Last weekend was full of big wins by big teams, but none was bigger than Stanford's triumph at Arizona. The first edition of Toby's Time looks back at that matchup and evaluates college basketball's "jump ball" rule....
Name the most impressive college basketball blowout victory last weekend. Was it #1 UConn's 86-59 pasting of the Oklahoma Sooners? How about #2 Duke's 93-71 destruction of UVA? Or could it have been #3 Arizona beating the Cal Bears by 20 Thursday night after leading by 28 at the half. Nope, nope, and nope.
The most impressive performance of the weekend belonged to the #4 Stanford Cardinal, who beat formerly #3 Arizona 82-72 in Arizona for the fourth straight year.
The level of competition and the setting for Stanford's triumph make it far and away the best win of the bunch. Unlike the other three, the Cardinal's was the only victory of the four away from home. The Sagarin rankings suggest that teams generally perform almost 5 points better in their own gym. I'd argue that the difference is even larger for pivotal games where the crowd, students, and grey beards get really riled up. Going on the road is tough, just ask Oklahoma.
Who lost those blowouts? The Sooners, overrated by the polls at #6, were ranked an astounding 57th in the RPI as of Monday. That ranking doesn't even take into account their 77-56 loss at Oklahoma State Wednesday night. Virginia (10-3) had fattened up against contenders such as William and Mary, Coastal Carolina, and St. Marys. Even their win over Minnesota in the ACC-Big Ten challenge no longer looks as impressive following Minnesota's recent swoon. Cal hasn't beaten anyone, and with their 86th ranked RPI would be lucky to make the NIT.
All of those numbers shouldn't divert our attention from the real point: Stanford went into McHale and made the Wildcats, an athletic team loaded with NBA talent, look as silly as a kitten chasing a ball of yarn. The final ten point margin conceals how badly Stanford outplayed the Wildcats on their home floor.
The first four minutes were energetic and chaotic, which played into the Wildcat's strength, yet Stanford led by four. Then, after four minutes, like a player holding an Ace in the Hole in poker, Mike Montgomery brought preseason all-America candidate Josh Childress off the bench. His entrance, coupled with contributions from everyone in the cardinal and white, produced a 13-3 run. Childress got the run started with a three off a Chris Hernandez feed. Justin Davis and Rob Little scored consecutive hoops as Stanford took advantage of its size mismatch down low. Since Stanford was making shots and hitting the offensive boards, Arizona was not able to get out and run in transition. To counter Stanford's inside prowess, Arizona went to freshmen import Ivan Radenovic, who was launched a shot nearly every time he touched the ball and didn't turn it over. Worse, the Arizona quick strike offense turned in sloppy possessions and five missed threes while the Cardinal was on their run.
When the teams returned to the locker rooms at the half, with the Cardinal up 13, the shooting stats illustrated which team was playing defense with passion. Stanford had held Salim Stoudamire, the explosive guard who poured in 18 when Arizona won at Stanford last spring, scoreless on 6 attempts. The entire Arizona squad shot a mere 19% compared to the Cardinal's efficient 44%. Arizona was 0 for 10 from three and would finish only 4/21 from the land of temptation.
Arizona boasts an athletic team, but the Cardinal showed it can run too. On a late first half possession, Childress stuffed a Salim Stoudamire jumper. Arizona recovered only to have Nick Robinson strip the ball and, while falling, throw a behind the back pass that sent Josh Childress all alone the other way for a dunk. That highlight wasn't even close to Childress' best dunk of the day. That came in the second half, when Childress slipped behind his defender on the baseline, and, off a deft Hernandez pass, threw it down in Channing Frye's eye.
Down 17 with just under twelve minutes in the game, Lute Olsen turned to a full court press that has flustered the Cardinal in recent years. Although it netted two turnovers, more often than not, the press resulted in easy looks for the Cardinal. Eight minutes of game time later, at 3:49, the Wildcats still trailed by 18.
Although Stanford has been known for its reliance on its stingy man to man defense and execution of Mike Montgomery's complicated half court offense, this season's edition can match up with any team in the country. Stanford ran up and down the court with Arizona early, and later was able to dictate the pace of the game to take advantage of its size inside. Size was not the only advantage Stanford had. Matt Lottich's shooting had the TV commentators calling him "the most dangerous clutch shooter in the Pac-10." That's no faint praise, but well deserved. Stanford's backcourt and wing combination of Chris Hernandez, Matt Lottich, Childress, and Nick Robinson easily outplayed their Arizona counterparts of Shakur, Stoudamire, and Andre Iguodala.
One big win does not a number one team make, but Stanford has everything a number one team could want: talent, depth, experience, and the marquee wins. Stanford is the only team in the country to beat three teams in the top 25 of the RPI including both Kansas and Gonzaga on neutral courts. You can have Duke or UConn, but I'll take Stanford as the best team in the land right now.
During the ESPN telecast, Dickie V started screaming about how much he hates the alternating possession rule. It was a classic rant. This is the same guy who wants Indiana to rename their court after Bob Knight (a scumbag). In doing so, it would perpetuate an already overgrown and obnoxious trend of colleges coddling their big name coaches by painting their names on the hardwood. Give me a break. Does he forget Bob Knight was run out of Indiana? What if these coaches with courts named after them pull a Eustachy? Just 'cause you saw it on TV doesn't make it so.