Stanford Cardinal Personnel
Brook Lopez. 7' 0" Forward. 19 ppg 8 rpg 2 bpg
Of the twins, the better skilled offensive player. Usually demands a double team for teams without adequate size to play him straight up. Full fronts or 3/4 fronts aren't effective as he's got good hands and a team that excels at post entry. Important to dislodge him from the low block forcing him beyond his comfort zone where he can simply turn and shoot over smaller players. Struggles passing out of double teams averaging two turnovers to one assist a contest. Good foul shooter averaging 78%. Defensively, an eraser that loves to roam the paint.
Robin Lopez. 7' 0" Center. 10 ppg 6 rpg 2.4 bpg
Limited offensively, but benefits attacking the weakside glass especially when Brook is shooting out of double team and the small forward or a guard has block out responsibilities. Certainly a liability on the line and anything beyond the low block. Defensively, every bit as good as his twin as a shot blocker.
Fred Washington. 6' 5" Forward. 4.5 ppg 4 rpg 2.3 apg
Garbage/role player for the Cardinal. Gives you some defensive versatility with the Lopez twins on the floor. Can guard the hybrid wing and true third guard. Doesn't look to score.
Anthony Goods. 6' 3" Guard. 10 ppg 2 rpg 35% from 3
The best offensive perimeter player. Can slash and shoot it. Will most likely draw AJ Abrams.
Mitch Johnson. 6' 1" Guard. 6 ppg 5 apg 4 rpg 39.7% from 3
The engine that makes the thing go for Stanford. Not the slash and dish PG his assist numbers would have you believe. Most of the 5 apg come from entering the post. Very efficient 3 point shooter that can punish a double team. His 3 treys on 3 attempts were huge vs. Marquette. Below average on ball defender.
Lawrence Hill. 6' 8" Forward. 8.7 ppg 4.9 rpg 37% from 3
A matchup option for Trent Johnson when he wants more perimeter punch from his froncourt. Can shoot it from deep or slash and get to the foul line.
Taj Finger. 6' 8" Forward. 6 ppg 4.3 rpg
Another lengthy wing that gives the Cardinal options off the bench. Finger has the ability to rebound and attack the rim evidenced by his 61 FT attempts in limited action.
Kenny Brown. 6' 1" Guard. 4.8 ppg 38% from 3
Downtown Kenny Brown gives the Cardinal an instant deep threat off the bench. So far the Southlake Carrol grad is 6-8 from deep in the tourney.
Attacking the Cardinal
I fully expect Stanford to come out and play man with the twins in the ballgame. It's very difficult for a predominantly man team to flip the switch and become an effective zone team and look no farther than the Texas Longhorns as an example. Zoning is so much more than deploying 5 players to various areas on the floor and in fact requires much more intelligence, recognition, and practice than playing man and teaching/learning man principles. Zone players must understand the scouting reports of 5 individual offensive players whereas man requires a detailed scouting report of a single player in addition to some switching responsibilities and defending set plays.
It's true that Stanford played some zone vs. Marquette, but I have a hard time seeing Johnson go back to it from the get-go Friday after watching Texas shoot the eye out of it last weekend and his own team get torched by the Golden Eagles who have similar personnel to that of Texas. So if I'm Rick Barnes, I'd expect a bunch of man unless game circumstances change.
With that said, how does Texas attack Stanford's man? First, you have to determine how Stanford will guard the wings off the ball in their man. Will they play traditional style and deny the wings which by design makes post entry difficult by making ball reversal difficult, or will they go to more of a Washington State pack-line or sagging style that trades off wing denial for a sagging or pinching technique that aids in helping dribble penetration? You're Dick Vitale if you guessed the former. If you've got a below average on ball defender in Mitch Johnson, the likelihood of a Lopez brother denying Damion James on the wing, and an opponent without a bonafide post game, then a sagging man fits the bill for the Cardinal.
Next question. How will the Lopez brothers be deployed? Stanford usually has the luxury of putting one of the Lopez brothers head-up on the opposing team's best interior threat allowing the other twin to roam the paint in sort of a one man zone. That obviously won't be the case with Atchley and James roaming behind the arc in Reliant, what with their 42% and 45% respective deep shooting stats. But, given all that, Trent Johnson is still hoping Texas obliges him one post player for large portions of the shot clock that allows one of the twin bigs to patrol the paint and erase any dribble penetration or cutters to the rim. And make no mistake, Texas should/will show Stanford some pseudo-post, and it's a good thing if it's more pseudo than post, but I'll get to that in a second.
So, to summarize, you'll see Stanford play a bunch of man Friday. They'll play their wings soft hoping to cut off easy penetration from the point. They'll chase off jumpshooters aggressively knowing or hoping there is likely an eraser behind them. They'll hope James/Atchley linger near the basket to allow that eraser to defend the basket by zoning the paint. Expecting all of that, let's attack it.
Like most other strategeries Texas will attack in a variety of ways in an effort to make minor adjustments ineffective. Here's how.
We've seen and talked about the five out or open post offense. It's perfect for our starting personnel group because they can all shoot it from deep, and four of the five can create off the bounce effectively. It's especially effective when your opponent will play two plodders that aren't comfortable guarding the perimeter, and 3 perimeter players that aren't used to guarding cutters because of their over-reliance on shot blockers and funneling things to the basket. Here's what Texas will do.
High ball screens. "But we'd do that against Scipio's 6 foot and under team", you say (Scip's a cheating bastard). Well you're right, but it'll be even more effective against Stanford especially if we hope to draw some fouls on the Lopez twins in hedging or trapping situations. An example would be a high ball screen with James picking and fading to start. Your psuedo post in Atchley sprints to the weak corner forcing a Lopez brother to vacate the lane or give up a 3 on a skip pass is an option. A vacated driving lane or a pass to the corner with our best decision maker, DJ, on the ball is the ideal outcome.
If Stanford starts trapping the screen or pinching from the strongside we can slip the screener to the goal, most likely James, to take advantage of the vacated lane by attacking the rim or hitting Atchley in the weak corner if Lopez doesn't chase. Switching is out of the question unless you want Lopez on DJ, and overly aggressive hedging is problematic given the potential foul scenario.
Lifting to the high post. This gets back to the psuedo-post aspect mentioned above. You give the opponent what he wants by having Connor or James post for a count and then lift into the high post forcing a big defender out of his comfort zone leaving the bucket and running at a potential high post threat. Cutting from the strongside corner for a back door layup is possible if the ball is entered to high post, especially considering the Stanford perimeter players' unfamiliarity with having to guard backcuts. A season's worth of "funneling to the goal" technique will do that to you. And a catch in the high post, especially if it's James, allows for a favorable driving situation for Damion against a slower defender on the move. The weakside will also be a viable option for an open 3 in this scenario if there's help.
Almost "lifted" Alonzo Mourning to the only 16 vs. 1 upset.
Attacking the baseline. Along the lines of lifting, James/Atchley show post and then challenge the strongside corner in an effort to draw out a twin. Wing cuts should come available if the corner is contested and the paint is vacated too quickly. Just be wary of a trap in the corner. Shoot it or get rid of it.
Double Stack. Especially if Stanford decides to go big and defends Mason with Hill or Finger. The Double Stack will force both twins to show on screens which allows dives to the goal by the screeners if the twins hedge too aggressively or open perimeter jumpers if they don't show enough. At the very least, it forces the two big men to defend the perimeter at the same time, vacuuming out the lane.
The double stack also takes advantage of Mason's quickness advantage over Hill or Finger, which should result in some drive and kick, drive and dish, or even looks at the rim. Remember, the overall theme is to get the twins away from the goal and moving their feet outside their comfort zone. The stack will also serve to rest DJ by getting him off the ball for a bit.
Quite honestly, Texas has options galore on this end of the court. It's certainly going to be the easy part especially if Connor and James can knock down a couple early threes. The scenario shouldn't play out much better for Stanford if they zone either. Only personnel changes or a complete bludgeoning on the other end can mitigate Texas' offensive advantage.
Okay, this is where it gets tricky. Stanford will run out an interior post force that is virtually unmatched in college basketball. They also bring efficient perimeter shooters to the table in Goods and Johnson. Offensively, Stanford's Achilles heal is handling ball pressure, not necessarily leading to turnovers, but pressure that limits easy post entry and ball reversal.
This is mainly the case because Stanford lacks elite penetrators and slashers that can exploit overplays, but aside from that weakness, they all enter the ball extremely well and knock down open looks vs. defenses that collapse to help the interior. And, once the ball gets down on the block to Robin and especially Brook Lopez, three things are most likely to happen and they're all bad. Brook scores/gets fouled, Brook hits a teammate for an open perimeter look/that teammate finds an open teammate off of rotation, or the the other Lopez brother outmatches your rotating forward/guard on the weakside glass after you've doubled, and cleans up any miss you're fortunate enough to get. Their offense sounds a bit elementary, but it's damn hard to defend especially if Texas wants to keep its starting personnel on the floor to take advantage on the other end. So what should Texas do?
Perimeter Pressure. It's the cornerstone of any good post defense. The ball is pressured, the wings are denied, and hopefully this buys enough time for your post defender to get position. Once the ball is moved to a position where it can be entered, the wing defender must bother the passer from getting a clean angle. Bounce passes are preferred if you're defending the post, and under no circumstances should the entry passer be allowed to lead the postman to his move.
To Double or Not to Double. If I'm Texas, I do both. I'd vary running someone at Brook playing him solo in spots, and would make Robin make a couple before sending anyone his way at all. When I do double I try to do it with Mason because of his size, athleticism, and active hands. Stanford's starting personnel allows me to play Mason soft on Washington given his lack of scoring punch, which should enable Mason to double more often. Mason should in some instances double to trap quickly as soon as the post catches it, or in other possessions JM should double softly hoping to entice a quick pass which makes for an easier rotation.
The variation should keep Brook Lopez guessing. In either case, the whole team should be on the same page and defend accordingly whether it's a quick trap or soft trap. And, under no circumstances is the post defender to give up the baseline. Any such violation should be punishable by watching tapes of HenryJames playing air guitar.
Token Pressure. If Texas feels like it can avoid absolute exhaustion, a little token full court pressure designed to tax the shot clock and not necessarily force a steal can be an excellent weapon out of dead ball situations. If you can force Stanford to get into their offense at 25 seconds instead of 30 you've saved yourself having to defend an extra couple of passes, ball rotations, or post entries.
Big Dex might be the only defensive answer for Brook Lopez.
Do your work early. If you're a post player, defending before the ball arrives is of paramount importance. If it's caught on the block the jig is up. Use your quickness to force your man out of his happy zone, beat him to the block, beat him to the ball. Don't foul.
Big Dex. Yes, he's big enough to be a defense unto himself. Seriously, he's the only player on the roster with any hope of slowing down either Lopez brother head-up. His presence on the court would allow Texas to play the Cardinal straight up which prevents open looks that are the function of collapsing post defense while also giving Texas a better shot to hold Stanford to one and done on the glass. The Horns would give up some advantage on the offensive end, but some high ball screens from Big Dex could accomplish the goal of lifting Stanford big men in an effort to clear the lane for drives to the goal leading to shots at the rim or open perimeter looks from kickouts.
Zone. Look, this is probably Texas' best option if it wants to keep its starting personnel on the floor. Yeah, I know, I typed earlier that Texas isn't a zone team and man teams have a hard time changing their spots, but hear me out on this. Stanford really isn't a proficient zone offense especially with a frontcourt consisting of Lopez, Lopez, Washington, and a below average penetrating backcourt. Texas would simply have to get out on Goods and Johnson, do a better job of guarding the short corner than they did vs. Kansas, and entice the Stanford frontcourt in general to shoot midrange shots. If you recall my halftime thoughts vs. Kansas I mentioned slowly closing out on the high post and allowing the wings to pinch down on the short corner. Texas didn't need to treat Darrel Arthur like Larry Bird and they certainly wouldn't have to respect the twins or Washington from there either.
"But Trips we would struggle rebounding the basketball out of our zone." That's a true statement if you're talking about playing against a big, quick, athletic frontcourt like Kansas. Stanford's big but certainly not quick and athletic. In fact, I would argue that a zone might even help our rebounding effort by forcing longer shots that result in longer caroms which put a premium on quickness and less so on height. If anything, Texas' man would certainly create several point blank volleyball scenarios during which we have virtually zero chance of pulling a board.
Now if Washington is subbed for Hill, then the zone would be a bit more concerning given a third bonafide shooter, but Texas could counter on the offensive end by putting Mason on the ball which would really exploit Stanford's twins with our double stack. Where on Earth would dribble penetration help come from?
Man, I couldn't begin to tell you how this will shake out. Too many variables, too many if's, and too many moving parts. I will say that if Texas hits at a high rate from behind the arc, I'm talking 40%, they win the ball game. If they don't, the game will either have to be officiated a certain way, or Stanford would have to be stone cold from deep to lose the ball game. Neither team turns it over, but Stanford would seem to have the edge on the glass. Seem being the operative word.
Texas fans should take heart in the fact that Stanford was outrebounded by a watered down version of the Horns in Marquette. Hell, Marquette didn't shoot the 3 well at all going 10-30 while Stanford shot the 3 as well as they can shoot it going 7-14. Stanford shot 28 free throws to Marquette's 12, so officiating didn't benefit Marquette. What Marquette did well is finish at the rim as the team was 21-43 from inside the arc. Guard Jerel McNeal was especially efficient finishing at or near the rim to the tune of 9-13. Oddly enough, McNeal never got to the line the entire night.
All in all the Marquette game bodes well for Texas and its backers especially considering this game is in Houston. And for that reason, I like Texas' chances. I'll call it 74 to 70 in one of the best games of the tourney. I'd like our chances even more if Curtis Shaw was calling the game.