Stanford Preview: Raise Expectations

With so much being said about the expectations of UCLA fans, the Stanford game today is a great example of just how tweaked expectations are, and where they should be. Snap out of it, UCLA fans: You should expect UCLA to beat Stanford...

So much has been written and discussed about expectations this season, especially the expectations of UCLA fans.


Playing teams like California on Thursday, and Stanford today at Pauley Pavilion, offer UCLA fans a great opportunity to put their tweaked expectations back into their proper perspective.


Stanford has lost four of what should have been its top five or six players for the season.  Another among that top five or six has missed a good number of games.    They were picked to finish seventh in the conference by the Pac-10 media before the season.


It's then a pretty amazing accomplishment that they are 20-6, ranked 21st in the country and tied for second in the conference.


It's especially eye-opening for UCLA fans, who have had to suffer through UCLA's worst season in its history.  Like the Cal team UCLA just played Thursday who are 18-5 and ranked 20th in the country, Stanford has no more talent than UCLA has this season. In fact, you could make an argument that UCLA has more talent than either Cal or Stanford.


And since we're talking about expectations, since UCLA beat Cal Thursday with arguably more talent on the roster, I think it's very reasonable to expect UCLA to beat an undermanned Stanford team today at Pauley Pavilion. That's right. Compared to UCLA, Stanford is undermanned.


Compare the talent on both squads. 


In the backcourt, Stanford has its team scoring leader in Julius Barnes playing point guard. Barnes is truly a shooting guard but because of the personnel Stanford has lost this season, he's doing duty at point guard. He's athletic and he can score, but he's also very proficient at turnovers and bad decisions, which is particularly evident when he has to play out of position and has the ball in his hands too much.   At shooting guard is Matt Lottich, the 6-4 junior, who is a decent three-point shooter, but really should be a backup level player at Stanford. In fact, he should be backing up Casey Jacobsen this season, but because Jacobsen jumped to the pros, Lottich is the team's starting shooting guard. He's limited athletically, and makes up for a lack of quickness, especially on defense, by playing hard and smart. 


After that, in Stanford's backcourt there are three players averaging about 10 minutes a game each that are used mostly to provide breathers, Dan Grunfeld, Nick Robinson and Jason Haas.  They are three players that are questionable Pac-10 level players.


Now, on the other hand, UCLA has Dijon Thompson starting in its backcourt. Thompson was arguably a top 40 national player coming out of high school and has shown more talent than even that indicates. He's probably the best all-around player on UCLA's team, and a potential future pro.  He alone has more talent than Barnes and Lottich combined.  Also possibly returning from injury today is Cedric Bozeman, who was a McDonald's All-American in high school, and highly coveted by many of the best programs – and best talent evaluators – in the college game.  Bozeman hasn't lived up to the hype yet, but he's clearly a talented player.  If Bozeman doesn't play, senior guard Ray Young will take his place at point guard. Young, a former McDonald's All-American himself, is a fifth-year senior, who has shown over the years a high-level of talent, but just a lack of game and court sense.  Behind them is Ryan Walcott and Jon Crispin, who are on the same level talent-wise as Stanford's three backcourt bench riders.


So, really, Stanford, in its backcourt, has an athletic guard who has questionable decision-making in Barnes.  Then an average-level Pac-10 player in Lottich.  UCLA has three players with McDonald's All-American-level talent.  Let's even say that the talent of UCLA's backcourt is overrated a bit.  You'd have to concede that Ray Young and Julius Barnes are just about equal in ability, so let's say those two cancel each other other.  I think just about every coach in America would take Dijon Thompson over Matt Lottich.  And then throw in Cedric Bozeman.


Backcourt Advantage? Clearly to UCLA.


Okay, in the frontcourt, Stanford has Josh Childress as its small forward, Justin Davis as its power forward and Rob Little at center.  Childress is an all Pac-10 level player, averaging 13.8 and 8.2 rebounds a game.  Justin Davis is averaging 10 and 8 and, even though he's still coming off an injury to his knee that sidelined him for a chunk of games this season, he's one of the best blossoming players in the Pac-10.  Little averages about 9 points and 6 boards and isa  decent center who's still young and developing. 


Again, compare this to UCLA. 


You'd have to probably give it a wash between Childress and UCLA's Jason Kapono. Childress is much more athletic, but Kapono is a better shooter and equally as good of an all-around scorer on the college level – at least this season.


Andre Patterson is an explosive leaper and rebounder, but has just a developing post offensive game and tends to disappear at times. He's actually much like junior Justin Davis was as a sophomore.  With the emergence of Davis and his offensive game, you'd have to give the nod to Davis here pretty clearly.


At center, since Ryan Hollins began starting games, he's averaging about 9 points and 5 rebounds a game, which is really similar in production to Stanford's Little. While Little has a bigger body and takes up much more room, Hollins is by far the superior athlete and shot blocker.  They're also playing about the same amount of minutes.  In comparing the two and what they bring to the team, it's actually pretty similar.


Coming off the bench, Stanford has two frontcourt players in Joe Kirchofer and Matt Haryasz.  Kirchofer is a bench lifer, who's averaging 2 points a game, who came to Stanford just to provide emergency depth.  Haryasz is a talent, but a freshman and needs to develop. 


Haryasz and UCLA's Mike Fey would probably be the relative equivalent for what they're bringing to the season. 


So, then you have T.J. Cummings and Kirchofer. As stated, Kirchofer came to Stanford as merely a career backup. Cummings was wanted by Duke's Coach K. He was considered a Top 40 national player out of high school. He's averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds a game.


Advantage frontcourt:   It's pretty close, but maybe you call it a wash. Or a slight lean toward UCLA.


Really, though, UCLA has more talent than Stanford. And, really, just like it did against the less talented Cal team Thursday, UCLA should beat Stanford today.


Yes, expectations are a common topic of discussion this season.  So much is written and discussed about the expectations of UCLA fans.  It just seemed appropriate to acknowledge just where the expectations of UCLA's fans currently are at this point – the point where we generally would expect a more-talented UCLA team to lose to a less-talented Stanford team today.   So, let's do a little expectation raising, and expect UCLA to beat Stanford.

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