The national media won’t spend too much attention focusing on Thursday night’s match-up between two middle-of-the-PAC-10 teams. But for both the Cardinal and the Ducks, the upcoming game in Maples Pavilion could have significant ramifications for the remainder of the season.
Stanford will enter the contest with a 10-8 overall record, which slightly trumps Oregon’s 9-10 mark. Stanford also has a tiny edge in the conference record comparison: the Card is 3-4, while the Ducks are 2-5. But with a win on the Farm, Oregon would pull equal with Stanford and stand to move from their current 9th place in the conference standings to as high as 7th before heading over to Berkeley to play the Golden Bears on Saturday afternoon.
Stanford has even more to gain. If the Card can improve their conference record to .500 by taking down the men from Eugene, the Card would likely move into fourth place in the PAC-10. Washington State, which currently sits in the 4 spot, will be the underdog in their Thursday game against #17 Washington in Pullman. Fourth place is still far from first, especially in a league as top-heavy as the final rendition of the PAC-10 is. But many observers believe that the conference could get 3 berths in the NCAA Tournament, and fourth place would get Stanford one step closer to being in a good position to compete when the conference tournament arrives in March.
Stanford will have to shut down Oregon’s starting forwards, Joevan Catron and E.J. Singler, who do the bulk of the scoring for the Ducks. Catron, a 6′ 6″ senior, is the team’s primary scoring option. After missing virtually all of last season to injury, Catron has come on to lead Oregon this season with just over 15 points and 6 rebounds per game. That he isn’t too tall will help the Card, and Dwight Powell should be able to contain Catron when the Ducks have the ball. Josh Owens will also be charged with defending Catron at times, and his size should help the junior forward/center hybrid do a good job denying Catron. After that, the Cardinal’s defensive options for Catron are limited. Catron should be able to use his horizontal size (245 points) to push around Jack Trotter and Andrew Zimmerman, whose continued lack of playing time suggests that he may still be injured.
Yet the greater question–as it has been for the entire season–is whether or not Stanford will score enough points to win. The Ducks have allowed 66 points per game over their last 4 games, and feature a defense significantly stingier than the UCLA and USC squads that Stanford could not score on last weekend. Oregon puts a small team on the floor: of their starting line-up, the tallest player is 6′ 8″ and both Catron and Singler are 6′ 6″. That would be good news if the Card had developed a solid low post offense, but that hasn’t yet happened. Game after game, we’ve seen that Stanford cannot get good penetration and has relied on killing clock and throwing up last-second threes.
Will that strategy work against Oregon? Who knows. If the Card can make shots, then it might. If they can’t find their collective stroke, as we’ve seen a lot recently, this game could be very close down the stretch. Unless Stanford can get Owens and Powell involved in the offense in the paint, Johnny Dawkins and his team will need defense to keep the game close, keep the score down, and perhaps notch a quality home win.