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8 Games, 8 Topics: Part 2
Courtesy: Brian Risso  
Release: 12/04/2013

STANFORD, Calif.- Nearly one month into the 2013-14 campaign, Stanford has chalked up a 6-2 record heading into its annual extended break for final exams.

Fresh off a 92-60 rout of South Dakota State on Sunday night, the Cardinal will have 12 days off before hosting UC Davis on Saturday, Dec. 14.

Four non-conference games remain before the Pac-12 opener against California on Jan. 2 at Maples Pavilion.

With eight games in the books, it’s time to take a look at eight topics that have emerged over the last month.

Today, we examine these from a media perspective, as KNBR 1050 AM's insightful radio duo of Scott Reiss and John Platz candidly share their thoughts. Reiss, a 1993 Stanford graduate who serves as the play-by-play voice for basketball and football broadcasts, served the last five years as anchor/reporter at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area after an eight-year stint with ESPN. Platz, a reserve guard at Stanford from 1982-84, enters his 25th season as a member of the broadcast team, having served as both play-by-by voice (3 seasons) and color analyst (21 seasons) dating back to 1989. Platz is also the sideline reporter for football broadcasts.

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TOPIC 1: This year’s nonconference schedule was specifically designed to challenge the Cardinal early and often. The two featured games – Connecticut (Dec. 18) and Michigan (Dec. 21) – will be played three days apart in what figures to be a grueling East Coast road swing. Both teams have been ranked in the top-25 all season, with the Huskies on the verge of cracking the top-10. Stanford defeated Bucknell in the season opener before dropping a 112-103 shootout to BYU. After responding with victories over Northwestern and Denver, the Cardinal claimed a runner-up finish in the Progressive Legends Classic, falling to Pittsburgh in the championship game following a semifinal win over Houston. That bitter taste was quickly wiped away with the 92-60 rout of South Dakota State. BYU and Pittsburgh have posted a combined 15-2 record to date, so the Cardinal has an opportunity to establish a high RPI before Pac-12 competition gets underway.

PLATZ: “I thought our record would be 7-1, so we’re close. I give Coach Dawkins and the staff credit for using these first three weeks to install and evaluate the new schemes on offense and defense. There’s a learning curve—and therefore the attendant risk of incurring dings to the won/loss record—in adopting something as new as the triangle offense, or playing zone or full/half court press for large portions of games. What we saw in the South Dakota State game reflected the benefits of reassessment and recalibration—look at the shooting percentage stats on offense (60%) and defense (34%) in that game.”

REISS: “I would have guessed we'd be 7-1, but 6-2 isn't far off. The BYU loss still stings, because that was a great chance to get a good win at home. I love the challenging nonconference schedule, but it does put you behind the 8-ball a bit if you fail to win any of the four games against high-level opponents. I give a lot of credit to Director of Operations Jeff LaMere and the staff for scheduling top teams from lower conferences instead of out-and-out "gimmes," both for RPI purposes and overall experience.

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TOPIC 2: At this point last year, Stanford was averaging 69.1 points per game while shooting 38.8 percent overall and 27.0 percent from three-point territory. That’s a sharp contrast to this season’s first eight games, in which the Cardinal has averaged 81.8 points while connecting on 49.5 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from long distance. Stanford has scored at least 70 points in six games and already recorded four 50-point halves, a feat the Cardinal accomplished only twice last year overall. The reason? An experienced starting five that is capable of reaching double digits every time out. Chasson Randle’s 18.5 points leads the way while Anthony Brown isn’t far behind with a 16.5 clip. Dwight Powell (15.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Josh Huestis (11.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg) are once again posing matchup problems in the post while Stefan Nastic (7.8 ppg) has made the most of his minutes at the five spot. Meanwhile, Stanford continues to excel from the charity stripe, having made 71.0 percent while averaging 25 tries per game.

PLATZ: “The offense—both halfcourt and transition—has been very good. You need a difference-making point guard to do this and Chasson has been up to the task. Chasson is making better decisions about when and when not to pull the trigger with his jump shot, and the variety of ways he is able to finish at or near the rim has never been greater. I believe he will be able to maintain the current high-teens scoring average, and will record the best overall field goal shooting percentage of his career. It’s maybe unfair, but Chasson being a consistent scorer is very important, because whenever he has a good scoring game the team tends to put up a high number.”

REISS: “It’s largely reflective of two things: increasing grasp of a new system and an abundance of upperclass talent. Every starter is capable of scoring in double figures on any given day, and there's a lot of firepower off the bench. Scary part is, there is still so much upside. Chasson can be top-5 in the conference in scoring. Stefan is getting better every day on the offensive end. Marcus will get more and more confident and contribute. And then there's the shot in the arm this team will get when Rosco gets healthy. The 81.8 points per game benchmark is not a fluke.

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TOPIC 3: It’s no secret that Stanford must improve on the defensive end, where opponents are averaging 73.8 points per game and shooting 41.8 percent overall. It’s an area that will surely become a focal point during the 12-day break, as head coach Johnny Dawkins has always required his club to maintain a strong defensive identity. BYU and Pittsburgh are likely NCAA Tournament teams, but the Cardinal was not pleased with surrendering 112 and 88 points, respectively, to those opponents. Ironically, the Cardinal has produced strong second-half defensive performances in five of its six victories, breaking open games that were competitive one-possession contests at halftime. That alone shows this team is capable of tightening up the defense when it counts. Stanford is coming off perhaps its best effort of the year, limiting South Dakota State to just 60 points on 33.8 percent shooting while forcing 15 Jackrabbit turnovers.

PLATZ: “Each individual player must take it upon himself to concentrate more when on the defensive end, whether man or zone. Think of defense as work, where concentration is a must and everyone has an oar. The reward is the flow and fun of the offensive end, and of course of the winning that comes from good defensive effort. It’s important to have guys coming off the bench ramp up their productivity, which means getting some guys healthy. Our mental approach is solid already but you always can improve this. Becoming even more business-like in preparing for game night. Thinking about the game during the day, imagining yourself on the court, where your shots will be, whom you are guarding, the noise, etc.”

REISS: “I don't think there's any question the improvement has to come at the defensive end. It starts with deciding what our identity will be. We've gone from a man-to-man team to a zone/pressing team in one offseason - a tall order, especially when the guys are adapting to a new offense at the same time. We went back to man defense against a less-athletic South Dakota State team and had great success. I'd love to see us mix it up all season, keep opposing teams from getting too comfortable. I also think we still turn it over a bit too much, but that aspect is substantially better than it was last season at this time. All in all, I like what I see.

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TOPIC 4: Returning to action after missing all but four games last year due to a hip injury, Anthony Brown has carried Stanford for much of the early going. The only Cardinal player to score in double figures in all eight games, Brown is averaging 16.5 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 57.1 percent from the field. More impressively, Brown’s blistering 59.4 percent clip (19-32) from three-point territory currently ranks eighth in the nation. His slashing, attacking style of play has resulted in an 80.6 percent (25-31) ledger from the foul line. A 2011 Pac-10 All-Freshman Team selection, Brown provides Stanford with added length and athleticism while also serving as a terrific perimeter defender. It’s an element that the Cardinal missed greatly last season, and the upcoming two-week break is about the only defense Brown has encountered so far.

PLATZ: “I believed Anthony was capable of these numbers, but didn’t think he would be this productive this soon after his long layoff. A big key will be Anthony’s ability to sustain this. Not necessarily 50% or better from three—that’s a lot to ask—but certainly maintaining a “scoring mindset”. He’s one of the veteran guys who need to continue to take ownership of what’s going on in games and in practice. How? By being upset if the team is not giving effort on defense, by urging guys to talk, by being demonstrative when good plays are made. Even though Anthony is not a captain this year, I see him as having these kinds of responsibilities, and I think he’ll be up to it.”

REISS: “Anthony has taken a seismic step forward. I'm honestly not surprised, given his high school pedigree and the flashes of brilliance he showed early in his career. Anthony was always a guy who could score and rebound bigger than his size. And unlike most players, he's really coming back two years stronger and smarter than when we last got a long look at him. Remember, Anthony was young for his class. He is now a mature player who is going to be a star in this league.

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TOPIC 5: Dwight Powell is going to put up gaudy scoring and rebounding totals throughout the year. It’s just what he does. Through eight games, he checks in at 15.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per contest while his free throw percentage (62.9) is slightly behind last season’s pace. Powell has basically picked up where he left off last year, showcasing the type of dynamic all-around game everyone expected when he first arrived on The Farm. However, two underrated parts of his game, which he showed flashes of last year, have looked very impressive early on. For a 6-10 forward, Powell is an excellent passer. He’s dished out a team-best 31 assists while committing only 24 turnovers. He’s also racked up a team-best 12 steals, seven of which came over the first three games. Powell ranked third on the squad in those same two categories last year, so his production this year is no fluke.

PLATZ: “Dwight is, of course, a matchup nightmare. I hope he continues to recognize and exploit the weaknesses of defenders guarding him man-to-man, and continues to get into those gaps against zone defenses and make quick decisions with the ball. Against man-to-man defenses, Dwight can drive on anyone typically guarding him, so the key is his decision-making once he decides to put it on the floor. His passing has been a revelation. Not only is he leading the team in assists, he had a couple of terrific skip passes versus Pitt to teammates leading to open looks. His vision on the offensive end is as good as I’ve seen it.”

REISS: “His very being is impressive. Dwight has a skill set that allows him to take over a game like few players in the country - a true matchup nightmare. When he's on his game, he simply can't be stopped. Dwight's passing and defense have indeed improved exponentially. Sometimes he's actually too unselfish - a guy who can score at will but at times tries too hard to make the extra pass. But that's a pretty good problem to have. The only small hole in Dwight's game is that nagging propensity to pick up early fouls. Gotta keep your most talented player on the floor.

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TOPIC 6: Playing regularly for basically the first time in his career, Stefan Nastic is averaging 7.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in eight starts. Nastic has reached double figures in scoring four times, a feat he had accomplished only twice overall in 53 career games entering this year. He’s shooting 60.0 percent overall, scoring the majority of his buckets on putbacks or high-percentage shots inside the paint. During Stanford’s victory over Houston last week, Nastic poured in a career-high 14 points on 4-5 shooting while finishing 6-9 from the foul line. For a 6-11 center, Nastic is a capable free throw shooter at 66.7 percent who has a knack for frustrating his defender and drawing contact. Ironically, Nastic has totaled almost as many free throw attempts (30) as field goal attempts (35). On the flip side, Nastic has compiled more free throw attempts than rebounds (19), an area that should improve as the season progresses.

PLATZ: “I’ve noticed that on possessions when Stefan gets a touch down low in the triangle offense, good things tend to happen. He’s worked long and hard on that left-shoulder move while his skill passing (and dribbling away from double teams) in the post keeps improving. Stefan is pretty serious about basketball’s place in his life, and I think this attitude can be contagious and benefit the team. Also, if an “enforcer” is needed to respond to yapping or cheap shot contact, there’s no backing down with #4. He doesn’t play dirty and isn’t out to hurt anyone, but will not tolerate attempts at intimidation and will let you know it.”

REISS: “Stefan has taken a quantum leap forward offensively. He had problems finishing around the basket early in his career, but now it has become almost effortless. He takes good shots and is making them at a high percentage. And he's developed a nifty little array of post moves. I'd still like to see him develop more of a "mean" streak - which is a tall order since he's about the nicest guy you'll meet. The early returns are encouraging.

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TOPIC 7: Stanford is awaiting the lineup return of Rosco Allen, who has yet to take the court due to a stress fracture injury. The smooth 6-9 wing is expected back later this month and should provide an immediate boost once he is fully healthy and ready to compete. With Andy Brown already out for the year, Allen’s absence from the lineup has been even more noticeable. Glimpses of Allen’s ability could be seen last year, when he averaged 3.2 points and 2.1 rebounds as a freshman competing in 33 games while making seven starts. Extremely adept at getting to the foul line (56 attempts in limited action last year), Allen is coming off a summer in which he competed at the international level, guiding Hungary to a semifinal finish at the U20 European Championship Division B tournament. Allen, who was born in Budapest, Hungary, before arriving to the United States in sixth grade, was named to the All-Tournament Team after averaging 14.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 45.5 percent from the field.

PLATZ: “Maybe more than any player on the roster, Rosco is all about constant movement on the court, movement with the ball, movement without from the ball. Any coach loves a player who is constantly moving on the court, who is an energy guy, who makes quick decisions with the ball. It’s why Rosco is, inevitably, a relatively high points-per-minute (and free throws-per-minute) player and why guys on the floor are forced do things more quickly when he’s on it. For longer-term Stanford followers, I think David Moseley (1997-2000) is a credible compare for what Rosco can bring off the bench.”

REISS: “There are guys who just have an innate "feel" for the game, and Rosco is one of those players. He showed last year as a freshman that he belonged at this level, and gave us glimpses of a young man who can be an all-conference player before he's done. I love the inside-outside game and he can stretch defenses or score near the basket. The latter was actually somewhat of an issue for him last season, but I am guessing he won't miss those "chippies" very often going forward. There is no question he will give this team a huge boost at both ends of the floor when he returns.

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TOPIC 8: Injuries have forced key players such as Rosco Allen, Aaron Bright, John Gage and Grant Verhoeven out of the lineup for varying degrees of time through the first eight games. With Andy Brown (torn ACL) and Christian Sanders (hip) already unavailable, the Cardinal’s depth has taken an early hit. The mounting injuries have started to translate into extra minutes for freshmen Malcolm Allen, Marcus Allen and Schuyler Rimmer. All three have shown ability to play at this level in spurts. Marcus Allen (2.2 ppg, 5-11 FG) has received the most minutes of the trio and is coming off a seven-point, five-rebound outing against South Dakota State. Rimmer (7.0 mpg, 5 rebounds) continues to see the court, used mainly as another frontcourt option off the bench to spell Huestis, Powell and Nastic for foul trouble and breathers. Malcolm Allen (3-4 FG, 3-3 FT) has generally looked ready to go when his number has been called and already has thrown down a dunk.

PLATZ: “Marcus has explosive potential and we saw glimpses against South Dakota State. He has terrific defensive skills and is likely to be high on the all-time steals list before he’s done. He was particularly effective in sets with Malcolm on the floor (no shock). Malcolm is sneaky quick, smooth, possesses a natural handle and has a surprising ability to get good shots off around the basket amidst bigger defenders. Like Marcus, he has great feet on the defensive end, good lateral slide, good anticipation. Schuyler possesses the kind of solid frame that Stanford needs inside and is learning how to use his “bulk”. I am interested to see what move(s) he develops as his “go-to”. Being an effective rebounder and defender is how he will help initially, with the scoring contribution coming later.”

REISS: “We haven't begun to scratch the surface of any of these players. Marcus has seen the most minutes, and he's already become the designated defensive disruptor off the bench. Great thing about that, he relishes the role. He knows defense is a big part of his game and he's happy to expend energy at that end of the floor. The offense will come - I think the three-pointer against South Dakota State was huge in terms of a confidence boost. Malcolm looks amazingly un-timid for a true frosh. Runs the floor extremely well, has "mad hops" as they say and is clearly not intimidated by the college game. Schuyler has had his ups and downs early on, typical for a freshman big. But he will develop into a fine rebounder, and once he gets a little more confidence at the offensive end, the buckets will come.



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