaches in the country. Look at what Howland has achieved at Pittsburgh, with less than overwhelming talent, and the possibilities at UCLA are a bit scary for fans of other Pac-10 schools. If Howland were to coach at a higher-profile school where recruiting is easier, the sky would be the limit. While guys like Jim Calhoun and even Jim Boeheim get more pub nationally, Howland is quietly the best coach in the Big East - by far.
Channing Frye. Frye is averaging almost 12 points per game on 60% shooting. While Gardner and Walton get all the media attention, Frye is just about as good - and valuable to the Cats -- as either of the headliners.
Washington. The Huskies are young, talented and athletic. They're merely dangerous now, but by next year, they should be ahead of not only their in-state rival, but also USC, Oregon State, Cal and Oregon (assuming Luke Ridnour leaves), and possibly UCLA and Arizona State, too.
Maryland. Despite having seven losses, and ranking 24 in the RPI and 17 in Sagarin's ratings, the Terrapins come in at #13 in the polls. The Terps are a good team, but thanks to the benefit of tons of press and a high preseason ranking, Maryland is ranked about where Utah deserves to be, and vice versa.
Connecticut. Despite being squarely on the bubble (#37 RPI), the Huskies remain ranked in the coaches' poll and are just outside the top 25 in the AP poll. The Huskies should thank their reputation and preseason expectations for the excessive amount of respect they're getting. The NCAA Committee, however, won't be as easily fooled as the poll voters and the general public. The Huskies need to finish well to make the dance.
Tommy Amaker. On Sunday's telecast of the Kansas-Oklahoma game, Billy Packer called the job being done by Amaker at Michigan maybe the greatest coaching job of the past century. While nobody else is getting as carried away as Billy, Amaker is getting a tremendous amount of positive publicity from the media and is considered a leading candidate for Big Ten coach of the year. The only reason Amaker looks good now is that he did a horrible job at Michigan until two months ago. Amaker has had plenty of talent on hand, and his recent good stretch should not excuse an 0-6 start including losses to St. Bonaventure (a blowout), Western Michigan and Central Michigan. Michigan is now 16-9, a record that any decent coach would achieve with Michigan's roster. Based on his performance at Seton Hall and Michigan, Amaker should consider himself lucky to be hailed an average coach, let alone a candidate for coach of the year.
Oregon. It's simply amazing that Oregon continues to get a not insignificant number of votes in the polls. The Ducks (#49 RPI) are one of the most overrated teams in the country and need to finish strong to ensure a tournament bid.
CJ's Corner - 2/24