I think it was our fellow Bootleg columnist and former Stanford basketballer "Roscoemaynard" who wrote that everything is better at home. The rims are wider, your girlfriend's prettier, and he probably had more examples because he's funny like that. Anyhow, it's showing here early at Maples Pavilion, as Stanford jumped out to a 15-5 lead on the strength of hot shooting teamwide.
The warts come out
Now Colorado has pulled on a 7-0 run to pull within 15-12 just inside of the 12-minute media timeout. [Edit: Make that 17-16 Stanford, so it's an 11-2 Buff run.] So time for the kvetching to begin in earnest:
- ESPN2 is showing Texas and Oklahoma now in overtime [edit: until 8:34 p.m., or the 7:58 mark of the first half], so that's only the fifth time in the row we don't get the whole Stanford game on the same ESPN channel.
- I realize the institution on his diploma is the same as mine, but Bill Walton's affect still drives me crazy.
- Still, Walton's critiques of Stanford's play have been spot on all season. Tonight, he's absolutely correct in that the Buff run has come when Stanford went wholesale to its bench. This isn't Costco: if you sub in all five guys at once, you don't get to use a sixth player for free.
- Josh Huestis has an empathic block. In fact, the block is so emphatic it careens right back to a Colorado shooter. Dwight Powell had the same situation at USC: a block that had he tapped lightly would have landed in a teammate's hands, but instead got swatted with pinache -- straight out-of-bounds. It's impossible to tell in real time whether Powell (or Huestis) had the body control to make a less dramatic swat, but retaining possession sure would have helped on Figueroa. Win tonight, and were it not for that one-point USC loss, we would be squarely on the bubble, instead of the bubble to be on the bubble.
- For all his strengths as a basketball player, Huestis has trouble clamping down on rebounds and loose balls. Here, Colorado just got another loose-ball rebound Huestis should have corralled, and is managing to stay in the game despite poor shooting. Huestis is such an instinctual and athletic player (height doesn't hurt either) that he's often in position for a would-be rebound, but often times simply can't hang on. Can a JUGS machine accept basketballs? [Edit: We're still in the first half, and Huestis just saw a third would-be rebound bounce off his hands.]
- We have airballed twice from within four feet. That is all.
- Walton has complained about the substitution patterns, and is now complaining about him benching Powell with two first-half fouls. Is he a closet Bootie?
But it could be worse
Hey, the Cardinal do lead 32-27 with two minutes left in the first half against a legitimate NCAA Tournament team, as Colorado's guards are 2-of-16 from the floor. In case we needed evidence that things are pretty good at the moment, we could look back no further than our visit a month ago to Colorado. Or we could look around college basketball today.
Michigan led by 15 with 10 minutes left, only for Penn State to come back for its first conference win of the season. The Nittany Lions are awful, No. 170 in the country and with but a nine percent chance of winning pregame, per KenPom.com. Meanwhile, Oklahoma led by 23 in second half, but lost in overtime to Texas, also tonight.
League standings update
Then, of course, there's Arizona, who just lost 89-78 at USC. That's a great result for Stanford for several reasons. First, the combination of the Arizona loss and the USC win respectively mean that Arizona's odds of winning the conference just plummeted, and Stanford's odds of finishing in that 8/9 slot behind USC just shot up. Put it together and the Cardinal, who will need to win the Pac-12 Tournament to dance, will avoid hands-down the league's best team until at least the semifinals. Very good news.
Second, Stanford has two losses to USC, as Booties are doubtlessly aware. Now at 8-7 in the conference and with a win over Arizona, the Trojans should finish with a two-digit RPI, and their sweep of the Red and White looks more understandable to an NCAA or NIT selection committee than we would have thought at the time.
Structural questions at the half
Right now, Stanford has 12 more points than the Buffs, thanks to 5-of-8 three-point shooting versus 1-of-8 three-point shooting. Stanford should be leading by about that much.
Instead, pick a fundamental, any fundamental other than shooting itself, and the Cardinal are getting killed at it. Stanford is -4 in rebounds, -4 in turnovers, -8 in points in the paint, -6 in free-throw attempts (at home), and -12 in points in the paint. Teams will always have off shooting nights, so to me, it is these stats that suggest bigger structural issues are at hand. Thus, what should a comfortable lead is instead a coinflip of a 32-31 Stanford halftime edge.
Finally, the Cardinal played 10 players on the half and struggled with the less familiar faces in the game. Fans have complained plenty about the pattern of substitutions, but something that I haven't heard discussed as much is the fact that the drop off after the starting five plus John Gage is far steeper than it has been in recent memory. This is another red flag, alas.
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