Preview & Prediction: By Fairway Jay
Pac-10 play tips off with the league’s top two non-conference performers. Stanford (10-0) is the surprise team thus far under first year head coach Johnny Dawkins. The Cardinal were projected to finish near the bottom of the Pac-10 standings by many preseason publications and pundits, but can’t deny the solid start despite Stanford’s strength of schedule (SOS - 202). The team has adapted well to a new system and more up-tempo style, and Stanford is scoring over 80ppg with seven of their wins at home at Maples Pavilion. However, Stanford will now face their first ranked opponent and one of the league favorites and top defensive teams in #17 Arizona State (11-1). Both Stanford and Arizona State have outscored their opponents by over 15ppg in non-conference play, trailing only UCLA in scoring margin.
Arizona State finished last in the Pac-10 just two seasons ago, but head coach Herb Sendek has quickly turned the fortunes for the Sun Devils. Arizona State’s defense is solid again this season, holding non-conference opponents under 60ppg and just 39% field goal shooting while facing a little tougher schedule than Stanford. The Sun Devils’ only loss was to another high-scoring team, Baylor. But the Bears shoot the ball more efficiently than Stanford and are quicker and defend better than the Cardinal, which should help ASU in preparation for their style. Arizona State is one of the most efficient shooting teams in the country, hitting over 50% from the floor led by the league’s top scorer in sophomore guard James Harden (23ppg). And while the smooth southpaw Harden is hitting over 57% of his shots including 46% from the arch, his talent and versatility is unmatched as he’s also dishing out over four assists per game and banging the boards with six rebounds per contest. He’ll be one of the Pac-10’s top performers in conference play and clearly a league MVP, All-American and national player of the year candidate. Senior forward Jeff Pendergraph provides the Sun Devils a solid post presence and leads ASU in rebounding and is also hitting over 65% of his shots which is a Pac-10 best in non-conference play. Arizona State hits a league-best 75% from the free throw line, and along with experienced guards Ty Abbott and Derek Glasser, who leads the league in assist/turnover ratio, the Sun Devils should improve on their nine conference wins last season and make a run for the Pac-10 title. Arizona State enters Pac-10 play off three outstanding offensive performances, including a win over BYU. Their last two lopsided wins over inferior foes brought the following comment from Idaho State coach Joe O’Brien regarding ASU’s performance and team record 17 made 3-pointers. “In 30 years, I don’t think I’ve been involved in a game where the opponent shot the ball that well for that long.”
Stanford has an experienced and upper class nucleus with five regulars starting every game thus far. Anthony Goods leads the team in scoring from the perimeter while fellow senior Mitch Johnson directs the Cardinal from the point. Both players shoot over 40% from the arch, and Johnson is the key to Stanford’s perimeter defense that has held opponents to a league-best 29% shooting from beyond the arch. That perimeter defense will be challenged by an ASU offense that takes 46% of their shots from the 3-point line and makes 40% of those shots beyond the arch. Along with guard Landry fields and regular reserve guards Kenny Brown and freshman Jeremy Green, Stanford has the fewest turnovers and created the most to lead the league in turnover margin. Problems lie on the interior despite solid production from senior forward Lawrence Hill, as Stanford is ninth in conference rebounding while ASU out-rebounds opponents by over five per game. Stanford is last in field goal defense (46%) despite playing a soft schedule, and that defensive deficiency and inability to guard will likely prove problematic against better teams in Pac-10 play.
Conference play brings another level of intensity and focus in team play. Arizona State is a methodical and very efficient team that forces opponents be their best in the half court. Coach Sendek is a terrific tactician and his teams play with great energy and preparation, especially on the defensive end of the floor where their combination zone defense and man rotations can bottle up even the best shooters. That should be the difference against Stanford, and we’ll call for the undefeated Cardinal to fall as the superior coach, defense and star player prevail on the road.
Winner: Arizona State Margin: 3-7 points
- Bracketology: Selection Sunday Projection
- Bracketology: Saturday Night NCAA Tournament Projection
- Non-BCS Top 25: Creighton, Colorado St Rise
- College Basketball Top 50: Indiana Ends Regular Season #1
- Non-BCS Top 25: Valpo Replaces BYU
- College Basketball Top 50: Maryland and Iowa St Drop Out
- Non-BCS Top 25: Davidson In, Wyoming Out
- College Basketball Top 50: #2 Gonzaga Hits All-Time High
- Non-BCS Top 25: Air Force, Davidson Making Moves
- College Basketball Top 50: Another Week, Another #1
About Fairway Jay
Previews & Predictions
Jay Ginsbach, also known as "Fairway Jay’"joins the CHN team and staff this season from Sportsmemo.com. He’ll provide his insight and expertise covering the college basketball scene with periodic thoughts from a Las Vegas perspective.