On Sunday, Jerod Haase will play host to his alma mater in one of the most anticipated Stanford regular season games in years. As a KU fan-favorite in his day, this game will no doubt mean a little extra to Mr. Floor Burns himself.
Kansas sits at 9-2, with their season bookended by losses to Duke and Villanova. This week’s AP Poll has them sitting in 5th, while Ken Pomeroy’s ranking has them at 3rd. Their two defeats were by a combined 3 points, and they were without the services of a key guard in each. Bill Self expects them to be at full strength on Sunday.
Despite the impressive play and brand name of the Jayhawks, Stanford find themselves just a 5.5 point underdog. The Cardinal are off to a surprise 11-1 start to the season, and were ever so close to pulling out their lone defeat. The last time they started 12-1 or better? Mike Montgomery’s incredible 2003-04 squad that won its first 26.
That’s why it’s fitting that this game will be called by the eminent Dick Vitale. Dickie V hasn’t been to Stanford since that storied year, when he called perhaps the most famous regular season game in school history. With Vitale and Brent Musburger on the mic, Nick Robinson hit “The Shot”, and the Cardinal took down Arizona to keep the undefeated run alive. Students camped out for tickets, and Tiger Woods sat court-side.
The students aren’t on campus this time, and the pageantry won’t hold a candle to that of 16 seasons ago. But with a top 5 opponent in town and the nation’s eyes on them, Stanford has a real opportunity.
Here are my keys to an upset bid.
Neutralize Kansas’ size
The Jayhawks have one of America’s bigger front lines, and they’re terrific. Udoka Azubuike (7’0”, 270) is a mountain of a man, but a skilled mountain. He shoots 80% from the field thanks to his knack for carving out space on the block, and is a relentless rebounder. His mate David McCormack (6’10”, 265) can step out to the mid-range, as well as mix it up inside. And if that’s not enough, they have the scandal-marred Silvio De Sousa (6’9”, 245) on the bench, who’s perhaps the best athlete of the bunch.
Don’t expect Jerod Haase to go straight to his bigger lineups against the beef. The way he’s neutralized size to date has been by imposing his will. Can the Jayhawk bigs move their feet with Oscar da Silva? Can their 4 man keep track of Spencer Jones as he runs off screens? If they can make Bill Self have to counter them, they stand a fighting chance. Of course, all five players will have to chip in rebounding the ball, but so far that’s not been a problem. Tyrell Terry and others have helped make Stanford one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the nation.
Win the turnover battle
In recent games, Stanford’s turnovers have gotten a bit out of hand. Their turnover rate in their last three contests is probably higher than they can get away with against a good team. Kansas plays efficient basketball on both ends of the court, so it will be important to not give away precious possessions. The three guards (Terry, Bryce Wills, Daejon Davis) will no doubt be called to play serious minutes. Oscar da Silva will also need to be strong on his drives.
Conversely, the visitors have shown some penchant for sloppiness themselves. In their loss to Duke, they gave it away 28 times. Against Colorado, they racked up 21 more. Their backcourt of Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, and Marcus Garrett is excellent, but they don’t always play that way. Bad news for the Jayhawks? Nearly all of the Cardinal opponents to date can testify to their defense’s disruptive capabilities. They’ll need that to be on full display to come out with a win.
Punch them in the mouth
In last year’s near upset at the Phog, Stanford got off to a strong start, keeping pace with KU before expanding the lead to as much as 12 points. They’ll more than likely need to do the same this year. Kansas is too good of a team to spot a cushion and expect to climb your way back. Coach Haase has talked about how he seldom has to push buttons to get his team up for games, but that wasn’t the case against San Diego last weekend.
Expect the Cardinal to come out with some scripted sets, as they seek to impose their will from the opening tip. Spencer Jones sleepwalked his way through the start of the game in the Chase Center, but he’ll more than likely have his number called early, even if its just as decoy motion. Stretching out the defense and making them respect the execution abilities of all five players is crucial. Similarly, Bryce Wills probably won’t be gun-shy if left alone on the perimeter. Teams have tried to sag off him, and the lumbering bigs of Kansas will likely be no exception.
Get anything from the bench
Isaac White nearly led Stanford to a stunner a year ago, with 15 points on 5-7 from deep. His spark was a big part of what propelled the Cardinal into having a chance late. The starting five this season is dynamic, and barring foul trouble, they’ll undoubtedly play the vast majority of the game. But they won’t all play the full 40, so they’ll need one or two reserves to step up.
James Keefe played big against San Francisco, going nearly the full second half. Jaiden Delaire has led this team in scoring before, so if he can have one of his ‘good’ games, he could be a difference maker. Lukas Kisunas has the size to mix it up with the Kansas bigs, and could be called upon to eat tough minutes. And of course, Isaac White is still around, and can heat up like a microwave. One of these four could be the difference between a quality loss and a statement win.