Thursday night’s contest in Corvallis won’t draw many eyeballs: the game will feature 2 of the 3 worst teams in the PAC-10. Oregon State will have one of its final opportunities to prove that head coach Craig Robinson deserves to stay on into next season. For Stanford and its 6-9 conference record, the game is the first of a three-game conference stretch in which the Card will need to run the table in order to finish the season with a .500 PAC-10 mark and strengthen coach Johnny Dawkins’s case to return to the Farm after next season. In short, the game doesn’t mean much, but it will give the victor bragging rights and give fans one of their final opportunities to see two teams that won’t be dancing in March.
Keys to the Game
- Jeremy Green: After a brilliant 5 games, Green cooled down and wasn’t much of a factor in Stanford’s loss to USC on Saturday night. The first time that Oregon State and Stanford met was the last game before Green’s electric streak began, and at home against the Beavers he only mustered 6 points on 22% shooting from the field. If Green can return to being a 20-point scorer and contribute somewhere around 5 rebounds, the Card should be in an excellent position to win. If he doesn’t, Stanford will need a big game from an unlikely source.
- Anthony Brown: Last time, that unlikely source was Brown, who scored 21 points on 64% shooting. Brown also collected 8 rebounds and played the most aggressive offensive game of any Stanford player this season. The freshman swingman got into the lane and used his shooting talent to hit 3 threes. Brown has been on and off since then, and scored only 4 points against USC last weekend. But if he can get his shot going again in Corvallis and can penetrate effectively, he’ll give the team much-needed points and Stanford fans a reason to be optimistic about the future of the program.
- OSU’s 1-3-1 Zone Defense: Stanford pulled away for a win by a wide margin in the teams’ first meeting, but Oregon State’s trap defense destroyed the Cardinal offense. Stanford committed 18 turnovers and had trouble getting the ball across half-court. Against a Stanford team that features the turnover-prone Jarrett Mann and the inexperienced Aaron Bright at lead guard, Robinson’s defensive philosophy flourishes. We can hope that Dawkins has drilled his team on beating the 1-3-1 all week in practice and will come out on Thursday night with an effective strategy for beating the press. If they don’t, the added comfort of the home court will likely give the Beavers the bump needed to win.
- Good Old-Fashioned Scoring: Neither of these teams can score. Oregon State (68.8 ppg) ranks 179th in the nation in scoring; Stanford (65.0 ppg) ranks 270th. Don’t be surprised if both teams shoot under 40% from the field and neither hits 65 points by the final buzzer. As with any game, the team that’s best able to score will win. Obviously. But in this match-up scoring will be a true area of concern on both benches.
- Ahmad Starks: OSU’s 5′ 8″ freshman point guard leads the Beavers only in free throw percentage and hasn’t made a big impact on the team’s season at large. But against Stanford, Starks’s incredible quickness allowed him to shed the defense and break out for a career-high 17 points. Stanford is one of the slowest teams in the conference, and Robinson could look to Starks again as a secret weapon of sorts.
- Motivation: College teams suffering through poor seasons often display little motivation late in the season and turn in disappointing performances. Given the current situations of these teams, motivation could be a significant factor in deciding the winner. It’s a hard component to predict, and it would be malicious to accuse particular players, coaches, or teams of having a susceptibility to giving up, but these schools aren’t playing for much at this point in the year.