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Breaking down the Cardinal: Q&A with Rule of Tree

We got some insight on Stanford from someone who knows them best

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats (15-12, 6-8) will play the Stanford Cardinal (14-12, 7-7) for the second time this season on Sunday, only this time they will do battle in Tucson.

Arizona won the first matchup in Palo Alto, but we wanted to get more info on Stanford before the rematch, so we talked to Grant Avalon at RuleOfTree.com to get some insight.

Here is our Q&A.

Stanford is 7-7 in the Pac-12. Is that better or worse than expected?

Stanford was picked 9th or 10th in the conference in the pre-season by most outlets. They have about a 70% chance to finish .500 or better in Pac-12 play, so they’re definitely exceeding expectations.

How is Stanford different since the first matchup with Arizona?

Since the first matchup in January, Stanford has seen an uptick in production from guys not named Davis or Okpala. Josh Sharma and Bryce Wills have been fairly consistent weapons, which was not the case earlier in the year. Marcus Sheffield has also worked his way into the rotation and provided much-needed bench scoring. He was a healthy scratch in that January game.

What are the keys to this game for Stanford?

For Stanford to win this one, they’ll need to get off to a good start. Too often this year they’ve found themselves in an early hole, and that’s not ideal when you’re playing in McKale. Daejon Davis will need to bounce back from his clunker against ASU. The Cardinal will also likely look to get Oscar da Silva more involved, as they’re 8-3 when he scores in double figures.

Josh Sharma has been one of the hottest players in the Pac-12 lately. Why?

Josh Sharma has always had the size and athleticism to be a force. The biggest factor is that he’s getting better at staying out of foul trouble. He had a number of good bursts earlier in the year that were quashed by his inability to defend without being whistled. He’s also learned to embrace his role. In the past it seemed he fashioned himself as a stretch big, but Jerod Haase has turned him into more of a JaVale McGee type. That’s really helped him flourish.

KZ Okpala did not play against Arizona State. What is his status for the Arizona game and how can he be stopped if he does play?

Stanford is always coy about injury updates. Okpala suffered an ankle injury in practice, and they’ve given non-committal status updates. If he plays, the key is to keep him out of the lane. That’s easier said than done, of course, but things like going under on screens and helping on drives go a long way. He’s still not an elite facilitator, so teams that have collapsed their interior defense on him have seen some success. Colorado held him to 5 points by selling out.

Will this be the game Stanford finally beats Sean Miller?

I think this is the game Stanford breaks through, provided Okpala dresses. These teams have been trending in opposite directions as of late. Of course, I’ve thought that a few other times during this streak.