What an opening weekend in the PAC-12. Washington, 11-0 ten days ago and now 11-3, loses two -- to Stanford and Berkeley. Stanford beats Washington St. and then Washington St. beats Cal. Now the 10-3, 2-0 Cardinal visit Pauley Thursday night at 6PM PT. While Bill Walton's 405 will still be a mess at that time, Westwood should be quiet pleasant: 70 degrees and likely devoid of fans.
In the season preview, I thought Stanford was in a similar predicament to the Bruins: they lost two starters to the NBA and would be integrating several four freshmen into the lineup. One freshman, Reid Travis did make the starting lineup, but he's out indefinitely with an upper leg stress fracture. At this point, compared to the Bruins, Stanford patched together a lineup of veterans: 6'2" senior point guard Chasson Randle, 6'6" senior small forward Anthony Brown, 6'11" senior center Stefan Nastic, 6'4" junior shooting guard Christian Sanders and 6'9" power forward Grant Verhoeven. The starting lineup is deceptive. Junior Roscoe Allen plays 26 minutes a game, and Johnny Dawkins uses nine players, though freshman Michael Humphries gets relatively small minutes (see player stats courtesy of sports-reference.com).
How many times in these game previews have I said "not overwhelming talent?" Now I have to add this proviso: talented compared to UCLA.
Make no mistake - this is PAC-12 POY candidate Chasson Randle's team. He's actually taken more shots in than Bryce 14.8 to 12.4. He's shoot first, but his FG% is 41.5% to Bryce' 38.2% (and dropping). It's interesting how Washington played him -- I haven't seen anyone overplayed that much since high school. Granted Washington has the nation's best shot-blocker Robert Shaw to protect the rim, but knowing how much Randle dribble penetrates, I was shocked that he wouldn't go left at all.
Preseason, I thought for sure Norman Powell would be covering Randle, but I'm pretty certain now it will be Isaac Hamilton who just played Delon Wright. Norman will likely pick up Anthony Brown.
The other interesting matchup will be Tony Parker versus Stefan Nastic. Recall that Parker scored 22 points in a 91-74 win at Pauley (Nastic 4), and 13 in an 83-74 loss at Stanford but went 6-8 on Nastic (0 points) in 18 minutes. Curiously, Steve Alford didn't go back to Parker repeatedly in that loss.
Nastic has upped his minutes from 19 to 27, increased his scoring from 7.4 to 14.2 and his rebounding 2.8 to 6.8 per game since last season. Tony, on the other hand, disappeared at Alabama and Colorado but was the only Bruin to show up for Kentucky and Utah. Is it his fault, or the Bruin's selfish guards? Then there's Looney. Stanford has no one to cover him without Reid Travis; will it be Anthony Brown or Roscoe Allen/Grant Verhoeven?
I believe we have an advantage inside, but recent history has shown that Salford and his band of guards will not exploit that advantage (see Colorado without Josh Scott for best example). Statistically, the two teams split the Four Factors, and the stats aren't inflated by cupcakes anymore, but by the same token, Stanford would look much better in conference-only.
After four losses away from Pauley, the Bruins finally get to sleep in their own beds, and while there won't be many of their own fans in attendance, a quiet gym is better than a hostile one. The season seems already broken, but don't be surprised to see the Bruins pull a rabbit out of their hats at home.