Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Could Stanford still win the Pac-12?
By Matt Giles
UPDATE: Stanford's impressive play of late continues to generate buzz around the program's chances of turning this season around completely. At 15-9 on the year, the Cardinal still have plenty of work to do. But they're one of the hotter teams around at the moment, and the NCAA Tournament isn't out of reach by any means. Our own Joe Lunardi has them slotted in at No. 69 right now -- the dubious distinction of "first team out" of the Field of 68. But Johnny Dawkins' squad will take that for the time being, considering where they were three weeks ago. With plenty of winnable games remaining -- as well as potential resume-building tilts with UCLA, No. 23 Oregon and Colorado -- Stanford still has an opportunity to make some noise.
We were wondering, just one month ago, whether the job of Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins was safe, but fast-forward to the second week of February, and Stanford is one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Cardinal is certainly blazing through the Pac-12, going 4-1 since a late-January loss to Colorado dipped Stanford two games under .500.
One reason for the turnaround is junior Josh Huestis. It is no coincidence that Stanford began playing well when the big became more offensively assertive. He was recently named Pac-12 player of the week, and his ability to score within the paint has opened up Stanford's offense, allowing for gaps and frequent perimeter looks. Against Arizona State, a win for Stanford, Huestis scored 13 points, and while the Cardinal's offensive efficiency rating was just above one PPP, the interior scoring allowed Stanford to connect on 56 percent of their threes. During this stretch, Stanford is converting 58 percent from beyond the arc, an astonishing rate, and the emergence of Huestis has helped reroute the squad's previous offensive malaise. Opponents are no longer able to key on Dwight Powell, focusing their defensive energy on slowing down Powell or forcing him to make a difficult pass from the post; rather, Huestis provides an alternative, and is also showing an eagerness to crash the offensive glass. His offensive rebounding percentage -- 11.4 percent -- leads the team, and roughly 15 percent of Huestis' scoring comes from put backs.