Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2013-14 Stanford Basketball Preview

For those wondering, Shldr2Shldr had a great post over on Allbuffs listing the numerous seeding breakdowns that could play out this week.  With ASU losing in Eugene last night, the dream scenario which sees CU vault into third place remains alive, but they'd have to sweep in the Bay Area and have the Sun Devils choke in Corvallis on Saturday.  Highly unlikely.  Even without that perfect set-up, however, the Buffs could still claim a bye, but have to win at least one in San Francisco.  My feeling is that the game against Cal is the likelier of the two, at least with how the teams have been playing lately, but I think CU 'matches up' better with the Cardinal.  Regardless, the Buffs are underdogs this week, and some chalk could complicate the Vegas trip.

I still have faith, however.  Two unsurprising losses have some reaching for the panic button, and others getting ludicrous and mumbling bullshit like 'Right now, the only teams CU may be better than are Washington State and USC.'  Overreact if it makes you feel better, but this is still a strong CU team, and no one will be taking the Buffs lightly over the next few weeks.  Count this bunch out at your peril - watch them surprise us all and make the 3rd-seed happen.


Tip-off from Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, CA is set for 7pm this evening.  Coverage can be found on ESPN2, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Because the schedule has been oddly worked this season, here we are in the final week of the campaign, and the Buffs and Cardinal are just now meeting for the first time in over a year.  Just as odd, back in late-February of 2013, Colorado was in a pretty similar position to where they are this season.  Facing long odds, they traveled to the Bay Area in search of a win that would help them solidify a less-than-perfect Tournament resume.  Behind heroic efforts from Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie, CU managed to squeak out that win, 65-63, to all-but punch their ticket.
'Dre dropped 24 in his finest offensive game as a Buff.  From:
Last year it came down to the wire, as 'Dre and Spencer had to all but carry their teammates across the finish line.  The pair combined for 23 of CU's 34 second-half points, helping CU pull away late. The Cardinal didn't give up, though, and had a chance late to steal the win or force overtime.  Collecting the inbounds with less than three seconds to go, star Stanford forward Dwight Powell ran right pass the matador defense of the two CU scorers, and drove home for the sure-to-be-tying score.  In his determination to add insult to injury, however, Powell decided to go for the dunk, rather than a guaranteed layup.  The extra half-second his body took to get to the rim was all it took, and the clock expired, defaulting the win to the Buffs despite the defensive letdown.  I guess that's one way to use the clock as an extra defender...

I'm being overly unfair in blaming Roberson and Dinwiddie for their defensive lapse on the final play.  Not only were they trying to avoid a foul that would've put Powell on the line, but they had been simply fantastic up to that point. Roberson, especially, shone throughout the proceedings, posting a career-high 24 points to go along with eight rebounds despite the beginnings of his bout with mono.  For Spencer, his 19-point night was highlighted by this massive dunk past Powell and over defensive dynamo Josh Huestis.  In reality, CU was only competitive that night because the pair was on the court, and I can't help but note that Colorado heads back into Maples this evening without either of the two stars available to gun for a repeat showing.
Spencer helped take over in the second half.  From: the SJMN
CU got great value for their win in Palo Alto.  Besides the resume boost, it made for their third-consecutive road win, and leveled their road mark in the league (quite the departure from the typical road woes from this program). Tonight, CU will look for similar value, as a win would put to rest any lingering doubts that they will Dance come Selection Sunday. Here's to a repeat performance in 2014!

The Cardinal in 2014 - 

Finally, after years of inconsistent disappointments, Stanford seems to have put their talent into practice, finding enough consistency to tailor a campaign commensurate with their skill. Quiet, yet solid, they're owners of a respectable 18-10, 9-7 record, and currently sit in 5th place in the Pac-12. Nothing earth-shattering, but it's good enough to put them on the cusp of a Tournament bid for the first time since the Lopez twin-fueled run in 2008 - a drought that has been hanging over this proud basketball program for far too long.

The high point of their season to date came two weeks ago, when they finished off a sweep of the SoCal duo with their 83-74 win over UCLA.  Combined with their 53-51 non-conference scalp of Connecticut back in December, those two wins form the crux of their Tournament argument. Well earned both, they're victories any team would love to have, and certainly ones that the recent vintages of Cardinal basketball would've been incapable of securing.  Beyond just the top-line wins, however, they've got a respectable Tournament resume - top-50 RPI, top-30 SOS, and only one bad loss (@ OSU). A lost weekend in Arizona did them no favors, but, really, the only flaw on their Dance card is the lack of about one more top-50 win, a fault they could patch-over with a defeat of the Buffs this evening.  Just my way of saying that the Cardinal will be hungry for this one.
The win over UCLA came as a big boost to Stanford's Tournament hopes.  From: the AP
Statistically, the Cardinal boast top-50 efficiencies in both offense and defense, and feature in the top-half of the conference with a 1.08/1.03 ppp split over the last two months.  They play fast of offense (top-40 in possession length), and wear opponents down on 'D' by squeezing out an average of nearly 19 seconds per defensive possession.  One thing I like from a CU perspective is their paltry 31% shots-at-the-rim rate (298th nationally - they soft, yo). Colorado has been killed by interior basketball over the last two games, and Stanford may just be the kind of team to plug the holes against.

Overall, it's a picture that justifies their above average record, but not much more. This bunch is good, not great. A team that will push you, but never challenge for a league crown or anything magical.  Hey, at least it's better than the milquetoast they've been stringing together throughout the Johnny Dawkins era. 

Star Players - 

Undoubtedly, the straw that stirs the drink in Palo Alto is junior guard Chasson Randle.  The 6-2 junior had taken a step back from a stellar freshman campaign a year ago, but the former Illinois high school player of the year has really blossomed this season.  He's averaging 19/4/2 in '13-'14, and has earned my vote for inclusion on the All-Pac-12 team (I get one of those, right?).
Randle is good, and only getting better.
The highest praise I can level is that the Cardinal plays their best when Randle is on, and he likes to flip on the switch in big moments.  Performances like 26 points in the UCLA win, 40 over a key stretch in early February, and 33 in a January win over Washington underscore his value.  All-told, Randle has failed to reach double-figure scoring just twice all season, and leads the Cardinal in most major volume-based statistical categories.  He'll be a tough matchup for whoever is tasked with guarding him, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him drop 20+ on the Buffs.

Playing off the guard antics of Randle is the overly talented Dwight Powell.  A preseason conference player of the year candidate, the 6-10 senior from Canada has been a slight disappointment this year (only averaging 15/8), but he is still one of the most gifted players in the league.  He has the speed, handle, and shot to turn any defender into mincemeat on the offensive end, and is more than serviceable defensively. A little soft at times (probably an understatement), Powell is a star talent that will push Colorado throughout the front court.
Powell is one of the most purely talented players in the region.
Supporting Powell in the paint is 6-7 senior swing forward Josh Huestis. I'm not exactly giving away state secrets, but Huestis remains my favorite non-Buff in the Pac-12. The Montana native was close, once again, to averaging a double-double this season at 12/9, and, with the professional ascension of Oregon's Arslan Kazemi and CU's Andre Roberson, is the best defensive 'four' in the league. About the only thing about I don't approve of with Huestis is his decision to ditch the 'fro he was sporting last season.  For shame!
Huestis is fun to watch, even with the shorter hair.
Rounding out the starting lineup is Stefan Nastic and Anthony Brown.  While I'm sure he'll make me eat my words this evening, I look at Nastic as a waste of perfectly good minutes.  He plays soft, disappears at the drop of a hat, and is easily beaten by even average offensive big men.  I'd have thought there would be someone, anyone on the Stanford roster more worthy of starter's minutes, but I guess the 6-11 center is it. Brown is significantly better.  The 6-6 combo guard creates some interesting matchup issues, and is Stanford's most efficient player.  He's in line to ascend to star status next season, and I expect Anthony to be a difference-maker this evening.

Anne-and-Tony-Joseph-Director-of-Men's-Basketball-ing -

Despite his best efforts to avoid it, Johnny Dawkins probably saved his job this season.  He had produced next to nothing over his first five seasons at Stanford, but a run to the Dance this year will keep the former Duke Blue Devil in possession of the world's most obnoxious coaching title.  Congratulations?

I kid about it, but Dawkins has shown a surprising knack for doing substantially less with substantially more. On paper, the Cardinal have had a treasure trove of talent the last few seasons, highlighted by a dream core of young stars that have stuck around in the system.  Despite all of that promise, however, the teams have routinely struggled to live up to the hype.  Besides that NIT championship in 2012 (which, really, who cares?), there is essentially nothing to show for the Johnny Dawkins era.  To-date he's 48-58 in conference play, with only two sub-par post-season appearances to his name.  That'd be acceptable at some of the other programs in the Pac-12 (*cough* Pullman *cough*), but at Stanford, a modern basketball power, it's confusing and frustrating.
Why hasn't Dawkins done more with the talent in place?
The continuing issue has been maintaining momentum, and putting together winning streaks.  Only twice in the previous five seasons has Stanford managed to win three conference games in a row.  Without any level of consistency, how are you supposed to build a resume worth a damn?

To his credit, Dawkins has the ship pointed in a good direction in '13-'14.  I'm still not convinced he's getting the most of the talent at his disposal, but the results have been acceptable.  They've enjoyed two three-game in-conference winning streaks this season, and are in line to finally make the Tournament.  Fair enough.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 15-4.  Against the spread: 10-9.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +1.74 pts/gm)

Lines as of Wednesday @ 12pm - Buffs +8 1/2

I think CU is closer to this one than would be expected, but, for key Cardinal, this is their last week of basketball in Palo Alto, and you have to respect those vets at home.  I'll say CU loses, but give me the cover.

Stanford 74 - CU 68


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