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As I was leaving Maples Pavilion on Saturday night, I was reveling in another victory and Stanford's imminent move to number two in the national polls. I was thinking about how cool it was to go to a school that could boast a national powerhouse basketball team and was wondering if this, my senior year, would deliver the long-awaited national basketball championship to The Farm. I remembered the disappointment of my freshman year (2000-01), the last great Stanford team, that was beaten soundly by an athletic Maryland team in the Elite Eight. However, the memories got me thinking. How does this year's team stack up with that great team from three seasons ago? Who would win if the two teams played each other in a head to head match-up and which team will have more success in their respective tournament? I poured over the numbers, went through the memory banks, and analyzed the match-ups, and what I found was this…
A game between Stanford 2000-01 and Stanford 2003-04 would be a very close game. Both teams boasted star power, depth, and role players, and both teams found ways to win all sorts of games. However, in a search for which team is the better of the two requires a closer look at the match-ups.
Point Guard - I think this position is very intriguing when you compare Mike McDonald and Chris Hernandez. Hernandez is more explosive and plays better defense, but he doesn't bring the same intangibles that McDonald brought to the '01 team. First, McDonald was a senior who always seemed like he was comfortable running the offense. Hernandez looks great most of the time, but sometimes, because of his lack of starting experience, he looks a little uncomfortable running the half-court sets. Both men are great shooters, but over the course of the season, McDonald shot 56-109 (51%) from three-point range, which we can only hope Hernandez will match. This match-up is close, but because of McDonald's experience, I give the slight advantage to Stanford '01.
Shooting Guard - Casey Jacobsen as a sophomore versus Matt Lottich as a senior is very close. Jacobsen led the team in scoring with 18 points per game, 51% from the field and 47% from three-point range. Lottich leads his team in scoring as well, but the numbers are slightly less impressive (14.0, 45%, 38%). Both men were clutch, (Jacobsen hit the winner against Duke and Lottich has been clutch versus both Kansas and Gonzaga), but I think Jacobsen's numbers were better. Lottich is more streaky than Jacobsen was, and is sometimes taken out of the game (watch the first half against Cal) in ways that Jacobsen as a sophomore never was. It is close again, but I give the advantage to Stanford '01.
Small Forward - Let me preface this by saying that I loved Ryan Mendez' game. Mendez never forced things, was a superb shooter, and was ice from the foul line late in games. Mendez was the ultimate team player. However, Mendez was never an All-American candidate. He can't compete with the overall athleticism, scoring, rebounding, and defense that Josh Childress provides. Mendez had a better shooting stroke, but Josh Childress is one of the best all around players to come through Maples in a long time. Advantage to Stanford '04.
Power Forward - Justin Davis and Jarron Collins are essentially equal players in every way. Davis is more athletic; Collins slightly more grounded but equally solid. The numbers are almost equal. Davis is currently racking up 11.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 56% FG% and 64% FT%. Collins counters with 12.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 56% FG%, and 69% FT%. The numbers are pretty much a draw. I think Collins was more refined in the post; Davis counters with athleticism and potential. I can't see much difference between either so it is a draw.
Center - Rob Little has improved his game and his body so much this season. He is averaging over 10 PPG, nearly 6 rebounds, and shooting 54% from the field. However, his major weakness is a horrid 46% mark from the foul line. Jason Collins was a more complete player. His production in games was higher (14.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 61% FG%) and he had better all-around game. Collins could post-up, shoot the three-pointer (12-26; 46%) and shot 78% from the foul line. Little continues to improve his game, but in 2001, Collins had few peers. Advantage '01.
Bench - Stanford 2001 has a bench that is full of names that would go on to have huge careers at Stanford. Players like Julius Barnes, Curtis Borchardt, Justin Davis, Matt Lottich, and Teyo Johnson would all go on to have fine careers at Stanford, but in the 2001 season this was a rather inconsistent group. Borchardt brought an interesting set of skills to the team but spent good parts of the year fighting off injuries. Julius Barnes showed flashes of brilliance but was still a fairly immature player who faded as the season progressed. Davis showed flashes of athleticism and solid play, but also often showed his youth and inconsistency. Lottich was little more than a steak shooter with no defense, playing in Jacobsen's shadow. Tony Giovacchini was the only reserve to play in each game but made little impact on any of them. Teyo Johnson was an interesting addition to the team and provided a lot of muscle and toughness down low. Still, this is a "big name" bench that was inconsistent, injury plagued and very young. Stanford 2004 has a much more complete bench. This year's team has experienced players who come off the bench and provide not only points and rebounds, but intelligence and intangibles. Nick Robinson and Joe Kirchofer are not big stat players, but they are bench players that no good team should be without. They do everything asked of them and are great team players. Combine them with the talented and versatile Matt Haryasz, sweet shooting Dan Grunfeld, tested floor general Jason Haas and ultra-athletic Fred Washington, and in my opinion the 2004 bench has a clear advantage over the 2001 edition.
So what does all of this mean? The individual match-ups favor 2001, the depth favors 2004, so it will come down to a few other factors. 2004 plays better defense and has the potential with a healthy Childress to be a better rebounding team. However, the 2001 team shot the ball as well as any team I have seen in a long time and has a clear advantage over 2004. Jacobsen, McDonald, Mendez, Jason Collins, Johnson, and Lottich all shot better than 40% from three-point range. Currently, only Chris Hernandez can match that sort of accuracy from beyond the arc. As a team, 2001 shot 51% from the field and 43% from long distance. 2004 is no slouch at shooting the ball, 49% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc, but the difference is obvious. Plus, I think that in a head to head match-up, the cool and calm McDonald and Mendez would make a huge difference. Again, I think Hernandez will be special, but give me a senior point guard with Mike McDonald's skill and poise, and chances are that the team wins. So, in a very close, hard-fought battle, I think 2001 would beat 2004, probably in the neighborhood of 79-74.
That all being said, I think this edition of the Stanford Cardinal has a chance to do something that 2001 could not accomplish: earn a return trip to the Final Four. I have come to the conclusion that the 2001 team was slightly more talented and a better all-around team, but I think 2004 is better positioned to make a run at San Antonio. Simply put, college basketball has fewer dominant teams this year than it did in 2001. I don't see any truly dominant teams like Duke and Maryland were in 2001, and just looking at the scores from this past week is the perfect indicator. No teams have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and almost all of the top teams have lost close games that they should have won. So, while the 2001 team might have been the better of the two, I think this year's Cardinal have the better chance to advance to the Final Four. But in the meantime, someone give Mendez, Casey J, Mike McDonald and company a call. I want to see these teams play, wouldn't it be a lot of fun?
The Top 20
Wow. What a crazy week of college basketball. There were some big changes at the top of the polls this week, none bigger than Duke now taking over the top spot in the rankings. It wasn't an easy choice, but Duke looked so good this week and as we know, Stanford struggled versus Cal. Thus, the Blue Devils are now the top team in my rankings. There is a lot of shakeup all over these rankings because so many ranked teams were upset this past week. It seems like so many teams had chances to move up but lost a game so these rankings are dramatically different than last week.
- Duke (14-1, PR: 4) - If Duke continues to play like they did this week they are going to be very tough to beat. Easy victory over a tough NC State team and then a very solid victory over the then third ranked Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. They are playing better than anyone in the nation.
- Stanford (14-0, PR: 1) - Stanford won their game and were previously ranked number one, so what gives? Well, they looked sluggish for much of the game versus Cal and never found that killer instinct to put an inferior team away. Still, this is more a result of Duke playing well than it is about Stanford playing poorly.
- Louisville (13-1, PR: 2) - The Cardinals keep on winning their Conference USA games. Easy victories over East Carolina and Tulane keep Louisville rolling. This is a very complete team that has loads of talent and plays hard every minute of every game.
- St. Joseph's (15-0, PR: 6) - St. Joe's victory at Xavier is a much bigger win than most people realize. In my opinion, St. Joe's has the best chance (albeit still very slim) to run the table. St. Joe's is exciting to watch and has answered every test put before them.
- Connecticut (14-2, PR: 3) - The Huskies looked very bad in the first half against North Carolina, but rallied in the second to almost pull off a very impressive win. A loss to a team the caliber of North Carolina on the road is not going to drop you too far in these ranking, and UConn is still playing excellent basketball.
- Gonzaga (14-2, PR: 9) - The Zags continue to move up the rankings almost by default. They won their two games this week by 56 points, but still, the WCC schedule is pretty tame outside of a road trip to Pepperdine. However, everyone else around them in the rankings has been losing and the Zags keep on winning.
- North Carolina (11-3, PR: 8) - These guys nearly had an awesome week and a shot at the top five of these rankings. Big win at home over the UConn Huskies, but a tough loss at Maryland prevents a larger jump. The Heels shot only 32% against the Terps in the 2nd half, and it wasn't because the Terps were playing lockdown defense. The Heels score lots of points but they still go through terrible cold spells.
- Texas (11-2, PR: 17) - Texas was one of the biggest risers of the week with a big win over Wake. The two-point victory over Nebraska was a little close for comfort, but Texas is finally playing up to expectations.
- Wake Forest (11-2, PR: 5) - Wake Forest had a tough week, but it is mostly because of a horribly tough schedule. I don't understand what possessed the Deacons to schedule a road game against Texas in the same week they played at Duke. They wanted a big test and they didn't pass. This team is good, but they aren't quite where they need to be yet.
- Kentucky (11-2, PR: 7) - Escaped a squeaker over a much-improved Mississippi St. team, but the loss to unranked Georgia was unfortunate. This team confuses me so much. They are maddeningly inconsistent and you never know which team will decide to show up.
- Cincinnati (13-0, PR: Unranked) - I finally decided to watch a Bearcats game and they immediately went from unranked to number 11. They had a very good game against Marquette and they play solid defense on every possession. I had written them off because of a soft early season schedule, but these guys look like they will be a scary team to play throughout the season.
- Pittsburgh (18-0, PR: 19) - Pitt had a nice victory against Notre Dame, but almost every game in the Big East has been close for the Panthers. I just don't think they are as good as their record indicates and I think the losses will begin to come as the Big East season continues.
- Georgia Tech (14-2, PR: 13) - The Jackets got a nice victory over Maryland to complete a nice 2-0 week. It looks like they have gotten things running smoothly again after a couple of tough losses.
- Syracuse (13-1, PR: Unranked) - The Orangemen were another big riser this week. I refused to believe they were a good team, but impressive victories over Missouri and Notre Dame finally caught my attention.
- Purdue (12-4, PR: Unranked) - Wins over two top teams (Illinois and Wisconsin) are enough to bump this team into the top 15. I think Purdue might be the best the Big 10 has to offer, which doesn't say a whole lot.
- Kansas (11-2, PR: 14) - Kansas falls despite a 2-0 week. Yes they are 11-2 and have a great national reputation, but look at their last week. They barely escaped with victories over less than impressive teams Kansas St and Texas A&M (winning by a combined 12 points) and have not really put together a full game in some time.
- Texas Tech (14-2, PR: 15) - The Red Raiders didn't really do anything to deserve a drop in the rankings. This is more a result of some other teams moving up. Still, they should beat a team like Baylor by more than nine points.
- Arizona (11-3, PR: 11) - Raise your hand if you have the Cats figured out. They were routed by Stanford, handled fairly easily by USC, nearly lost several easy games in December, but routed UCLA. Much like the Kentucky Wildcats, these Cats are one of the most inconsistent teams on a nightly basis.
- Mississippi State (14-1, PR: Unranked) - I am a believer of State as well. They nearly knocked off Kentucky in what would have been a huge victory, but then bounced back with a nice win over LSU.
- Vanderbilt (13-2, PR: 20) - Vandy didn't play well against Tennessee, but had a great bounce back victory over Florida. Not an ideal selection for the last spot, but who below them deserves to be higher? Maybe Western Michigan, but we will hold that debate off until next week.
Others Receiving Consideration (Alphabetical Order)
Dropped from Consideration
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