Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, January 13, 2012

Stanford Basketball Preview #1: ... be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

Grumble, grumble, grumble...

Last night's affair in Berkeley left me with a restless night of sleep and a sour stomach.  The Buffs were so close, so damn close, to earning one hell of a hard fought victory that would put an exclamation point on their fantastic start to conference play.  A one-point game with a minute left is a situation I think any Buff fan would've taken going in, but it was not to be.  A scoreless final minute, and the Cal Golden Bears walk away with a bloody 57-50 win

Turnovers, weak second-half rebounding, and poor shooting plagued the Buffs.  Conversely, suffocating defense, Andre Roberson, and Austin Dufault were pretty fantastic.  The good with the bad; a winnable game against a damn tough opponent on the road lost to the ether.  I just wish the young Buffs had more of a chance to study this game to learn from it, because they played well enough to win, and now just need to figure out how to finish a game like that off.

The cruel reality of the schedule won't allow any time for reflection, however.  It's immediately on to Palo Alto and a tilt with the surprising Stanford Cardinal.  CU needs a win Saturday afternoon to salvage a split from the trip to San Francisco, and keep momentum flowing on the trip back to the friendly confines of the CEC.

Tip-off from Maples Pavilion is set for 2pm on Saturday.  You Boulderites with cable are in luck, because this game is set for broadcast on Root Sports.  If you can't find that, you definitely need to upgrade your television package, but you can also try Mark Jonson and the gang on 760AM.

Click below for the preview...

Opponents season so far -

Running up with the leaders of the conference, the Cardinal are ahead of the plan this season.  A team full of youth, seemingly destined for a middle of the Pac finish at the start of the season, suddenly seems capable of contending for a league title.

Over 64% of total minutes on the season have been played by first and second year players, and five of the top seven most used players call themselves underclassmen.  They should not be seriously considered contenders, that sort of nonsense should be for next year when this team is more seasoned.  Yet here they stand at 14-3 (4-1) on the season, with a strong claim as one of the best teams in the conference.

They've done this, mostly, through an incredibly efficient defense.  Ranked #16 in Kenpom's defensive rankings, they slow things down and force bad shots, leaving opponents with barely over 60 points per contest.  At home they been even more stingy, only affording their guests 56 points per game.
For a defensive-minded squad, the 103-101scoreline from last week's quadruple overtime thriller in Corvallis must have been awkward.
They also participated in one of the games of the year last week, when their tilt with Oregon St went to quadruple overtime.  That result was right in line with how conference play has been treating these guys.  Through five games, their total +/- is a scant +3.  Don't be fooled by the close score from their game with Utah, the Cardinal almost seem comfortable with all these close games.

Coaching -

Long time Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins finally got a shot at a top coaching gig when he accepted the head post with Stanford in '08.  The long-time NBA veteran is well respected in the basketball community, and has more than earned this shot at coaching top-flight collegiate hoops.
Buried deep in my long forgotten card collection, I have about 20 of these.
Technically saddled with the ridiculous title of "The Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men's Basketball," Dawkins has lead the Cardinal to mixed results through his three and a half seasons in Palo Alto.  Despite over-seeing a 20-win season and a NBA draft pick in Landry Fields, he has yet to lead Stanford to a top-half of the table finish, ending conference play 7th or lower each year.  His overall conference record stands at a weak 24-35, leading many to believe that this season was put up or shut up time.
Coach Dawkins has finally been getting the conference success that has long eluded him at "the Farm."
So far this season, his Cardinal have put up.

Star Players -

The Cardinal's best player is probably froward Josh Owens.  On a team full of underclassmen, the 6-8 senior's leadership in the paint has been vital.  He averages 13/6, and getting him the ball in the block is a primary focus for the offense.  Don't look for an outside jumper from him; he has yet to attempt a 3.
CU needs to find a way to keep this guy off the block.
Freshman sensation Chasson Randle is yet another first-year player shining in the Pac-12 this season.  The 6-1 guard, the 2011 Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year from Rock Island, has lived up to his promise by providing 12/3 for the Cardinal. Joining him in the back-court is sophomore Aaron Bright.  The 5-11 point guard provides 12 points and 3.5 assists per contest.  With him and Randle on the court, the guard corps for the Cardinal is a little under-sized.

Prediction -

How will the Buffs respond?  That's the $25,000 question headed into Saturday.  It can't be easy for this transitioning squad to lose that important of a game in such excruciatingly close fashion.  I'm especially going to pay close attention to the performance from Spencer Dinwiddie.  He's struggled mightily the last two outings, bringing home more fouls than points through his efforts.  If he has a good bounce-back game, the Buffs should do well.

Coach Boyle has repeatedly said the Buffs need to learn how to win low scoring, defensive struggles.  They'll probably get another bite at the apple tonight, as both of these teams lead with their defense.  It'll take a massive break-down from both squads to see a game in the 140s or higher.

I actually like CU in this one.  The team played better than the de facto best team in the conference on the road last night, and gave me hope that the Buffs are more than capable of pushing their weight around.  If Cal lacks the level of home court advantage that CU was used to facing in the Big XII, Stanford is right on par, if not worse.  Provided the Buffs can get any level of offense going, they should find some comfort in Palo Alto, and win a close, defensive struggle.

The Buffs earn the highly coveted split in San Fran, if just barely.

CU 63 - Stanford 60


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