"We are pleased. I don't think we could have expected a better situation than what we got. And by situation, I mean being a four seed in a Western pod, not the teams we will be facing. I think the kids earned what we got with their play this year. It's indicative that we're a top 16 team, which is flattering and an honor. It's probably due to the wins over Xavier, Florida, a pretty good Gonzaga team and the win at Arizona. The [Selection] Committee looked at our schedule, and that helped."
- Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery
That pretty well sums up how you have to feel about Stanford's #4 seed in the South region, and subregional placement in the Spokane pod. Anything higher than a four seed really required a strong showing in the Pac-10 Tournament, but this is a very fair assignment for the Card. They played a tough schedule, did a good job of it, and were properly rewarded.
The first thing that jumps out at you is an awful lot of familiarity with these teams. Stanford has played #2 Florida and #3 Xavier this year, and played #1 Texas, #7 Michigan State, #9 Purdue and #12 BYU last year. In fact, this bracket is replete with just about every major non-conference opponent Stanford has played the last two years, absent Gonzaga (seeded in the West region) and North Carolina (living life in the NIT). No matter how you work out these brackets, there are good chances Stanford will face several of these teams if the make a march to the Final Four. Stanford's immediate pod pits them against #13 San Diego in the first round, with the chance if they advance to play the winner of #5 UConn and #12 BYU in the second round. Thus far, every talking head and hoops pundit has Connecticut blazing through this pod to the Sweet 16, and in several people's eyes making a surprise run to New Orleans. But beware, Fuskies, your first round opponents from the Mountain West. BYU is the most grossly underseeded team in the entire tournament, as measured by RPI, with a national #19 rating but a seeding that would place them in the #45-48 range. And that #5/#12 matchup is a very dangerous one for the higher seed, with at least one such upset in 13 of the last 14 years. You have to consider the Cougars a very serious possibility for a second round matchup.
The other story on BYU is their placement in the South region, which will play the region semifinals and finals (aka "Sweet 16" and "Elite 8") on Friday and Sunday. BYU has a school policy against activities and competition on Sundays, which are a mandated day of rest by the Mormon faith. That's a big boo-boo on the part of the Selection Committee, who has had this restriction in the past and should have known to avoid such a quagmire. The solution? If BYU advances out of the first two round, the NCAA will swap them into the Midwest region, and ship the winner of that respective pod back to the South. As it pertains to Cardinal fans, this is hardly intriguing to ponder, given that this scenario implicitly has Stanford losing early. But if BYU were to win both games in Spokane, it would totally jack a nation full of office pools and Internet bracket contests.
The boon in being placed in Spokane for the Card is that they have some of the shortest travel in their last decade of NCAA placement. It's only a couple hours in the air, and with no time change. Contrast that with cross-country flights to Albany or Birmingham, which proved to be second-round depth traps. One note, though, is that Stanford won't be earning any advantages over the rest of the pod in Spokane this year. San Diego also has a straight shot up the West Coast, and BYU doesn't have far to travel. UConn is the one distant team, but by the time Stanford could face them, the Huskies will have acclimated to the time difference after three or four days.
In the irony department, the last time Stanford played subregional games in the Northwest, they were also in Washington state and also faced a WCC foe. That fateful 1999 second round matchup against Gonzaga in the Key Arena in Seattle was a forgetful one, bouncing the then #2-seeded Cardinal one year after the Final Four appearance. Stanford also was looking at a highly anticipated matchup later in that bracket against UConn, which never materialized after their WCC foe scored the upset. Another similar fate in the Emerald State awaits our beloved Cardinal if they look past the Toreros Thursday...
The scouting process for the NCAA Tournament is unlike that of any other time of the season. Even in the uncertain bracket of the preseason NIT, Stanford knew months in advance who would be in the field. This week, the coaches have less than 48 hours between the revelation of the brackets and their scouting session with the team. In preparation, operations assistant Matt Babrick has been taping just about every college basketball game televised around the country throughout the season. So when the brackets were unveiled with San Diego as Stanford's first round matchup, Babrick had three full game tapes ready to hand to the coaches. He also had a handful of tapes on BYU and UConn for those scouting reports. The three assistant coaches take the respective opponents, with Tony Fuller taking USD, Eric Reveno taking Connecticut and Russell Turner taking BYU. Fuller used the three tapes from Babrick, plus two more tapes that arrived early Monday morning. Babrick contacted a video company in Newark, New Jersey as soon as the brackets came on on Sunday, and purchased additional tapes that were loaded onto an American Airlines flight that night.
Babrick took all the tapes and digitally recorded selected plays today, which produced one scouting tape for each opponent. The tape is not only used by the coaches in a team scouting film session, but also can be sent via email to the player's computers in their dorm rooms for additional viewing. Beyond film, Stanford would like to contact opponents to get their scouting reports, but there are some rules governing that. Within the Pac-10, for example, teams are not allowed to share scouting materials that will help to defeat another team in the conference. For example, if NC State called Stanford and wanted a scouting report on Cal, the Card would have to turn them down. So no use for Stanford to contact Gonzaga or St. Mary's, who are common opponents with USD but who likely are governed by similar WCC rules. Stanford is certainly in their rights to contact UCLA, though, who played the Toreros early in the year. The Bruins are not likely to get that call, however; Montgomery admitted Sunday that he was not necessarily interested in that scouting report that produced an overtime loss at Pauley Pavilion.
The team practiced at the normal time today (1:15 pm), and otherwise had no extraordinary meetings or film sessions. Tuesday is when things start heating up, with a 9:00 am practice as well as a morning look at a spliced film that presents what the coaches want the players to see about USD. Nobody on the team has a morning final, but several have afternoon final exams and will turn their attention in that direction. The entire team will then depart Tuesday evening on a charter flight direct to Spokane, which is a huge blessing. Players were really dreading the possibility of a commercial flight, which is less comfortable and more time-consuming. And when it comes to flying to Spokane, almost every flight path requires a connection. Only one airline flies direct to Spokane, and those flights are infrequent. Mike Montgomery wanted the team to be able to travel as quick as possible Tuesday evening, to minimize the interruption in their schedule. Wednesday morning will be completely dedicated to finals - some papers, some take-home exams and some faxed exams. Wednesday afternoon and all of Thursday will be basketball. Some players on the team who have finals scheduled for the end of the week are asking professors to take them next Monday.
One concern of the coaches is that the team might have a little rust after having played just two games over the last two weeks. The early exit after last Thursday's first round game in the Pac-10 Tournament left the team with a little extra time on their hands, and though the players were able to well use the time back on campus, Montgomery was worried about too much off-time. "The last time we had two days off in a row, we came out really flat," the coach explained. " So we had the guys practice Saturday and really sweat. It wasn't much of a thinking practice - more running hard and going at it." Today (Monday) was a practice more like typical Stanford practices: hard but replete with teachings. A focus in the game against USD will be on the matchup between Stanford's post players and the Toreros' frontcourt, so my eyes were fixed on the big guys in practice. The good news was that Rob Little and Justin Davis were connecting well in the two-man game, passing and feeling each other well in the paint. The bad news was that entry passes from the high post were often short and picked off. Little was rebounding hard and scoring pretty well low under the basket. Davis was moving fluidly and scoring at a high percentage near the basket. Joe Kirchofer was much what you expect - very successful on putbacks and in open space, but more challenged when a body is on him under the basket. Matt Haryasz had an absolutely phenomenal game scoring from the high post, and didn't miss a single shot from the top of the key. Where he struggled was rebounding the ball strong under the basket, though he did impress with a block of a driving Josh Childress dunk attempt.
In other important basketball news, Steve Lavin was unceremoniously ousted as UCLA's head coach this morning, which makes this a truly sad day for Cardinalmaniacs™. We have lost a coach who has trounced Bruin Basketball's grand standing, and who was kind enough to go 4-10 against Stanford in his seven year tenure. He was a patsy year-in and year-out for the Card, and was The Bootleg's favorite whipping boy. If this weren't Tourney Time, we'd feel compelled to write a full commentary on the passing of what we in the Stanford community have considered a golden era in UCLA hoops. If you want to follow all the latest candidates, interviews and rumors over the next few weeks for this high profile coaching search, turn to our buddy Tracy Pierson at BruinReportOnline. In fact, there is a great story up right now looking at top candidates and the latest Westwood buzz. But we'd like to offer our own nomination: North Carolina's Matt Doherty. Think about it. He has one of the most storied coaching positions in the country despite a scant proven record of success, an early run of unmatched recruiting success, a shaky winning record with said recruited talent... plus trademark hair. No coach will ever replace Steve Lavin, but we say Doherty is the one man in college hoops today who fits the mold. We're writing Dan Guerrero today and urge you to do the same!