The biggest challenge thus far to Johnny Dawkins' undefeated record at
Stanford (10-0, RPI: 24) comes this weekend, when the Cardinal host Arizona State (11-1, RPI: 31) Friday and Arizona (9-3, RPI: 62)
Call it a draw.
Stanford's got the best record at 10-0, but their only wins over top-100 opponents came at home, 65-59 over Northwestern (8-3, RPI: 22) and 111-66 over Texas Tech (9-4, RPI: 57). Make no mistake, after suffering through disappointing out-of-conference losses to the likes of UC-Davis and Montana in years past, Stanford fans are most grateful for 10-0. Plus, given the low preseason expectations surrounding this team, every win's that much sweeter – and that much more important, because there doesn't figure to be much margin for error in the hunt a postseason berth.
Arizona State had a pretty similar out of conference run to the Cardinal. Their top-100 wins include a 76-75 squeaker over BYU (11-1, RPI: 32) and a 59-52 win over San Diego State (10-3, RPI: 71). Their sole loss came 87-78 versus Baylor (12-1, RPI: 54) in Anaheim. Arizona State has played one more top-100 opponent than Stanford, and has one more loss than the Cardinal. As I said, looks close enough to a draw to me.
Arizona's played a tougher schedule, facing six top-100 opponents. Of course, they have three losses to show for it, a 72-71 heartbreaker (and mental breakdown) against UAB (8-5, RPI: 26), another heartwrencher, 67-66 at Texas A&M (12-1, RPI: 45), and a 79-64 loss at UNLV (12-2, RPI: 50). Their home wins include a 69-56 drubbing of San Diego State, a 69-64 victory over Gonzaga (8-4, RPI: 33) and a 84-67 win over Kansas (9-3, RPI: 90).
Here are two other notes on Arizona's schedule. First, Arizona and Stanford have played two opponents in common, with the Wildcats beating 7-7 Santa Clara 69-66 and 3-9 Northern Arizona 74-57, and Stanford beating the pair 77-69 and 66-57, respectively. Second, Arizona is just 0-2 on the road, while Stanford is 7-0 at home this year. (Arizona State is 1-0 on the road.)
Scouting Arizona State:
Offensively, it's a four-man team. Sophomore 6'5" guard James Harden scores 24 points per game, (58% overall, 46% deep, 79% free throws). Add in his 52 assists and 72 rebounds and Harden is putting himself into the Pac-10 MVP conversation. Objective No. 1 for the Cardinal must be shutting down Harden.
After Harden, 6'9" senior forward Jeff Pendergraph (65% overall on FG) adds 13 per game, and sophomore guards Ty Abbott (43% overall) and Rihards Kuksiks 11 apiece. With the 6'3" Abbott, you want to sag off as he leads ASU with 73 attempted threes but has only made 30% of them, so let him keep shooting! The 6'6" Kuksiks, on the other hand, is a sharpshooter: hitting 50% overall, but over 80% of his shots are threes, where he's hitting 52%.
No one else on the team scores more than 6'1" junior guard Derek Glasser, the fifth starter, who manages just 5.8 points per game. Glasser is the Mitch Johnson of ASU, shooting rarely and not exceptionally well (39% overall), but leads the team with 4.8 assists per game and all starters with a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Overall, ASU is a half-court, defense-first team, and will present the toughest D Stanford's seen all season. The Sun Devils don't limit opposing possessions by forcing a ton turnovers (opponents average only 15 turnovers per game) or outrebounding by massive margins (just +5.4 rebounds per game), but ASU's half-court defense is second-to-none. Opponents are shooting just 39.0% overall and 32.4% deep, for 58 points per game, against the Sun Devils' four-guard lineup.
Prediction: Stanford 65, Arizona State 60
The Wildcats rely upon three primary scorers: 6'10" junior forward Jordan Hill (19 points, 12 rebounds per game), 6'7" junior forward Chase Budinger (18 points) and 5'10" junior guard Nic Wise (15 points). Hill's shooting 58% on the season and is purely an inside threat, but Budinger (49% overall, 50% deep) appears to have worked on his outside shot over the offseason, as he now paces the team with 52 three-point attempts. Wise is shooting only 42% overall and 45% deep, so if I'm Coach Dawkins, I worry first about slowing Hill and Budinger.
Add in starting 6'6" forward Jamelle Horne (nine points, six rebounds per game), and it's obvious that size and frontcourt depth are major advantages the Wildcats will enjoy over the Cardinal. Arizona's is +6.4 in rebounds per game, and if undersized Stanford hopes to win, they'll need to allow Arizona no better than that that average on the boards.
The Wildcats' overall stats also are impressive: they are scoring 74 points per game on 49% overall shooting against a tougher out-of-conference schedule than most. Defensively, opponents are shooting just 41% overall and 33.5% deep for 64 points per game. Like Arizona State, the Wildcats don't force a ton of turnovers, and their starters have been susceptible handling the ball, so Stanford and its new on-ball pressure may have an opportunity to create havoc.
Prediction: Arizona 69, Stanford 67
Note: With college basketball games every day, stats may have changed slightly since the article was published. Arizona State's will be accurate, but Arizona's will not include their game at California. Records listed are against all opponents. RPI ratings come from RealTimeRPI.com at 6:00pm PDT on 1/1/2009.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!