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UCLA Basketball: The Stanford Cardinal Does Not Have the Offense to Hang With the Bruins

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Stanford's offensive challenges will likely be magnified if its leading scorer, Reid Travis, does not suit up.

NCAA Basketball: California at UCLA
UCLA’s TJ Leaf
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The UCLA Men’s Basketball team (15-1; 2-1 PAC 12) hosts the Stanford Cardinal (8-7; 0-3 PAC 12) tomorrow evening at Pauley Pavilion. Tip off is at 5 p.m. PT, and the game is televised on Fox Sports 1. Let’s preview the 2016-2017 Stanford Men’s Basketball team going into the game.

Stanford Cardinal

Stanford is winless in the PAC 12, losing at home to the Arizona schools, and falling on Thursday to Southern Cal, 72-56, across town at the Galen Center, in a game in which the Cardinal never led. Against the Wildcats last weekend at Maples Pavilion, Stanford was destroyed, 91-52.

This is not a very good Stanford team. All eight of its wins were against lesser opponents, with their best win coming against, I guess, 10-3 Seton Hall. Or maybe against 10-6 Colorado State. When the Cardinal plays a quality team, like St. Mary’s, Kansas, Arizona or, yes, even Southern Cal, it has lost and has lost big.

Reid Travis Out?

It won’t get any easier today for Stanford, which will likely be missing its best player, junior forward, Reid Travis, who leads the team in points (17.5 PPG), rebounds (9.6 RPG), and minutes played. Travis missed Thursday night’s game, and the Cardinal desperately missed his presence. Travis is "out indefinitely" with a right shoulder injury, according to the Stanford brass. Although there has been no announcement one way or the other regarding his availability tonight, don’t expect him to suit up against the Bruins.

Without Travis, Stanford is very, very thin at the forward position (and the front line in general). Under first year head coach, Jerod Haase, the Cardinal started a three guard lineup against Southern Cal. With the possible exception of the starting center, the Bruins will likely see the same lineup today.

The Lineup

Forward

Junior forward Michael Humphrey is the only player listed at the forward position who played against Southern Cal. He’ll start today against the Bruins and averages 7.5 PPG and 4.5 RPG. Humphrey will be the Cardinal’s best offensive option among its front line players if Travis cannot play. At 7.5 points per game, that is not saying much.

Center

Senior center, Grant Verhoeven, who started against Southern Cal, is not much of an offensive threat, averaging less than five points a game (and less than four rebounds a game), in about 14 minutes played per game. Sophomore center, Josh Sharma, may start instead, but his numbers are comparable (3.9 PPG and 2.9 RPG). Sharma is tall at 7’1", but is only listed at 220 lbs. Frankly, neither option is great for the Cardinal and both players will get about equal playing time, no matter who starts. With UCLA’s versatility at center, I see the Bruins dominating inside, whether it is with Thomas Welsh dropping in 14 footers and clogging the middle on defense, or Ike Anibogu blocking shots and throwing down dunks.

Guard

Junior guard Dorian Pickens will start and will be Stanford’s best offensive threat if Travis does not play. Pickens averages 13.2 points per game, which means that, without Travis, Stanford will not score a lot of points against the Bruins. Pickens has a good shot from distance, leading the Cardinal in 3 point percentage, draining his three pointers 41.4% of the time

Marcus Sheffield, a sophomore guard, will also start against UCLA. Sheffield averages 7.5 PPG, and is Stanford’s best free throw shooter, at 84.8%. Expect Sheffield to try to draw fouls and get to the line.

One of three players could be the third guard starting for Stanford today. My money is on sophomore guard Robert Cartwright, who logs over 23 minutes a game, and averages almost six points per game. Cartwright is tough from the charity stripe, shooting 84.2%.

Whether either starts or not, the Cardinal will also get significant minutes out of a pair of senior guards, Marcus Allen and Christian Sanders. Allen started against Southern Cal, and poured in 13 points, significantly over his average of 4.5 PPG. Perhaps that performance earned him a starting spot over Cartwright today. Sanders lead the team in assists, averaging 3.8 assists per game.

Prediction

For Stanford to have a chance against UCLA, two or more of its guards will need to have career performances. UCLA’s perimeter defense is probably its Achilles heel, so it is not impossible, however improbable.

Against Stanford’s front line, I expect the UCLA bigs, especially TJ Leaf, to have a field day.

The Cardinal simply do not have the offensive firepower to hang with the Bruins. Stanford only averages 68.2 points per game and, without their leading scorer, I do not expect them to get their average against UCLA, notwithstanding the Bruins’ pedestrian perimeter defense.

The Cardinal will try to slow the game down and dictate tempo (or lack thereof), but I doubt whether they will have much success in doing so. Expect UCLA to control the game from start to finish, score in the high 80s, and keep the Cardinal in the 60s. I predict the score to be something like 88-66.

Enjoy the game and Go Bruins!!!