January 20, 2009

Hoops Preview: Stanford

Every game this year has been a learning experience for the Ducks. Win or lose Oregon's game against Stanford Thursday night will be no exception. Playing on the campus of one of the word's toughest academic institutions, the Ducks will face a Stanford team that's playing at an unbelievably high level. Under the new leadership of Johnny Dawkins, the Cardinal are 12-3 with two of those losses to the Washington schools on the road by one point each. The other defeat came at the hands of ASU. Winning at Stanford is never easy and this year is no exception. Last Saturday the Cardinal beat up on their rival, 22nd ranked Cal.

Stanford's led by two seniors. Guard Anthony Goods and forward Lawrence Hill. Goods is Stanford's do-everything guy, making over 40% of his three point shots and averaging over 17 a game. Hill brings tenacity and experience to the floor and averages 14 points and six rebounds a contest.

What the Cardinal lack in height against teams like Oregon, they more than make up for it by playing terrific team defense, rebounding as a team, and getting great spacing on offense that gets them a lot of open looks. "The way they've been playing so far is similar to the way Duke plays," said Assistant Coach Kenny Payne, "And that's up and down, getting after you defensively and playing up tempo. They beat somebody the other day by scoring 111 points. That just about says it all right there." That team was Texas Tech and Payne's right. If your transition defense isn't good, Stanford will run you right off the court.

More learning experiences? Michael Dunigan needs to learn not to reach or let a backup defenders tangle up with him and draw extra fouls. Josh Crittle needs to finish so strong, defenders hesitate to foul him. And Oregon's guards need to force dribble penetration and create more open looks for each other.

Talent isn't Oregon's problem right now. They're still searching for the go-to guy when Porter's not shooting like he did in the second half Saturday. The Ducks started the game strong by emphasizing getting the ball to Dunigan on the block. But when the big man picked up a couple bad fouls and had to sit, Oregon struggled to figure out whom to run their offense through. Is it Longmire? Porter? Catron? Who?

With Porter's size, running the offense through him makes less sense. He's a spot up shooter first and a create-your-own shot guy second. Longmire is starting to score in several ways; on the block, slashing to the bucket, and at the foul line. Right now it looks like he's a leader emerging on this team. But he's clearly not enough. Joevan Catron has disappeared again and Porter's just now coming out of the biggest slump of his career.

Give Coach Kent credit for sitting him and not starting him on Saturday. And give Porter credit for not pouting, and coming off the bench and finding his game again. One play in particular shows what he's capable of, and it wasn't a shot. Midway through the second half Porter drove the ball across the perimeter, to the corner and then took it baseline, then found Garrett Sim wide open in the far corner and hit him with a perfect pass. Sim caught and shot it in rhythm for a smooth three points. Oregon needs a whole lot more of that. They have the shooters in Porter, Sim, and Humphrey, but until Dunigan forces teams to put more than one defender on him, the guards will have to create open look for each other s with dribble penetration. Oregon ha enough depth and fouls to give to consistently take the ball to the rim and force teams into foul trouble. They need to do that a lot more consistently.

Play smart defensively on every possession. Create good shots for each other, and get back on defense. Kent's young team needs to do all of those to have a chance on Thursday.

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