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Men’s basketball seeks first conference victory

After a disappointing home loss to Cal last week in its conference opener, the Stanford men’s basketball team will hit the road this week to take on both Oregon schools in a crucial stretch for the team’s Pac-12 aspirations. A road sweep of Oregon State (8-6, 0-2 Pac-12) and No. 17 Oregon (13-2, 1-1) could do wonders to restore Stanford’s confidence early in the conference season.

(Zetong Li/The Stanford Daily)

Senior center Stefan Nastic (4) will look to use his size as an advantage against a smaller Oregon team on Sunday. (Zetong Li/The Stanford Daily)

At the very least, the Cardinal (9-4, 0-1) must come away with a split to avoid a disastrous 0-3 start to conference play, and that should be manageable given the favorable matchup with Oregon State on Thursday night in Corvallis, Ore. OSU has lost three of its last four games, including two last week against Colorado and Utah during the opening week of conference play.

The Beavers have been particularly poor in two crucial categories: defense and rebounding. OSU is giving up 73.7 points per game — just 10th in the conference — and features the worst three-point defense in the conference, allowing 37.6 percent shooting from behind the arc.

Oregon State compounds its inability to contest shots by not doing a very good job of grabbing the shots that do miss. OSU ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin. Given Stanford’s ability to shoot the three — the Cardinal ranks second in the conference in three-point field goal percentage at 41.2 percent — junior guard Chasson Randle and company should be able to shoot over OSU’s defense and grab a fair number of offensive rebounds along the way. This should translate into a high-scoring night for the Cardinal.

Despite their defensive struggles, the Beavers field a dangerous offense that features senior guard Roberto Nelson, the conference’s leading scorer at 21.1 points per game, and senior forward Devon Collier, a nightly double-double threat. If Stanford can slow down one of Oregon State’s two leading scorers and dominate the glass against the worst rebounding team in the conference, the Cardinal should be able to corral the victory in Corvallis.

Sunday’s contest in Eugene figures to be an entirely different affair for Stanford, as the Cardinal is sure to be a heavy underdog against the 17th-ranked Ducks. Led by the sweet shooting of junior guard Joseph Young and the strong interior play of senior forward Mike Moser — both transfers — the Ducks will be eager to defend their home court after suffering their first loss of the season on Sunday against Colorado.

Oregon’s high-flying attack will be a tough test for Stanford’s recently improved defense. The Ducks lead the conference in scoring with 89.4 points per game and three-point field goal percentage at 41.4 percent, and they rank second in both free throw attempts and free throw shooting percentage. Oregon has scored at least 70 points in all but one game this season, while Stanford’s defense hasn’t allowed an opponent to score 70 since an 88-67 defeat to Pittsburgh on Nov. 26 — a stretch of six straight games.

For Stanford to find success against Oregon, the defensive improvements that the Cardinal has shown over the past few weeks must prove to be sustainable. The Cardinal simply cannot afford to find itself in a shootout, or odds are Stanford will wind up on the wrong side of the scoreboard. The Men of Maples would be wise to take a page out of the football team’s book: Control the tempo and pound the ball inside. The Ducks simply do not have the size to contend with the interior scoring abilities of Stanford senior forward Dwight Powell and senior center Stefan Nastic — nobody taller than 6-foot-8 has played more than 11 minutes per game for Oregon.

Thursday night’s game against Oregon State will tip off at 7 p.m., viewable on Pac-12 Bay Area, while Sunday’s contest against Oregon commences at 2 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.

Contact Daniel Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.