Previewing Stanford: Can Cal earn a valuable sweep?

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

We take our second look at Stanford's veteran group fighting to save Johnny Dawkin's job.

Oh Johnny Dawkins, perpetual target of scorn by many Cal fans. You have a reasonably talented team but have failed to make the NCAA tournament in five seasons and look to be on the bubble again.

And yet Mr. Dawkins carries a not awful 5-7 record in his career against Mike Montgomery's Bears, with two wins that helped deny Cal shares of two different conference titles. If Dawkins and Stanford were to prevail tonight, he would basically have a .500 record against a coach and a team that most people consider significantly better.

We can't have that, can we?

Right now, the difference between Cal and Stanford in the standings is Cal's surprising-at-the-time win at Maples to open conference play. Since then both teams have gone 5-3 in their last eight, although the path has been a bit different for both. Still, here's what I find interesting at the moment (numbers via Kenpom):

Cal Stanford
Offensive Efficiency 111.4 (54) 97.4 (55)
Defensive Efficiency 111.3 (55) 97.4 (55)

Cal and Stanford are not identical teams. Stanford runs the triable via a point forward in the high post while Cal is led by a traditional point guard. Defensively the teams aren't too far apart, but Cal's defense has better at causing teams to miss (particularly in conference play) while Stanford has been better at limiting 2nd chances (particularly in conference play). Oddly, Cal is the deeper team both in terms of bench minutes and bench scoring.

Yet despite the various differences, when you add it all up Cal and Stanford have been nearly identical in terms of their results on offense and defense after a minor strength of schedule adjustment.

The bad news is that these two teams are probably pretty evenly matched, which means that Cal will likely have to bring their best effort to earn a win, even at home. The good news is that this game is at home, and if Cal does win they will hold a commanding two game lead and tie-breaker over their rivals.

Projected Starters

F Josh Huestis(Sr), 6'7, 230 lbs
F Dwight Powell(Sr), 6'10, 240 lb.
C Stefan Nastic(Jr), 6'11, 245 lb.
G Anthony Brown(Jr), 6'6, 215 lbs
G Chasson Randle(Jr), 6'2, 185 lbs

Bench

G Robbie Lemons(Sr), 6'3, 205 lbs
F John Gage(Sr), 6'10, 225 lb.

You probably know Stanford's personnel pretty well by now, since every single player in the rotation is an upperclassman. You can re-read Scott's earlier preview, because it's all still applicable. But to keep a long story short - Powell and Randle are the two key players on offense, and the other guys get their shots mostly from action created by the other two. On defense, Stanford hangs their hat on three above average shot blockers who stay in the paint, but they can be susceptible to speedier teams that can get around their bigs.

When Scott wrote his original preview he mentioned four Stanford bench players - Johnny Dawkins has tightened up his rotation even further and there are basically only two players getting anything close to frequent play off the bench. Gage spells one of Stanford's three forwards (when Stefan Nastic gets into inevitable foul trouble) and Lemons spells the guards. Gage is a turnover prone three point specialist, while Lemons is basically just a body that doesn't commit turnovers. If you can keep Gage from hitting threes then Stanford essentially has no bench.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Cal 74, Stanford 70 (66% confidence)

4 points of home court advantage, baby.

Keys to the game

The foul battle inside: For both teams, paint defense is key. Solomon and Kravish vs. Powell and Nastic is magnified because both duos are critical defensively and because depth is limited behind them. Luckily, Cal is in a much better place than Stanford between Behrens, Rooks and the return of Ricky Kreklow. Still, Cal fans want to see Solomon and Kravish play as much as possible. Last time, they combined for 9 fouls over 61 minutes, while Powell and Nastic both fouled out after 64 minutes.

Powell played 39 minutes and fouled out because Stanford intentionally fouled in the final minute. But Nastic's foul trouble was a big deal, because John Gage finished 1 rebound, 1 block and 2 fouls away from a trillion.

Get another big game from Ty: More than a few have noted how important Tyrone Wallace is to Cal's offense. Cobbs, Solomon and Kravish (mini-slump possibly caused by illness excepted) are typically very consistent contributors on offense. Ty comes and goes, and it often depends on whether his jumper is falling or if he feels he has a matchup that allows him to slash to the basket.

Ty went for 20 points on 13 shots against Stanford earlier this year. I don't remember if he was guarded more by Anthony Brown or Josh Huestis in that game, but I suspect that it's a mismatch in Ty's favor either way. If Ty contributes on offense, the Bears probably go home winners.

Bother Randle again: Chasson Randle is the key man for Stanford. He's the one that, on the right night, can explode for big points. He was held to 6-16 shooting, couldn't get to the line, and put up a rough 1:4 assist to turnover ratio at Maples. If he is similarly inefficient tonight Stanford will likely struggle to score enough to win.

Win this one and Cal will stay at least tied for 2nd in the conference, pick up another borderline top 50 RPI win, and put a nearly insurmountable distance between themselves and one of a few teams that could pass them for a top four spot in the conference tournament.

Just as important, a win would mean a sweep over Stanford, and we could all say goodbye to Powell, Bright, Huestis and Gage (and maybe Dawkins) with a satisfying sweep. Make it happen, Bears. Make it loud, Cal fans.

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