Previewing Stanford.

Nick Robinson  (27) grabs a rebound (AP)

Oregon looks to bounce back after a disappointing loss to Cal (88-72) on Thursday night. What might Ducks fan expect from the Cardinal on Saturday?

Stanford (10-4) 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.  The greatest differences between Stanford's big wins and horrific losses have been defense, officiating and injury. The shallow frontcourt cannot survive a tightly called game, where both Justin Davis and Rob Little have great exposure, and that spells trouble when Pac-10 officials call the games. Even more important, Stanford stole two shocking wins in that NIT when their brilliantly constructed and executed 1-1-3 zone defense threw opponents out of sorts. But the defense just disintegrated as the sagging Card players slacked against North Carolina in the NIT final. Then the defense again laid down like an old dog against Montana and Richmond, allowing some middling players to shoot at high percentages for big games. When you give a high level player like Luke Jackson or Luke Ridnour opportunities like those, it could spell big trouble.  And if you subtract Justin Davis completely away from this team, as happened in the second half of the Pac-10 opener at Cal and then for Thursday's game against Oregon State, the rebounding and offense drop dramatically.  Davis is a huge key to what this team can do well, and his uncertain status for Saturday's game is the X-factor.

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 Ducks strike while the iron is hot when Stanford misses their chances? Can Ernie Kent devise an offensive scheme to counter and even exploit Stanford's defense? These are key questions in a very intriguing matchup...

Starters

#24 PG Julius Barnes Sr 6-1 185 13.9 ppg 3.6 apg
#33 SG Matt Lottich Jr 6-4 205 9.4 ppg 2.4 rpg
#1 SF Josh Childress So 6-8 200 13.5 ppg 7.1 rpg
#22 PF Justin Davis Jr* 6-9 225 11.2 ppg 9.4 rpg
#42 C Rob Little So 6-10 275 9.4 ppg 5.6 rpg

* taken redshirt year

This starting five is Stanford's team. The reserve players noted below fill important roles in the game, but it is not a statistical fluke that the starting five have recorded 82% of the scoring through the first 14 games. 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 Hernandez injury has forced natural shooting guard Julius Barnes to play the point and average more than 34 minutes per game. That in turn has elevated junior off-guard Matt Lottich to a starting position, where he has provided consistent intensity but inconsistent shooting. 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 a off-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. Indeed, he has launched more three-point attempts than any other Cardinal, but hit at just 35% (and falling). His most effective scoring comes off the dribble, with penetration and his acrobatic body control in the air. His assist-to-turnover ratio is a very unremarkable 1.2, marking him as a scoring point rather than one setting up his wings and big men.

The other scoring guard is Lottich, who 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 on this roster today. 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 (37% 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. Was also rebounding like crazy until the last two games, where he has grabbed just three and five boards. Interesting to watch if his chemistry and ease of play is indeed effected without Davis alongside him.

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 fadeaway jumper at six to eight feet with increasing frequency. His jump shot and free throw stroke are dramatically improved, which make him a more credible threat. Still, Davis can only do what he can do when in the game, and he is still suspect for foul trouble with touch fouls. He may live and die this year with the whistle, and it is no overstatement to say that the style of officiating in a game can dictate his prospects.  Before his MCL sprain in the Cal game, he was the hottest player on the team and maybe the Pac-10.  He honestly was putting everything together at the highest level of his career, starting to make people whisper "NBA."  He is fitted with a custom brace for his left knee and dressed out for Thursday's game but did not play.  He is questionable for Saturday and may be a gametime 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 similarly been limited by foul trouble, and had his best games when away from the "iron fist" of Pac-10 officiating. Sometimes the first half, sometimes the second half, this sophomore center has several times logged just three minutes in a period. 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 today, 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 Thursday night, double teams hit Little literally every time he touched the ball.

Key Reserves

#32 PG Jason Haas Fr 6-2 180 1.1 ppg 0.6 apg
#20 SG Dan Grunfeld Fr 6-5 210 4.9 ppg 1.4 rpg
#21 SF Nick Robinson So* 6-6 200 3.4 ppg 3.5 rpg
#52 PF Matt Haryasz Fr 6-10 215 1.6 ppg 1.9 rpg
#00 C Joe Kirchofer Jr* 6-9 245 2.0 ppg 1.6 rpg

The above stats don't lie - this Stanford 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 in this game, but it would be a surprise if either broke into double digits. Robinson is more valuable for his defense and rebounding, as his long frame and underrated athletic abilities can create problems. But his jumper is rarely used, with more attempts found in the paint on offensive rebound opportunities. Nick Robinson is known in the Stanford locker room as "Pops," as he is 23 years old after having taken a Mormon mission after high school - so look for maturity both physically and mentally in his minutes. He logged his first career start Thursday night in place of the injured Davis, and though undersized at 6'6" for the power forward, he defended well, hit two big second half buckets and grabbed a career high seven boards. Grunfeld plays at level much higher than you could believe with his youth and scant athleticism, but finds a way to make plays with his exceptional basketball savvy. The son of former NBA player and now general manager Ernie Grunfeld, this wing has been deeply immersed in hoopdom all his life. It shows when he curls off screens or makes that sweet pass. Just scored in double figures for the first time in his career the other week against UC Irvine and then hit for nine against the Zags - he is one of the most pure shooters Stanford has seen in years.  May score driving or spot-up shooting.

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. Like Grunfeld, he brings a little more savvy and feel for the game than you might think, especially with his very light recruitment out of high school. But 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 Oregon 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 have made strong contributions yet this year. They both have the potential to rebound, but are limited for different reasons. Haryasz is still adjusting to the speed and strength of the college game, and can pick up personal fouls in a big hurry. He will go over the back for boards, or more often swing at blocked shots that he could easily swat with his arms vertical. This 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. You will see that when he tries to defend a post player with any quickness, or in loose ball situations where Kirchofer does not get off the floor quickly for the rebound. Kirchofer can be steady, if not spectacular, and has one very solid go-to move with his short- or mid-range hook shot.  Both players have to log more minutes if Davis can't go on Saturday.

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