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Let's give Stanford its due

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Wednesday January 24, 2001 5:06 PM


Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl answers your college basketball questions every Wednesday. Click here to send him a question.

SEATTLE -- Let's dispense with the intros, folks, and get down to business. As Ethan Ogilby of Bowdoinham, Maine, asks, "Have you read Seth Davis' Eight Teams Out? It's very interesting but still very wrong. He says Stanford won't win the title because it can't play 'varying styles.' What do you think about Stanford and its chances to win it all?"

Just tee that one up there for me, Ethan. There, like that. Perfect. As a former (recovering?) East Coast basketball writer myself, I know there's a lot of ignorance about West Coast basketball. But some of the statements made about Stanford lately have been as unintentionally hilarious as Digger Phelps.

For those of you who don't have the luxury of watching SportsCenter at 8 p.m., let's examine a few Cardinal myths:

Myth: Stanford can't play "varying styles."

Fact: While you won't see Stanford using Princeton's offense one game and then unveiling Showtime the next, what team does that? And why should it matter? What matters is that Stanford has proven it can beat teams that play different styles.

Quoth the confused Mr. Davis, "If and when Stanford runs into a quick team, it's lights out." Uh, what's Duke, then? Or Arizona? Here's my point: While it's true that Stanford doesn't have the athleticism of those teams, the Cardinal's success has come from ignoring that shortcoming, playing good defense and dictating its own style on the offensive end -- a style featuring solid passing, screening and shooting that has worked out perfectly, opposing styles be damned.

Myth: This year's Stanford team has no experience deep in the NCAA tournament. (This one comes from another ACC-addled Sports Illustrated guy, the Honorable Tim Crothers. )

Fact: Remember the 1998 Final Four, TC? In the Cardinal's 86-85 OT loss to Kentucky, three current Stanford players -- Jarron Collins (20 minutes), Ryan Mendez (11) and Michael McDonald (four) -- played in a huge game that lacked even a nanosecond of garbage time. (Why the staff let Kris Weems take 23 shots [!] -- and make only five -- is another story altogether.)

I know we forget things quickly these days, but should Stanford be considered a tournament choker just because it has been three years since it reached the Final Four? Recall, too, those "upsets" came at the hands of one team that reached the Final Four (North Carolina 2000) and another that came within seconds of making it (Gonzaga '99).

Myth: Stanford's weak link is at point guard.

Fact: The much-maligned Michael McDonald is having a splendid season at the point. I wasn't sold until recently, but this guy is legit: a classic point guard who doesn't score much but takes care of the ball.

Myth: The Collins twins are soft.

Fact: Seen Jason Collins' play in the post lately? Ask Michael Wright why he only had one rebound against the twins earlier this month. Case closed.

Myth: A team can't go undefeated in today's college game.

Fact: In my mind, the Cardinal has an even better chance of going 30-0 in the regular season than it does of winning the national title. The only real challenges left on the schedule don't come until March, when Stanford plays at USC (March 1), at UCLA (March 3) and at home against Arizona (March 8). None of those games will be as tough as beating Duke and Arizona away from Maples Pavilion.

Will Stanford win it all? Who knows? Predicting a national champion in January is an awfully tough thing to do. (Remember Cincinnati last year?) But I will say this: Stanford has a better chance (and fewer question marks) than any other team in the country right now.

Final myth: I moonlight as Stanford's p.r. guy.

Fact: Surprisingly, no. I have no relatives who go to Stanford. Mike Montgomery does not own compromising photos of me. It's just that an injustice is being perpetrated here, and it's time to lob a grenade in the opposite direction.

SINCE MY PAL Seth is busy ripping off borrowing and building on my ideas, I thought I'd return the favor. Herewith, my Hoop Thoughts for the week:

  • Though none of you bums bothered to ask, I finally got an answer to something that has been nagging me all season: When did the blocks become vestigial markings on the court? You know, the blocks -- the squares along either side of the lane that are supposed to separate the closest man to the basket from the opposing player next to him during a free throw.

    "The blocks" come up all the time in hoops conversations, usually as a geographic point on the court. As in, " Gadzuric might be good on the blocks if he didn't keep tripping over them." But while "the blocks" are part of the lingo now, they've lost their original function. Watch a game closely these days, and you'll see that guys are stepping right on the blocks, all the way to the far edge, during free throws.

    What's up with that? And in a year when preventing physical play is a "point of emphasis," why are we allowing the big lugs to rub up against each other during free throws? (When you get two sweaty giants doing it, you're in severe danger of starting a grease fire.)

    In any case, I called Hank Nichols, the NCAA's chair of officials, who told me that a rule change two years ago allowed the defensive rebounder to step on the block, the better to move him farther out from the baseline and improve his chances of corralling the board. "But now there's talk of re-establishing the block, and maybe moving it 12 inches farther up the lane," Nichols said. "I mean, guys are touching each other now."

    In fact, Nichols told me the rules committee may take up the matter at its next meeting. Which means, lacking any wars to protest, our generation has finally found a cause. Everybody chant with me now: BRING BACK THE BLOCKS! (Or at least start using them again.)

  • Had a nice conversation with Arizona's Eugene Edgerson last weekend. For all of E.E.'s comings (Get it? E.E.'s comings?) and goings from the Wildcats bench this season, he's on board for good now, and he's going to be important the rest of the way if Arizona is to make a title run. As Lute Olson explained, "What I told Gene is that his role is going to have to be like it was during the 1997 title season."

    For Edgerson, that means 10 to 15 minutes of PT a game playing behind Wright and Loren Woods, and inciting McKale Center fans into a tizzy with his overflow intensity. "I was frustrated," Edgerson told me about the two games he took off from the team two weeks ago. "To come back my senior year and only play 10 minutes just didn't seem right. But I wasn't looking at the big picture. My role is to get in and play as hard as I can, whether I'm in the game for five minutes or 15."

    One question, though, Gene-O: If you really want to look old school, why don't you add one more thing to the majestic 'fro, knee pads and Reagan -era high-tops? Two words, pal: ballhugger shorts.

  • Nobody asked about this, either, but here's my All-America team, as of today (subject to change, of course, especially if Missouri's Kareem Rush can convince Clarence Gilbert, the nation's most shameless gunner, to give him the ball a little more often):

    Jason Williams, Duke. The player of the year. (Now show some humility and quit acting like a jerk on the court.)

    Casey Jacobsen, Stanford. Money from 25 feet in.

    Charlie Bell, Michigan State. Not a highlights-at-11 kind of guy, but no player does a wider variety of things for his team.

    Troy Murphy, Notre Dame. People are starting to leave Murphy (34 and 16 against Syracuse) off their All-America lists. That's dumb.

    Shane Battier, Duke. Shaq and Kobe could take sharing lessons from Shane and Jason.

  • If you ever get a chance, take a look at Dr. Z's Mailbags. The NFL blows, if you ask me, but Dr. Z is great fun to read. Should the spirit move you, ask him to name the best bottle of wine he's ever had. (The Z-man is a wine critic in his spare time. I'm serious.)

    LAME QUESTIONS this week, folks. Don't get stuck in the doldrums of the conference season. 'Bagward we go ...

    Just wondering if you're already getting a little nervous about your Great Eight. You picked it before conference play started, and since then North Carolina is coming on like gangbusters, currently on a 12-game winning streak.
    —Matt Shaw, Raleigh, N.C.

    First, Matt, it's the Magic Eightª. Come on, now. But your question is a fair one. Those picks of Oklahoma and Virginia aren't looking real smart these days, but there's still plenty of time. As for Carolina, I'll admit it: I underestimated the Heels after their home loss to Kentucky. It's clear the Wake Forest win really turned them around, and the point-guard situation is a lot better now under Ronald Curry. Guess all those original prognostications of Duke and UNC at the top of the ACC were right, after all.

    What do you think the chances are of Kansas winning it all this year? This is a talented team that was thrashed by Wake, without Kenny Gregory and Luke Axtell, but has recovered.
    —Chris, Louisville, Ky.

    Well, KU isn't in my Magic Eight, and I still wonder about the Jayhawks getting blown out so badly at Wake. (It says something about a team's will, I would argue.) But the fact is, here's a club that has bulldozed through the rest of its schedule without much fanfare and deserves more attention. Like Roy Williams' best teams, there's not a single star on the roster, just a collection of talented athletes who know how to play with each other. We'll learn more about Kansas when it takes on Missouri in Columbia this week; winning that game would be a huge statement.

    I know that Georgetown finally lost for the first time last weekend, but do you think the Hoyas could beat the Washington Wizards?
    —Nate Ewell, Alexandria, Va.

    Good question, Nate! The NBA, like the NFL, sucks. (I live two blocks from Key Arena and haven't seen a Sonics game all year.) All I know is that the Wizards are awful, and after checking the Web I now see that Tyrone Nesby actually starts for them, which is all you need to know.

    All the same, I've always liked Rip Hamilton, so I'll give the razor-thin nod to the Wizards in the MCI Center Derby -- unless the mysterious Michael Graham is allowed to suit up for G'town and expend some of that unused eligibility.


    I had a delightful conversation on Wednesday afternoon with Ken (Mouse) McFadden, the former Cleveland State star point guard whose team upset Indiana and reached the Sweet 16 in the 1986 NCAA tournament. After playing pro ball in the CBA and the USBL, as well as in Australia, McFadden, 35, been working for 2 1/2 years in marketing and sales for the CSU athletic department.

    But what the Mouse (a former New York City playground legend) wanted to talk about most was his omission from the recent Sports Illustrated story on the history of NYC point guards. In fact, I could hear him flipping through the pages of the article on the other end of the line.

    Finally he stopped at the list of the top 40 Big Apple point men of all time, minus his name-and groaned. "Somebody didn't do their homework, Grant," McFadden said. "I'm easily in the top 40. That's a no-brainer. Jamaal Tinsley? Kenny Satterfield? Derrick Phelps? He's no legend in New York! He was a bum. He's just there because he went to North Carolina.

    "I went to my doctor not too long ago, and he gave me this magazine and said, `Hey, where you at?' So I started looking at it and said, 'You've gotta be kidding me.' I'm 35, and I could still take some of these guys right now."

    Though McFadden is currently on the shelf with a torn Achilles' heel, he still plays when healthy in a city league with eight of his old Cleveland State teammates. Just last weekend, in fact, the school inducted the 1985-86 team into its hall of fame. No fewer than 10 of the players-as well as coach Kevin Mackey, whose well-documented troubles have made him the best coach never to hit the big time -- came together for the event.

    "We had all the cameras going on Friday night," says the Mouse. "Life is so short, but you have a whole lot of great memories. That was a great team, and we must have really pissed off Bob Knight. I remember he had them practicing until the end of the NCAA tournament."

    What's more, McFadden said, he has made his peace with the nickname Mouse. "I can't get rid of it, but it helps people remember you in a certain way," he explained. "When you hear Cleveland State, you associate that with Mouse McFadden." He cackled, then promised to take me out to lunch in Cleveland next time I'm in town.

    Ken, I think I'll take you up on that. But SI's paying. We owe you one.

    Next week's WATN: Where in the world is former LSU coach Dale Brown?

    See you then.

    Click here to send your college basketball question to Grant Wahl.

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