This Legends Classic tournament makes no sense. Tonight’s tilt is the championship game, but then Stanford plays South Dakota State next week in the same tournament. Basically, the four big-name teams (Stanford, Pitt, Houston and Texas Tech) got automatic bids to the semifinals in Brooklyn, and the four small-name teams (Texas Southern, South Dakota State, Howard and Lehigh) are relegated to facing off in Brookings, S.D. Stanford benefits, but the unfairness of it is grating nonetheless.
Josh Huestis with a dunk. Stanford has one turnover early and is lucky it’s not two, as Dwight Powell throws one away and Stefan Nastic sees his entry pass tipped away. Hi, Brian Risso, media relations guru! Looking sharp on ESPNU. Powell then splits a pair from the line. This may not be fair, but as goes the team, so goes its biggest star. As such, our view of Dwight Powell throughout his Stanford career mirrors our view of the squad: Powell is a talented player who hasn’t yet found consistency or gotten over the proverbial hump. Of course, one stellar year can entirely change that script.
Sure enough, Powell makes a beautiful play, faking a three, driving the lane and flushing to bring the fans to their feet. It pulls the Cardinal to within 9-5 after Pitt made its first four shots.
Pitt 9, Stanford 7, under-16 timeout
Pitt is No. 6 in KenPom’s rankings, though unranked in the polls, but I agree with Ken’s take. The Panthers haven’t played anyone yet, but they’ve looked the part so far, not allowing a team out of the 50s so far. Their defense is always excellent – No. 10 nationally this season, and No. 21 last year, per KenPom. Last year’s squad was also the No. 4 offensive rebounding bunch in the country, so a long, athletic Stanford team will have to make sure it matches the Panthers’ physicality on the boards.
Don’t know how I feel about Stanford’s 2-3 zone so far tonight. On the one hand, Pitt is resorting to taking a ton of threes, which is not what they’re designed to do. (Only 26% of their attempts last year were threes, among the bottom 40 teams of the 340 nationally. So victory, Stanford, for taking Pitt out of its preferred modus operandi.) On the other hand, the zone isn’t quite there – as we’ve seen through six games – and the Panthers are taking open three after open three. The Panthers are 3-of-6 deep, on mostly open looks, already have three offensive rebounds to boot, and lead 15-11 at the under-12 timeout.
Pitt 15, Stanford 11, under-12 timeout
Anthony Brown picks up his second foul – and Stanford’s fifth turnover – albeit on a wishy-washy charge call that has Johnny Dawkins rightfully complaining. Pitt is now 4-of-7 deep, with Lamar Patterson connecting against the zone, but Aaron Bright responds in kind on his first shot of the game. Huestis and Brown each have two fouls. Pitt has taken three more shots, has four more assists, three more three-pointers and one more rebound. It’s 22-18 with Pitt about to go to the line as we pull into our next timeout. So far, it’s been a game in which you can’t point to any one factor -- the Panthers have just done everything a little bit better.
Pitt 22, Stanford 18, under-8 timeout
Every one of Pitt’s eight – now nine, after a fast-break layup – buckets have been assisted, which shows how successful Pitt has been at driving, collapsing Stanford’s zone, and then kicking out for the open three. Nastic is stripped and fouls diving to recover. It’s a tough play for the Cardinal to swallow for a variety of reasons: Nastic’s dribble was high and begging to be swiped. The Panthers are now in the bonus for the last six minutes of the half. Nastic, Heustis and Brown all have two fouls, so the Cardinal are going to have to play some reserves up front. And Stanford trails by eight, their biggest deficit of the day, and this one is in danger of starting to slip away.
“It’s kind of an ebb and flow for them on the defensive end that they need to shore up.” ESPNU’s color commentator, Kara Lawson, talking entirely fairly about Stanford, in the midst of a 10-2 Pitt run. She mentions how Stanford is abandoning its defensive principles in the zone, for example not forcing opponents baseline, but allowing them to go middle. Yup. Stanford also now has eight turnovers on the game, and that’s helping fuel the Pitt run.
Pitt does a great job of attacking Stanford where they’re weak – down low, with Stanford’s backups in, or starters forced to play with two first-half fouls. Conversely, Stanford picked up five fouls quite early on the Panthers but didn’t press the advantage to force Pitt into foul trouble and create one-and-one opportunities. Maybe it’s just our lack of perception – as Stanford reporters, we know the Cardinal’s weaknesses and how to attack them much better than Pitt’s – but maybe it’s a basketball IQ issue too. Either way, would love to see the Cardinal identify some weakness is what’s looking to be a very solid Pitt team and attack them again and again.
Pitt 32, Stanford 22, under-four timeout
Instead, Stanford’s bench is whistled for a technical foul for arguing over the break. The deficit grows by two. Well, don’t say that Johnny Dawkins lacks fire, I guess?
An ESPN mike must be right next to the Stanford bench, plus this arena is largely empty, and the combination allows us to pick up precisely what one of the coaches is yelling. “What’s he crying about?” as Jamie Dixon protests a call. “Shooter, shooter, shooter!” as Stanford is late to close out on a three-point shooter, yet again, in its 2-3 zone, and Pitt goes up by 15.
As Stanford loses a would-be defensive rebound out of bounds off Powell’s leg, you have to wonder how many 50-50 balls the Cardinal have won tonight. Pitt makes a lot of teams look soft, but the Cardinal aren’t helping themselves thus far. Powell does find Randle on a beautiful cutter, and it’s 39-26 Pitt with a minute to go. Let’s try to cut it down to single digits by the half.
Instead, John Gage is whistled for fouling a driving Patterson, and the lead’s back to 15, with Stanford holding for the last possession. Trying to start the offense at the 10-second mark, Chasson Randle throws it right to a Pitt defender mere feet away. “Lazy, careless, not really crossing your Ts or dotting your Is,” says Kara Lawson. Yup. Pitt is now 14-of-15 from the line, while Stanford is 3-of-4, and that largely explains the 17-point margin. Powell does well to inbound to a sprinting Randle at half court, who does well in turn to drive into contact and nail both free throws. Still, the Cardinal have their work cut out for them if they want to make a game out of this one.
Pitt 43, Stanford 28, Half
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