Stanford Cardinal: 12-4 (4-1 Pac-12)
Preview: The UConn Huskies are unquestionably at a crossroads. At 9-6 and with few quality wins to show, Saturday night's match-up with Stanford (12-4, 4-1 Pac-12) is as close to a must-win as you can get in mid-January of the college basketball season. With a loss, the Huskies risk dropping to 9-7 and falling off the radar of the selection committee, and would need to go on a dominant tear through conference play to work itself back onto the right side of the bubble.
With a win, the Huskies add a quality road win that could be the difference between March madness and March sadness in Storrs. The fact remains, however, that UConn must beat a really tough Stanford team that made the former national champions crumble in the XL center last season.
In last season's matchup, after leading by 10 at halftime, UConn's guards were suffocated by Stanford's zone, leading to arguably the worst half of UConn's season where they scored 13 points on 5-31 from the field in the game's last 20 minutes. This season, Stanford is led by Ryan Boatright's eternal nemesis, former Co-Mr. Basketball of Illinois (sharing the award with Boatright) and senior Chasson Randle. Randle is having a stellar season, so stellar in fact that college basketball guru Jon Rothstein says he should be considered a first team all-American at this point through the season. Chasson (Chase-On? Chase- In? Shaw-sin?) Randle is averaging 19.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game while shooting 38 percent from three on the season. The match-up of the two point guards is perhaps the Ryan's biggest challenge yet, and easily the most enticing.
Though Stanford lost star Dwight Powell and forward Josh Huestis after a Sweet Sixteen run last season, they still have a significant amount of depth and talent across the roster who have helped the Cardinal win 6 of their last 7 games so far. 6-foot-6 senior swingman Anthony Brown averages 15.2 points per game while leading Stanford in rebounding, assists, and 3-point field goal percentage. My guess is that Daniel Hamilton and Omar Calhoun will matchup with him over the course of the game. Containing Brown and keeping him off the glass will be a huge factor in the outcome of this game, and with the way Calhoun and Hamilton have improved their defense in recent weeks, it is certainly plausible. At over 46 percent shooting from 3 point range, he leads a Stanford perimeter attack that is first in the pac-12 at that same category.
At the other forward positions, Sophomores Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah are up against the 6-foot-11 senior Stefan Nastic and the Budapest native, 6-foot-9 junior Rosco Allen. If the game goes anything like Tuesday's disappointment in Tulsa, Rakim Lubin and Philip Nolan will be asked to pull some weight as well due to foul trouble that plagued Facy and Brimah. UConn is a different team when Amida Brimah is in the game, both offensively and defensively, and for UConn to have a chance, Brimah MUST stay out of foul trouble. He was able to do that in UConn's 3 game win streak in Florida and against Cincinnati, but the lack of his presence on the floor cost UConn a key road conference game.
My final key for UConn to come away with a victory is for the Huskies to get off to a fast start. It feels like UConn has started slow in almost every game it has played thus far, and it is simply not a sustainable trend if the Huskies want to win games. Stanford goes 10-deep and UConn will once again need plenty of contributors to get the victory. Rodney Purvis has been non-existent in the first half in recent games and must play aggressive offensively to give UConn a spark early. Omar Calhoun can't look like he did against Stanford last season, going 1-8 and 1-6 from three. He has been playing fantastic basketball as of late and has got to bring this new found confidence on both ends of the floor. Hamilton and Terrance Samuel, who should also see some time defending Randle, had career-highs against Tulsa and round-out the perimeter attack that has got to support Ryan Boatright in the offense early and often for UConn to secure its 10th victory and marquee road win of the season.
Wishful Prediction: Brimah stays out of foul trouble, Boatright continues to facilitate after having 6 or more assists in three of his last four games, and UConn's perimeter players do just enough to get out of California with a win.
UConn 67, Stanford 66