Suddenly, by common consensus, we’ve become a bubble team. We’ve got a strong hold on a spot in the tournament, but we’re not a lock; if we lose tomorrow, we have to become the ogres everyone hates and root against the underdogs and also pray for the committee’s kindness. I don’t want either of these fates to befall me, so I hope we clinch a spot against USC.
Fortunately, we’ve got a good match-up against USC. We beat them by fifteen at home and lost to them by four away. Unfortunately, this match-up at the Staples Center in LA is essentially a home game for USC.
What are our chances of winning? Our results and their style of play give us a good shot at winning. Their offense is the aesthetically ugliest in the Pac-10, considering the talent they’ve got. It reminds one of a mid-90’s Knicks offense stewarded by Pat Riley, unbearably ugly. It’s no wonder that their coach is Tim Floyd—as a Bulls fan, I have to hate him. Get this: their assist to turnover ratio is sub-1 (.86) and roughly 50% of their made field goals are assisted. This is natural when your offense consists of isolation sets: go after your man alone. When the USC players are hot, it looks real nice; when not, it doesn’t.
And we have a good defense to confront that type of offense. Shotblockers thrive against individuals—it takes a team to neutralize shotblockers. They don’t play fast, and their big men can’t pull a Radenovic and pull either Lopez out of the paint. Our defense is well-equipped.
But the two variables that haunt every Stanford game creep up once again: our offense and our coaching. It is incredibly inconsistent. It’s because we have no point guard who can break down the defense and create easy shots for everyone else. So when everything isn’t working perfectly, we look bad. So it’s a flip of the coin, whether our offense is better. If Goods returns, as has been speculated, it could be good from the perspective of jumpshooting, which might help unpack the lane a little bit, but he’s unlikely to offer much respite either from the assist or penetration perspective—his assist to turnover ration is .93, and he shoots 38% on his twos (but he makes big shots! Well, to hit a big shot, you need to get yourself in the position in the first 38 minutes).
One thing that our offense has gotten away from is Lawrence Hill in the post. Look at his gamelog and divide the season into pre-Washington (1/11) and post-Washington chunks. Eyeballing it, he’s taking many more threes and fewer free throws. Now, he’s been scary-efficient on everything except free throws, but I’d like to see him show more variety in his offensive game. His three is nice, but it’s generally the result of what the offense is doing, rather than the cause, and when your offense is as deficient as Stanford’s, you don’t change a guy with an inside-out game who can create his own shot into mostly a jump shooter. It’s a waste.
The other variable is coaching. Trent Johnson’s a weird, weird coach from a game-strategy perspective. For example, why did Will Paul suddenly see meaningful minutes again against Arizona? To send a message for a lack of effort? That was a horrible misdiagnosis of what was happening early in the first half with Arizona—our offense was sputtering, and meanwhile everything Arizona threw up was hitting. They were getting many good shots, but they were hitting some suspect ones too. It was one of those team catches fire things. Radenovic destroying each Lopez twin, that was worrying because he was getting good shots. What Trent should’ve done was adjust to Radenovic’s game and let Arizona cool off, which they did—we held them to 43% after that 7/8 start. Which isn’t great by any means, but when you’re dealing with one of the best offenses in the nation, you’ll take it.
Another trend throughout the Arizona game was Trent’s inability to make Budinger a liability. He had a poor game offensively, but given that he’s one of the worst defensive players on a bad defensive team, he should have been a liability.
A specific, puzzling decision that everyone seemed to miss in overtime happened pretty late. Given that Kenny Brown turned the ball over on a pass, it was tough to notice what Trent didn’t do. The possession before, he subbed out Lawrence Hill for Taj Finger. One of my friends wondered why. “Offense/Defense” I said—Trent was putting his best defensive team out there, followed by a switch to the best offensive team, right? Well, the first half happened, but not the second—there was no sub back to Hill.
Fortunately, Tim Floyd’s no coaching genius either, so I think coaching is a wash. The question is just which offense shows up in the Staples Center.