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8 takeaways from Stanford’s first 8 games

Cardinal off to a surprise 7-1 start

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Butler Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford won its first 7 games before succumbing to a game-winning shot in the final seconds against a good Butler team. It’s been an impressive and surprising start to the year for Stanford. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1 - This defense is for real

Five of their eight opponents have been held under 25 in the first half, and it’s not like they’re taking the air out of the ball a la Virginia. If you like watching a team play defense as a unit, this team is for you. They mix up the ball screen coverages based on the scouting report, icing a lot of the action on the wings and forcing high ball screens to take place farther out. They double the post effectively. They can switch almost freely, help well, and help the helper just as well. Butler scored 68 points, but in the second half that was a result of isolation heroics. Even the well-coached Bulldogs struggled to get into their offense.

2 - Tyrell Terry is a star in the making

Ty’s scored in double figures in each game, and until last night had 2+ assists and 2+ steals in each contest. National media is beginning to take notice of his start to the season, particularly after he put up two eye-catching performances in Kansas City. He’s averaging 16.5-5-3 on on 50/44/88 shooting splits, and coming up with 2.4 steals per game. His offensive rating is 120 and his defensive rating is 80. But even without looking at numbers, anyone with eyes can tell you he’s in complete control on offense. He can keep this team in games with anyone when he’s on.

3 - Spencer Jones is the x-factor

I don’t think anyone, even Jerod Haase, realized the kind of impact Spencer Jones would have this quickly. He came off the bench in the first game, and has forced his way into the starting lineup for the 7 since. The obvious thing when you watch Spencer is his shooting. He has a quick, high release that has translated into 3 three point makes per game at a 53% clip, which helps space the floor. But what allows him to play 27 minutes per night is his defense. He’s a long, athletic, and (most importantly) willing defender. He’s been tasked with switching onto quicker guards and matching up with bigger forwards as Stanford’s starting 4. The numbers say he’s averaging nearly a block and steal per game, but it’s almost certainly more than that. Spencer is the ideal 3-and-D player.

4 - The ball is moving

It’s easy to get caught up in the individual shot making of a Terry or Oscar da Silva, but Stanford is playing good team offense. While in Europe, Jerod Haase told his team “it’s not your responsibility to get a good shot, it’s our responsibility.” Jaiden Delaire related to us that they practice getting the ball out of their hands quickly, not letting it stick. As a five out offense, the ball needs to get to the second or third or fourth side to be effective. They utilize a lot of dribble handoffs and ball screens to get something going downhill, whether that be turning the corner or hitting a slip or role man. When teams have tried to zone them, da Silva and Delaire punished them with their decisiveness in the high post. The offense isn’t clicking on all cylinders yet, but it’s shown some encouraging signs.

5 - Daejon Davis and Oscar da Silva are leaders

Last year Jerod Haase didn’t award the Peter Sauer Captainship; he simply didn’t think anyone earned it. Before the opener in Kansas City, he bestowed the honor upon the juniors Davis and da Silva. It’s clear that these third year players set the tone for the young team on both ends of the floor. The forwards have talked about looking up to Oscar and the way he carries himself, and most everyone has pointed at Daejon’s defense and effort as the lifeblood of the team. On a team with no seniors (other than Rodney Herenton), their leadership and example are critical.

6 - Depth is a concern

On a good day, the rotation goes 9 deep. Against Butler, Isaac White never left the pine. Struggles with depth are an unsurprising consequence of losing Pugh and Stanback to injury, Okpala to the draft, and Ryan to the transfer portal. As it stands, Jaiden Delaire is the only reserve consistently producing (8.6 ppg, 57%). Lukas Kisunas and James Keefe have each had their moments and can look good in spurts, and White will no doubt have some good matchups this season. But what if last year’s injuries crop back up? What if starters get in foul trouble?

7 - This team can win close games

This might seem weird to say, since they’re 0-1 in close games. Still, they did everything they could to win the Butler game, and for the most part executed admirably. The Bulldogs punched them in the mouth, forcing Stanford to pull off a late comeback. Haase’s team never blinked, methodically working their way back into the game with clutch plays from most everyone, culminating in da Silva finding a cutting Bryce Wills for a go-ahead dunk with 21 seconds remaining. Yes, Butler won the game thanks to unreal heroics from Kamar Baldwin, including switching hands in the middle of an 8 foot shot. But Stanford did enough to have come out with a win, and that bodes well for future games like this.

8 - They’re only going to get better

This is a young team, with no key seniors and two freshmen in the starting lineup. So many of their schemes on both ends of the court benefit from familiarity with personnel, knowing how your guys will react and where they’ll be. This squad has been together for just a matter of months, and all of that will improve. As we’ve seen during Haase’s tenure, players will more than likely continue to better their own games, as well. That’s encouraging for the rest of this season, but also for the next one. This team’s best basketball is in its future.