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Stanford expert previews the Arizona men’s basketball game, makes a prediction

arizona-wildcats-preview-stanford-cardinal-jerod-haase-pac12-harrison-ingram-2023 Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s nearing the middle of February, and the Pac-12 Conference Tournament is less than a month away. Yet because of how the schedule was rolled out this season, Arizona still hasn’t played every team in the league at least once.

One of those teams the Wildcats (22-3, 11-3) haven’t faced yet is Stanford, who is next up on the docket on Saturday night in Palo Alto, Calif.

The Cardinal (10-14, 4-9) has lost their last two games, most recently falling at home to ASU, and enters the weekend in 10th place in the Pac-12.

To better understand Stanford, we reached out to Grant Avalon of Channel Tree Sports for some insight. Here are his effusive answers to our restrained questions:

AZ Desert Swarm: Stanford entered the week having played a lot better of late, winning five in a row before the loss at Colorado. Was there anything specific to this run, and is it a sign that the Cardinal could be dangerous down the stretch?

Grant Avalon: “Stanford has shortened its rotation, in part due to the injury to starting center James Keefe, but also out of necessity. Jerod Haase sometimes went as deep as 12 guys, whereas he now plays just eight. Another side effect of Keefe’s injury is increased spacing. The center position is largely being manned by Maxime Raynaud and Max Murrell, two guys capable of shooting threes. They have both stepped up as of late, and offer better rim protection than Keefe.

“Stanford has also improved on a few of the things that hampered them early in the season. They had pronounced turnover struggles, with most of their worst turnover rate games coming in the first half of the year. The guard play has improved in other ways, too, as they are looking to push early in the shot clock more, which better suits Michael O’Connell and Isa Silva. The early season shooting woes gave way to more normal percentages, and even a particularly hot game in the road upset of Utah.

“Of course, it also helps that three of those five wins came against Cal, Oregon State and Chicago State.”

The Cardinal are near the bottom in the Pac-12 in most defensive categories, which seems crazy considering this was a top-10 defense nationally only a few years ago. What isn’t working on that end of the court?

“The personnel is not what it was when this was a top-10 defensive unit. Spencer Jones is still one of the premier defenders in the conference, but the days of Bryce Wills and Daejon Davis locking down opposing guards are gone. A lot of that is a result of recruiting different competencies. This currently rates out as Jerod Haase’s best offensive and worst defensive team, per adjusted efficiency numbers.

“Opposing guards have been able to get where they want on the court. Stanford has good positional size and often does well to limit second-chance opportunities, but it sacrifices quickness. The games where Stanford had the worst adjusted defensive efficiency numbers came against teams with excellent shot-making ability. Teams have success finding mismatches and going one-on-one. And of course, they don’t do themselves any favors by committing so many live-ball turnovers. They nearly always lose the points off turnovers battle.”

Harrison Ingram was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year last season, and it was a bit surprising he opted to return to college. That move doesn’t appear to have paid off, with his numbers down across the board. Where have his struggles laid?

“Harrison returning to college wasn’t exactly a gamble. Unfortunately his draft capital was just not that high, particularly after the combine. Two of the biggest things Harrison needed to work on as a sophomore were improving his shot and being more assertive. Neither of those have really materialized.

“He is the most talented player on the team, and clearly the best at initiating offense, but there are games where you can forget he’s out there. I think people also figured out how to defend him in the post, which was one area where he saw much more success a season ago. His shooting splits currently sit at 39/31/59, so he’ll almost certainly be back for a junior season. One caveat is that those numbers are somewhat deflated from late-clock scenarios, as the only one who can consistently get his own shot.”

Who have been the most consistent offensive weapons?

“Spencer Jones is the lone player averaging double figures this season. He has added more to his offensive game each season, and they often call his number when they need a bucket. Harrison Ingram is the other go-to guy, but I would hardly call his season consistent. Graduate transfer Michael Jones has been effective at scoring within the flow of the offense, although he started the year with uncharacteristically horrific shooting numbers. He’s still shooting only 31% from three, after being better than 40% on volume in his three years at Davidson. He plays well without the ball, though.”

Jerod Haase is staring at a seventh season without an NCAA Tournament bid, and only one postseason appearance of any kind. What is the likelihood Stanford will make a coaching change in the spring?

“The Stanford administration effectively credits Haase with a tournament appearance in the COVID season, and they give him some leeway with other extenuating circumstances (past injuries, Ziaire Williams’s family issues, etc). This season has been a disappointment, though. This was considered a bubble-level team, and they have stretches of looking like one. But they’re 0-6 in games decided by 5 or fewer points, and that never reflects well on coaching.

“He has two elite recruits coming in next season in Kanaan Carlyle and Andrej Stojakovic, perhaps his best duo of any class during his tenure. Believe it or not, Haase could be back if they can end the year with some level of momentum. The AD has a particular fondness for him.”

Prediction time: Does Arizona keep rolling and complete another road sweep, or does Stanford pull off a shocker and set the stage to be a spoiler in the Pac-12 title race the rest of the way?

“Stanford has spoiled tournament odds for Oregon and Utah, and I think they hang around in this one. But Arizona simply has too much for this Cardinal team, and Raynaud struggles with physical bigs. Arizona completes the sweep.”