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Getting to know the Stanford Cardinal

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Previewing Wisconsin’s first Battle 4 Atlantis opponent

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 25 Wisconsin Badgers start the first of three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Wednesday afternoon as they face the Stanford Cardinal.

Stanford (2–1) enters its trip to the Bahamas after losing to No. 7 North Carolina 90–72 on Nov. 12. The Cardinal shot only 40.3 percent from the field and 31.8 percent from three-point range while allowing the Tar Heels to make over 49 percent of their field goals. UNC also out-rebounded Stanford 45–35.

What was supposed to be Stanford’s last matchup before the tournament last Friday against Wofford was canceled due to the poor air quality from the California wildfires.

Sophomore forward KZ Okpala appears to be the big name for this Cardinal squad, though another pair of sophomores in forward Oscar da Silva and and Daejon Davis also have contributed early on.

Who to watch from Stanford

  • Sophomore forward KZ Okpala: 22.7 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game
  • Freshman guard Ryan Cormac: 14.7 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game
  • Sophomore forward Oscar da Silva: 11.0 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game
  • Sophomore guard Daejon Davis: 10.7 points per game, 11 turnovers through three games

To help us break down the Cardinal, Rule of Tree’s Grant Avalon answered our questions.

Stanford comes into the Bahamas with a 2–1 record, with its last game canceled due to the air quality from the California wildfires. It is an extremely small sample size, but what have been your overall impressions of the team so far?

This team is incredibly long, athletic, and versatile. Jerod Haase has transitioned from playing through traditional post players (like Reid Travis) to a perimeter-oriented offense, predicated on getting slashers like KZ Okpala and Daejon Davis to the rim. In their two victories, Stanford lived at the free-throw line. Carolina’s elite athletes were able to neutralize this fairly well, and the game wasn’t called particularly tight.

Defensively, Stanford is able to switch most anything, and guys like Oscar da Silva and Okpala can lockdown 1–4. True post players are likely to feast against them, though. Josh Sharma starts at the 5 and can’t seem to stay on the court. He’s backed up by a host of inexperienced big men.

Sophomore forward Okpala leads the team in scoring (22.7 points per game) while also contributing over seven rebounds a game. What stands out about his game, and who else should Wisconsin fans know about on Wednesday?

He’s an extremely gifted slasher and finisher. His handle is surprisingly tight for someone with his length, and he maneuvers well in traffic. For as much as he spins and forces his way into the paint, he’s nearly always under control. KZ can also take an elite guard out of the game, if he puts his mind to it. He was already the best stopper on the roster as a freshman.

Daejon Davis broke Brevin Knight’s freshman assist school record last year, and can break out at any moment. Cormac Ryan hit his first five threes of his college career, and will have his number called a bunch. He’s as good a shooter as you’ll see in the college game. But ultimately, this is a roster with a lot of interchangeable parts.

Where has Stanford excelled early on, and where could Wisconsin potentially expose the Pac-12 squad?

Stanford has gotten into the paint well thus far. They’ve also been really aggressive in passing lanes. Well-coached teams like UNC can take away both of those, to an extent.

Okpala seldom creates for others on his drives, so if Wisconsin can collapse and retain verticality, they have a shot to slow him down. The Badgers could also potentially own the offensive glass in this game, and keep Stanford out of transition. On offense, they should look to hit Stanford with some back-door action to keep the rangy defenders more honest. They might be able to expose the Cardinal front court, too, if they remain dedicated to playing through the post.

How far do you see Stanford advancing in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament?

This is an unpredictable Stanford squad, in part due to having five freshmen and six sophomores. I think getting two wins in any order would feel pretty good for the Cardinal, which seems attainable.