Huskies welcome Cardinal to town

Stanford is a Jekyl & Hyde team thus far this year, logging (then perceived as) season-defining upset victories over Xavier and Florida in the preseason NIT, but also logging remarkable losses at home against Montana and Richmond. Big win over Gonzaga, then a couple of frightful efforts to open the Pac-10.

A few systemic weaknesses for this squad are three-point shooting and foul shooting, which ironically were hallmarks of Stanford basketball just a few years ago. The other pieces may come together well in games, and even if the defense plays well, looking for some weak shooting outside the arc or at the charity stripe to provide that proverbial Achilles heel. Can the Dawgs strike while the iron is hot when Stanford misses their chances? Can first-year coach Lorenzo Romar devise an offensive scheme to counter and even exploit Stanford's defense? These are key questions in a very intriguing match up.

Likely Stanford starters
#24 PG Julius Barnes 6-1 185 14.1 ppg/3.7 apg
#33 SG Matt Lottich 6-4 205 9.8 ppg/2.4 rpg
#1 SF Josh Childress 6-8 200 13.5 ppg/7.1 rpg
#22 PF Justin Davis 6-9 225 11.2 ppg/9.4 rpg
#42 C Rob Little 6-10 275 9.3 ppg/5.8 rpg

This starting five is Stanford's team. They have recorded 82% of the scoring. This team would have been radically deeper if not for the early NBA departures last spring by All-Americans Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt, and the most recent NFL departure of two-sport star Teyo Johnson. Adding salt to the collective Cardinal wound, sophomore starting point guard Chris Hernandez has suffered two different breaks in the same bone in his left foot, and is gone for the season.

So what you see is what you get. The forwards and center position are very solid, when not in foul trouble, but the bench behind them is a marked drop-off.

Barnes is one of the most athletically gifted guards to every don the Cardinal and White, with off-the-chart quickness and vertical leaping ability. He will often explode higher and faster for a rebound than any big man on the floor for either team, and then dart up the floor for the fast break. His jump shot has improved during his time on The Farm, but he will shoot a mediocre percentage this year as he is forced to handle the ball and run the offense so much of the time. Lottich has played a quiet but patient role behind Casey Jacobsen each of the last two years, now coming into his own as a kid from Chicago with the grit, fight and shooting stroke that you can't help but love. In Stanford's 1-1-3 zone defense, Lottich provides much of the roving hustle and fire that keys steals and stops, though his scoring on the offensive end has been hit and miss. If he can hit his treys, opponents may be in trouble. But his man defense is suspect, and he has yet to prove that he can lift this backcourt if and when Barnes is not hitting. Contrast his zero-point night at Cal with his 23-point unconscious outburst to save the Oregon State game. Which Lottich shows up Saturday is anyone's guess.

Josh Childress is the one budding superstar. A McDonald's All-American out of high school, Childress has recorded career highs in scoring and rebounding in games this year and is arguably the most dependable player on this team. He scores from outside (39% from three), hits the midrange jumper and can score every which way in the paint. His long frame and cat-like agility make for a unique skill set that can dunk over you, drive the baseline reverse lay-up or just pogo stick you to death with put-backs. Listed as a small forward, Childress plays a good deal at the power forward when Stanford wants to go smaller or when foul trouble strikes the starting pair. Justin Davis may be a late bloomer mentally in handling the college game and utilizing his skills, but he is finally making his mark at Stanford this season. Davis is leading the Pac-10 in rebounding currently and scoring much more smartly than at any time before in his college career. His best chances come off rebounds and low-post moves deep in the paint, but the redshirt junior forward is also hitting a little fade away jumper at six to eight feet with increasing frequency. He has an MCL sprain and is questionable for Saturday and may be a game time decision. He is sorely needed, but rushing him back and risking injury that loses him for the season is a grave concern.

Rob Little has been limited by foul trouble. When he is in the game, he has shown flashes of scoring ability that no objective observer could expect after his freshman campaign. Little can honestly hit a short jumper but logs most of his points when fed in the low post. After a revolutionary off-season conditioning campaign, this big body has turned his 18% body fat to 8% and transformed himself into one of the biggest and strongest low post threats on the West Coast. Like Davis, the past couple weeks have seen a step up in his game. But without Davis in the lineup, double teams hit Little literally every time he touches the ball.

Stanford's bench is not a productive one. Three freshmen provide most of the bodies, though Nick Robinson and Joe Kirchofer have been in the program for three and four years. Robinson and Dan Grunfeld are the only two reserves honestly capable of scoring meaningful points, though it is a surprise if either can break into double digits in a game. Robinson is more valuable for his defense and rebounding, as his long frame and underrated athletic abilities can create problems. Grunfeld is the son of former NBA player and now general manager Ernie Grunfeld. Jason Haas has been quickly elevated to a pressure-filled role as the team's #2 point guard, with erstwhile starter Chris Hernandez lost for the season with a broken foot. Haas took an extra prep year and played with big men (Luol Deng and Charlie Villaneuva) who will be in the NBA in a year or two. His variegated high school experiences have asked him to distribute at times, while scoring others. His greatest comfort right now comes in running the team, and it is a rare occurrence for him to put up a shot. Make no mistake - Haas has a good looking jumper, but he is making the grand adjustment to the demanding responsibilities of a Stanford point guard, which have him consumed currently. If Washington decides to press, watch Haas closely. He has the potential to turn the ball over, but also loves to push the ball and has the handle and moxie to bust through a press and create quick transition points.

The big men off the bench are Joe Kirchofer and Matt Haryasz, though neither has made strong contributions yet this year. Haryasz is still adjusting to the speed and strength of the college game, and has been foul prone. The freshman from Arizona was regarded as the #1 prep center on the West Coast last year, and you might see sparks with his shot blocking and shooting touch. But again, he has a lot of physical and mental progress before he can consistently contribute for even a stretch of a few minutes. Kirchofer has the experience and knows what to do in a game, but he has the least quickness and athleticism of Stanford's four post players.
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