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Posts Tagged ‘Stanford Cardinal’

Stanford hits a home run

Posted by Jeff Nusser on April 26, 2008

If you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor, Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby really did hit the ball out of the park with his hire of Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins, who is reported to be Trent Johnson’s successor. This is the guy who’s been Mike Kzyzewski’s top assistant for 11 years, most of that spent as his top recruiter at a university whose admissions standards are similar to Stanford’s.

Of course, you never really know how a lifetime assistant is going to do as the head guy — hellloooooo, Paul Graham! — but I think this is a great hire. I’ve often wondered why Dawkins has never gotten a shot as a head man, and the thought has been that he was just patiently waiting for the right opportunity. He elected not to go the Jeff Capel route, assisting Coach K for a few years then parlaying a few years at a small college (VCU) into a bigger job (Oklahoma).

It looks like that patience has been rewarded. He’s learned from the best, and he won’t get a better fit than this.

And I stand by what I wrote Thursday: Bowlsby will end up looking like the smart guy in all of this.

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Posted in Around the 'Net, News, Pac-10 Stuff | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

GAME THREAD: Pac-10 Tournament, (3) WSU vs. (2) Stanford

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 14, 2008

No. 21 Cougars (24-7 overall, 11-7 Pac-10) vs. No. 11 Cardinal (24-6, 13-5)

Staples Center (Los Angeles), 8:30 p.m. PDT
TV: FSN

Since we just did this two weeks ago, I’m not going to go too crazy over analyzing this game.

WANTED: Anyone who can stop these two guys.

Brook Lopez has absolutely destroyed anyone who has tried to guard him one-on-one, and he’s made double teams look like child’s play, leading Stanford to a pair of wins in which they trailed at the half. Robin Lopez has been an absolute demon on the defensive end, teaming with his brother to dominate long stretches of each game with their shot blocking ability, as well.

Somehow, some way, we’ve got to limit their influence on this game. On defense, we’ve got to deny Brook Lopez the ball in comfortable positions around the basket, and if he does catch the ball, make him do it in areas where it’s harder to score and harder to pass out of the double team. On offense, we’ve got to figure out ways to draw both of them away from the basket so we can get some things moving towards it. We cannot settle for jump shot after jump shot if we expect to have any kind of success.

Above all, we have to bring it for 40 minutes. No 20-minute spurts.

I gotta be honest — I don’t have a great feeling about this game. I know it’s tough to beat a team three times, but there is a reason why we’ve already lost twice to them: The matchups just are not favorable. Hoping for foul trouble or a hot shooting game might just be our best bet.

Posted in Game Threads | Tagged: , , , | 39 Comments »

Thank goodness Brook Lopez will be in the NBA next year

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 3, 2008

I tried to be upset about Saturday. I really did. And it worked for a while, as I thought about how our chance for a signature win had disintegrated before my very eyes under an avalanche of Brook Lopez and stunningly ineffective offense.

But then I remembered I was at my son’s first birthday party. It was awful tough to be mad when this was staring me in the face all day:

So it was that I didn’t get a chance to put up a game thread — I could not get to a computer at all from the time I left Wenatchee on Friday until last night when I got back to Wenatchee last night. I apologize for that, and can truthfully tell you that it won’t happen again this year.

Back to Saturday’s game. It’s not tough to figure out where this one went wrong.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Game Analysis | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

In praise of the Cougar defense, rebounding – and Robbie Cowgill

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 29, 2008

Given the stakes, last night was our most important win of the season.

To go on the road and not just beat a team we’re supposed to beat, but annihilate them, is huge. I know home teams have had their fair share of troubles in this conference, but the selection committee won’t look at that. They’ll look at the fact that the Cougs now have a 14-2 record away from Pullman with true road wins over USC, Gonzaga, Baylor, Arizona State and Boise State — all teams projected by ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi to be in the NCAA Tournament.

The best part about last night, though, is that it validated where this team was heading before the Arizona game, as the Cougs have now won five of six games and done it in a fashion that is sustainable as we roll toward the postseason.

You know that we harp on and on about defense around here. Well, last night was a defensive-minded coach’s dream. I think we all know that Cal is a potent offensive team, but let me throw some stats your way that ought to give you a pretty good idea of just how amazing last night’s defensive performance was.

This is a Cal team that ranks 17th nationally in kenpom.com‘s adjusted offensive efficiency rating at 116.9. Last night, the Cougs held the Bears to a 79.5 efficiency rating. If you don’t understand just how unbelievably dominant that is, let me translate. Last night’s game contained 61 possessions. Captain Math tells us that when we multiply 61 possessions by the 1.169 points per possession the Bears typically score, Cal will post around 71 points in a game. Last night, the Bears scored 49.

Digest that for a second. In essence, the Cougs held the Bears 22 points below their season average.

And it wasn’t a flash in the pan. In that four-game win streak, we did the same thing to …

  • USC: 111.1 adjusted efficiency overall but 88.5 against the Cougs, essentially 12 points below the Trojans’ average performance;
  • Oregon State: 95.6 vs. 92.6, 1 point below average;
  • Oregon: 120.0 vs. 96.2, 13 points below average;
  • Arizona State: 111.1 vs. 83.1, 15 points below average.

Think about that. We’re not just holding our opponents below their season averages; since the end of that miserable stretch of four losses in five games, we now have held four of our six opponents to double digits under their season average. Heck, even in the loss to Arizona we held the Wildcats below their season efficiency rating (although admittedly not by a whole lot).

That, my friends, is what we call a bona fide trend. And it ought to give you pause.

Now, I’m not a big X’s and O’s guy, so I can’t exactly tell you what the difference has been schematically, but I can tell you two things that are pretty obvious from a statistical point of view: Teams are not shooting as well on us as they were earlier this season, and they are getting far fewer offensive rebounds.

We constantly talk about getting out on shooters, which we did an exceptional job of last night, and that’s important. And I think the explanation there is pretty simple — we’re not trapping as much as we were, which means we’re not scrambling to get back into position to guard shooters on the perimeter (kinda like what you see in the NBA every night). We’re playing sound, stick-with-your-man defense. Additionally we just seem to be exhibiting a high amount of effort in getting out on shooters.

But I think the improved rebounding is one huge aspect of our defense that is being overlooked by most everyone. It’s so very important to end possessions after one shot, something we were doing a horrible job of early in the conference season. But we are doing a dramatically better job of it in winning those five of six games.

While there are other factors in play we’ll get to in a minute, you can credit one man for a lot of that turnaround: Robbie Cowgill.

Over the first 10 games of the Pac-10 season, Cowgill was averaging just 3.7 rebounds. He often looked timid — shocking for a guy that was so active last year — and we all lamented the loss of his activity around the floor. But something has gotten into him since then. In the past six games, his rebounds are way up, all the way to 6.5 a game. That might not seem like that big of an increase, but when you’re playing games that only have 55-60 possessions, three more rebounds is positively huge. He’s playing great defense and he is crashing the glass — exactly what this team needs from him. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that his points per game are up over that stretch, too (6.7 vs. 4.7).

But I think it’s more than Cowgill and Baynes, who is doing what he always does, which is box out like a madman with a body no one can get around. Our guards are rebounding as well as I can remember a team’s guards rebounding in quite a while, which has to be one of the most underrated aspects to this defensive turnaround. I really can think of only one viable comparison to what our guards are doing right now, and that’s the Michigan State championship teams of eight or nine years ago. We are absolutely selling out for every loose ball right now, and our guards are snatching long rebounds away from everyone. It truly is remarkable.

Now, that rebounding skill will be put to the test. This defensive turnaround happened after getting absolutely destroyed on the defensive glass by both Stanford and UCLA at home. If we can control the defensive glass on the Cardinal tomorrow — and that’s a huge if, given that Stanford is 17th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage — I think we can win that game a lot more easily than most people think.

Posted in Breakdowns | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

That fine line

Posted by Jeff Nusser on February 3, 2008

Tony Bennett has been preaching for months that the line between great success and great failure for these Cougars is as thin as it can possibly be.

As much as we all want to tell people that we’re not as devoid of good players as we’re often made out to be, the reality is that we don’t have the same kinds of athletes as the rest of the Pac-10. We don’t have athletes who can consistently overcome their off days at the free throw line or taking care of the ball — or whatever — with superhuman individual efforts based on their giftings.

And I suppose that’s what was most stunning about the past two games. Over the last year-and-a-half we’ve become so accustomed to our boys pulling out these close games that we’ve begun to take it for granted. When it doesn’t, we’re startled. When we don’t play fundamentally sound basketball and it costs us a game, we wonder if all the pundits were right about our team, that they really are just a bunch of overachievers who caught a lot of breaks last year.

I know that my faith has been shaken quite a bit in these first nine Pac-10 games.

Would I feel this way if any one of the 82 small things that could have gone differently against Cal had gone differently and the Cougs would have won? Would I feel this way if Robin Lopez doesn’t hit the miracle shot of his life or if Taylor Rochestie hits a layup or if Robbie Cowgill or Kyle Weaver hit just one more free throw?

Would I feel the same way if a couple of close wins instead of close losses had left us 7-2?

Probably not as strong as I feel it now, so certainly there is some emotion at play in this moment.

But emotion aside, I’ve had a sneaking suspicion about this team ever since watching it get embarrassed by UCLA and Arizona. That is something that just did not happen last year, and it gave me pause that it happened not just once, but twice. I’ve seen some really disturbing things, especially with regards to the defense, that I fully did not expect to see this season. I’ll go into that in more detail in my post tomorrow, but it’s become fairly obvious to all that our supposed “strength” is not our strength.

It’s not that I don’t believe this team is good; it is. The Cougs will make back-to-back tournaments — a HUGE accomplishment by most any program’s measure — and will probably receive a seed in the top half of the bracket. But it’s also become equally obvious that this team probably isn’t as good as we thought.

A lot of this likely would get masked if the Cougars played in a weaker conference, but they don’t. WSU has now lost four Pac-10 games and are staring No. 5 right in the face with UCLA coming to town on Thursday. (The Cougs only lost five Pac-10 games all of last year, in case you forgot.) There certainly is time for redemption — as I was going to write on the game thread that never got done yesterday, beat Stanford and you forget all about Cal, and a sweep over UCLA and USC will have us thinking Final Four again — but time is quickly running out on these Cougs to have the kind of season they dreamed.

Favorable seeding is so very important to a deep NCAA Tournament run, and a top three seed is looking less and less likely. The Cougs are now just 4-3 against the RPI top 50 and lack any kind of a signature win. Yes, road wins against Baylor, Gonzaga, USC and Arizona State are nice, but they’re not the kind that earn you a No. 2 seed. Wins over UCLA, Stanford and surging Arizona are. We’re 0-for-3 there.

This team already has reached unprecidented heights. But as a wise man in my life once said, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, because that’s what everyone remembers. Let’s hope these Cougars can figure out a way to finish strong, because they deserve it.

Posted in Game Analysis | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Set up for a strong, strong finish

Posted by Jeff Nusser on January 29, 2008

There’s something just a little bit disconcerting about the way the Cougs have played at times this year, given their lofty ranking and the way they were outclassed by the two teams they have played that have truly superior athletes, and the close nature of some other games.

But when I get too down, I just remember this: No other major conference college basketball team — not one, not even a bad one — has played as many true road games and as few true home games as the Cougars. They have played nine true road games, and six of them were against teams that either are ranked or have been ranked in the Top 25. And they’ve only played five true home games — out of 19. Scenes like the one to the right have been way too few and far between for a program of our ilk. Among tournament-contending teams, only Butler has played as many road or neutral games as the Cougs. And the Bulldogs are in the Horizon League.

To come away from that schedule with just two losses really is a bigger accomplishment than a lot of people will give them credit for.

Think about it. We just played five of our first seven Pac-10 games on the road and came out of it 5-2. Yes, we were slapped around by UCLA and Arizona, but we survived all the others. In only one of those games can we say that it really looked like the Cougs didn’t come to play, and that’s really saying something in a game with 20- to 22-year-old kids who do — believe it or not — have other things going on in their lives.

It hasn’t come without a price. In watching the end of the game on Saturday, one thought just kept coming to mind: This team is tired. Really, really tired. And Kyle Weaver said as much after the game.

But playing seven of their final 11 games regular season games at Beasley Coliseum is exactly what they need for a strong finish. Why? Because the top six teams in the conference other than the Cougs still have to make a trip to Pullman! That, my friends, is huge.

And consider this: Even with what they’ve gone through, Joe Lunardi still has WSU projected as a No. 2 seed and Jerry Palm has the Cougs projected as a No. 3. The various RPI approximations have them ranked either No. 9 or No. 10. The message? A strong finish bolstered by playing at home can push the Cougs into unheard of territory. If the home court advantage helps as much as I think it might, this team could end up pushing for a No. 1 seed. I feel comfortable saying that: The committee showed with UW a few years ago that it will recognize a team with a not-so-elite record that plays in a brutal conference.

So, get fired up Cougs. We still are in great position to win the Pac-10, just one game back of UCLA, and can put ourselves in an even better position with a sweep this weekend against Cal and Stanford. I believe the best part of the season is still in front of us.

Posted in Breakdowns | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »