[9:56PM – Breaking News: Apparently six Stanford basketball players have food poisoning. Sounds like Arizona will win tomorrow.]
The game tomorrow is mostly for seeding purposes, and as a clincher. If we win, we clinch and get a much better seed. If we lose, no big deal, we’re still probably in the tournament. The game is also important as a pre-tournament scouting report. Do we go into the tournament with momentum, or not?
Last time, we played Arizona close, despite the deceiving final score. Most of the game was close until a late 19-6 run. That was at home, and Arizona was playing much better at that time, so this game is certainly within reach.
WHEN ARIZONA HAS THE BALL
Public Enemy #1 is Chase Budinger, who might look like the Public Access TV guy from Anchorman, but has a ton of game. He’s a big leaper and has a solid jumpshot. If Lute Olsen’s been watching the game tape, I would expect him to be used like Affalo was in the most recent UCLA game—there should be a ton of backpicks and motion sets. If Lawrence Hill guards Budinger, it could be bad. If Washington is on Budinger, it would be much more palatable.
Unfortunately, Arizona is stacked offensively; Washington can’t guard all of their offensive threats. Shakur is the main worry here. He put us away the last time we met them with the high pick-and-roll with Radenovic. The question is whether good Shakur or bad Shakur shows up to play. So, to break out the sports cliché, Shakur is the X Factor (still the biggest backhanded compliment in sports).
Marcus Williams is effective, no doubt—he’ll be a lottery pick when he leaves this year, but he doesn’t have the same implications, I think, as Shakur or Budinger in terms of wing players. It’s tough to know which way the assignments should go; whom should Washington guard? I would vote for Budinger, with Hill guarding Williams, and say your prayers for Bad Shakur to play tomorrow, because Mitch Johnson may draw that assignment by default.
In terms of Arizona’s frontcourt, their Hill is a nonfactor and there for his “defense” (which is being mediocre in a crew of defensive underachievers). Radenovic is the problem. Last time we faced Arizona, Brook Lopez hadn’t quite reached conditioning stage and so he wasn’t starting; Radenovic was able to draw Robin out to the three point line, which obviously diluted the potency of his helpside defense. Robin is a much weaker helpside defender at this point, but he probably won’t have to defend Radenovic; Brook should because he’s better guarding the pick-and-roll which Arizona will use often (I presume).
Arizona’s composed of a ton of quick, jumping forwards, and so they grab a good number of offensive boards. We definitely need to contain their offensive rebounding rate.
Many people assume Arizona plays at a super, super fast pace, which is not really true. They’re fast paced but not quite North Carolina here. If they did play at a fast pace, they’d die—they have one of the worst benches I’ve seen in a while.
We can contain Arizona’s offense—which is all you can ask for, it’s really, really good—by making them work while they’re on offense, and also doing well when we’re on offense.
WHEN STANFORD HAS THE BALL
When Stanford played UCLA, one strategic move stuck out at me: the effort by Washington to sink Shipp (pun most definitely intended) by burdening him with two quick fouls. It worked; we had one less perimeter player to deal with for the first half, for all the good it did us. But UCLA has a pretty decent bench; Arizona has none. We should employ the same tactic on Arizona. Whomever Budinger is guarding—I presume either Washington or Hill—should post him up. Even if Budinger doesn’t foul, it’s a guaranteed source of fun and derision, because for all the good Budinger does on defense, he’s almost as bad on defense—his defense as fragile as an egg.
That’s the unique offensive aspect to this game. Mostly our offense is defined by ourselves. Do the Lopi rebound after their poor performance yesterday? They kept us in the last Arizona game; it would be nice to see a similar effort. Then the rest of the familiar questions: Do we turn the ball over? Do we hit our free throws at a reasonable rate (I would take 70%)? Does Mitch Johnson keep himself connected to the Juvenation Machine? Do we hit our outside shots?
Incidentally, the same questions can be asked of our potential tournament performance. A lot of teams have quick backcourts, which give us trouble. And these offensive questions will continue to haunt us. That’s when stands between us and one or more wins in the Madness.