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8 Games, 8 Topics: Part 3
Courtesy: Brian Risso  
Release: 12/05/2013

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.

Yesterday, the KNBR 1050 AM radio tandem of Scott Reiss and John Platz provided a media perspective. Today, we hear feedback straight from the players themselves.

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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.
MEDIA’S TAKE

JOSH HUESTIS: “I think the nonconference schedule will ultimately help us by learning how to play in big games against tough competition like BYU, Pitt and our upcoming games against UConn and Michigan. Especially considering how great the Pac-12 is doing so far this year, this schedule will really prepare us well. The fact that we’ve already played at Barclays once (Stanford returns to Barclays Center on Dec. 21 to face Michigan in the Brooklyn Holiday Hoops Invitational) hopefully means we will be acclimated to playing in a big arena. As a team we had talked about 10 wins in nonconference play being something to aim for, but our primary goal is to focus on being 1-0 and take one game at a time. We want to focus on the very next game, win that one, and then move on to the next game. I think by taking that approach, everything will take care of itself by the end of nonconference.”

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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.
MEDIA’S TAKE

CHASSON RANDLE: “It’s been a combination of things. The fact that we have such an experienced group on the floor. The fact that we’re all pretty good shooters to begin with. And the fact that we are really moving the ball well. The offense has a lot of options for movement and getting a lot of different guys involved so they can find good shots. The reason why we are shooting such a high percentage is because we are taking pretty good shots, whether it’s near the basket, open jumpers or open threes. In transition, we are pushing the ball more than in previous years and it’s creating some opportunities to score. Being able to keep the pressure on the defense and make them foul you at key times has also helped.”

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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.
MEDIA’S TAKE

JOSH HUESTIS: “It’s just going to be a matter of improving in practice and making defense a focal point of what we do. Focusing on getting our defense back to where it was. When you look at the South Dakota State game, we really stepped it up again and showed how good we could be defensively. It’s just a matter of executing and staying disciplined. It might be easy to fall into a trap of trying to win just with our offense, but that’s really difficult to do, especially against good teams. So our defense is something we really need to focus on and make our central theme of what we do during this long break. I’d rather be a second-half team than a first half-team, but it’s been frustrating because you go into every game wanting to give a full 40 minutes on the defensive end and stay consistent. The first halves of BYU and Pitt really buried us and we could never recover. So we also want to focus on being ready to go right away.”

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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.
MEDIA’S TAKE

ANTHONY BROWN: “Just coming out with an aggressive mindset and my teammates believing in me, those have probably been the biggest two things. The game has slowed down a lot when I’m out there. I feel like I’m more in control. I have a better understanding of the game after having to sit out last year. The main thing for me this year has been to try and contribute in a lot of different areas- scoring, rebounding, etc. Freshman year, I was more of a shooter. I really didn’t get many rebounds or make many plans for others. But as the years have passed, I have been able to add more to my game, which is a credit to the coaching staff in helping me get there.”

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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.
MEDIA’S TAKE

DWIGHT POWELL: “The way we play now in the triangle, guys are getting the ball in different positions and you pretty much have a different look every trip down the floor. I’ve been able to get the ball in a lot of scoring or attack positions at points during the game, which has been helpful for me trying to maintain that attack mentality. It’s definitely been great having Stef playing well, because he can get us going inside early on. The defense has to be aware of him. Because the triangle spaces us out so well, there have been a lot of open lanes, cutters and kick-outs. Our shooters aren’t going to miss too many of those, especially close to the basket. Since we can kind of flow into the triangle, it’s not as necessary for the lead guard to push it up. Anthony can get on the wing and motor it up, or Chasson or Josh. We can look to attack first and there is freedom. It’s a good motivator on defense to lock in, seal that rebound and get the ball out quick.”

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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.
MEDIA’S TAKE

STEFAN NASTIC: “It’s been great to be able to help the team and provide a low-post presence. I’m glad I can contribute in an area that we need. I think we are moving the ball around well. We are reversing the ball when we need to. Guys are just being aggressive with the looks that they normally take in practice. The chemistry is there also. We are all basically guys who just want to get the best shot possible for the team. Everyone makes mistakes here and there- that’s normal. We just want to help each other out in order to get the best shot possible. We are not hesitant to give up the ball to a teammate if there is a better opportunity. Our passing and spacing within the triangle has been good. There are definitely a number of options within the system.”

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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.
MEDIA’S TAKE

ROSCO ALLEN: “The rehab is going well. I’m still not at full strength but the last couple days I’ve been able to run and put more weight on my leg to stabilize it, which is a great step toward recovery. The offense we are running really fits my style: being able to run, being able to make decisions, having different options on the wing. Things like that are going to help me. I’m just looking to get back as soon as possible and give us another body out there. Play whatever position is needed and hopefully cause problems for the defense. This summer was great for me. I really got to experience a different culture and as far as basketball, I was able to be aggressive every play and go after guys. I want to bring that mindset to our team. I’m really hoping to come back before Christmas break, if everything works out.”

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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. .
MEDIA’S TAKE

MARCUS ALLEN: “The transition has been gradual but mainly I’m just learning to pick my spots on offense and of course, thinking on defense all the time, which is a big priority for me this year. We are trying to make defense our identity, so I’m just trying to dig in there. Offensively, picking times to penetrate and shoot. As I play more, everything has been slowing down and I’m getting a better flow. I don’t have to worry about other factors, I can just dig in on defense. Whatever the staff wants me to do, I’m willing to do. With Malcolm and Schuyler, we are always pulling for each other. We come in and work out together all the time. The key for us is giving each other confidence, that way we are ready when one of us gets in the game. Encouraging each other and keeping our mindset straight in every practice and game. We are a close-knit group and just trying to make each other better.”


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