- Peter D. Bouloukos
Arizona State vs. Arizona: What to Expect
January 4, 2020 - Tucson, Arizona - McKale Center Tucson - 7:30pm MST - PAC 12 NETWORK Non-Conference play is complete for the entire PAC-12. Conference of Champion league play is primed to take center stage for the next two months. It is a gauntlet of traps and is a virtual minefield with talented teams top-to-bottom in 2020. For example, Colorado defeated 4th Ranked Oregon Thursday Night 74-65, and a young Utah team knocked-off Oregon State 81-69. To take it one game further, UCLA (8-6) knocked off Washington (10-4) 66-64. Anything can happen in league play. ASU will need to grind out 11-more wins between the regular season and Conference Tournament if it has a chance at a March Madness invite. It all starts tonight for Bobby Hurley and his 2019-2020 Sun Devils.
Now, the PAC-12 finished non-conference action with a 114-40 record, a huge improvement from last year’s 92-58 mark. The .740 win percentage is the best for the Conference of Champions since the 12 schools won 78 percent of their out-of-conference games in 2015. The regular season champion could be any of eight teams and the Conference Tournament could see a few upsets. Perhaps a bottom tiered PAC-12 team slips into March Madness with a strong-end of season run? Anything can happen and Saturday Night in Tucson is completely unpredictable with two teams that thus far have underachieved.
The University of Arizona Men’s Basketball Team features a roster stacked with NBA caliber talent just a year after an FBI probe couldn’t pin-down a thing on Coach Sean Miller or the Athletic Department. To take it one step further, via the Simple Rating System (SRS) the Wildcats stand at 22.07 placing them 4th in the country out of 353 NCAA Teams. Next, in Offensive Efficiency (115.0) Arizona is 5th averaging 83.7-points per game. In Defensive Efficiency they are 57th allowing 65.3-per contest and folks quite a few of those buckets have come when the outcome was long decided. The Wildcats are 22.07 points better than the average NCAA Men’s Basketball Team. Arizona State is 9.84 points better than the average team with an Offensive Efficiency Rating standing at 100.3 subsequently placing them 215th out of 353 NCAA Teams. Arizona State is averaging 74.9-points per game and allowing 67.6 and has struggled to find its perimeter touch.
With Jalen Graham questionable due to concussion protocol and Romello White nursing a high ankle sprain, the Sun Devils are thin in the middle. The Arizona State interior will have little hope of stopping 6’11” 240-pound Freshman Center, and Wildcat leading scorer Zeke Nnaji (16.5 ppg). Zeke is as athletic and agile as they come at this level. It’s going to be Defense-by-Committee for ASU and it needs to be as physical as the Sun Devils have played all season long. Senior big-man Chase Jeter (8.8 ppg) standing at 6’10” and weighing in at 230-pounds and 7’0” Freshman Christian Koloko (1.9 ppg) also outsize and outweigh the potential Sun Devil interior Saturday night. Without exception, all five Arizona State players on the floor need to be dedicated to rebounding on Saturday night. Furthermore, scoring in the paint will be no easy task for ASU but they must be focused upon attacking the rim. Six of the twelve players that could potentially play for Arizona in game one of the Territorial Cup are top 75-recruits nationally with two-more sophomores in the top 35 who are players 13-15 on the bench. Romello White (80), Taeshon Cherry (36), Kimani Lawrence (55), and Elias Valtonen (95) are the four Arizona State players rated in the Top 100 of their Class. To suggest Saturday Nights game is David versus Goliath would be a slight understatement. ASU visits the McKale Center marking the beginning of a three-game road trip to open Pac-12 play. Arizona, Oregon State, and Oregon. Now that’s a daunting start, but Coach Bobby Hurley has managed to get the most out of his team in true road games this season. Against Arizona Hurley needs 11 Sun Devils to make meaningful contributions and DIEHARD Fans can only hope Romello White is available at game-time. Look for Taeshon Cherry to be a scoring as well as a defensive presence in the Sun Devil interior.
Now, Arizona State has wins at Princeton and San Francisco. They have won four consecutive road games, tied for the third-longest in Division I. That streak includes a 72-64 victory at Arizona last March. But collectively, Coach Bobby Hurley is 2-6 against Sean Miller in his first five-years in Tempe. Versatile Freshman Point-Guard Nico Mannion possesses incredible court vision and is a true student of the game. Mannion along with another Freshman in Josh Green have effectively combined to score 28-points, grab 7-rebounds while dishing out almost 9 assists per contest. This is not to mention the length and ability of 6’4” Sophomore Guard Jemari Baker Jr. who is quietly adding over 7-points and almost 3-more-assist per game. Explosive Junior Guard Remy “Share the Sugar” Martin (17.9 pts, 3.6 reb, 4.0 assists) needs to have a complete game setting the tempo for ASU on both sides of the ball. As impossible a task as it may seem, Martin will need to be near “triple-double” numbers for Arizona State to knock off Arizona on the road Saturday. Remy is no-doubt capable and has Alonzo Verge Jr. and Jaelen House now to give him some quick breaks. Arizona State fails if House and Verge need a high-volume of shots to produce average totals. They need to pick their spots on offense, and play relentless defense. This season, Martin and Verge are more scorers than shooters. As a team, ASU is hitting just 30.4 percent from 3-point range. However, Coach Bobby Hurley was encouraged by a 12-of-25 effort last Saturday December 28th against Texas Southern. But don’t look for the Arizona Wildcats to surrender any easy long-range set shots as the Texas Southern Tigers did. Next, Arizona who was favored by 12-points, lost their last game to St. John’s 70-67. With this, Arizona State has treated St. John’s (11-2) like “Little Brother” and earlier this year soundly beat them 80-67 on November 23, 2019. The key to the St. John’s victory over Tucson-U was ball control and tempo. The Red Storm had 12-assists, moved the ball into the paint and got to the free-throw line where they shot 78.8-percent (26-33). SJU had only 8-turnovers and stole the rock from the Wildcats 9-times. This same disciplined approach would benefit Arizona State. LAST YEAR AGAINST U OF A:
Arizona State 72 Arizona 64 March 9, 2019 in Tucson The Sun Devils were 55.6-percent from the field in the second half (11-25) while holding Arizona to 27.3-percent (6-22) from the three-point line. ASU outscored the Wildcats 17-10 in final seven minutes for the road win on in the last game of the regular season. Remy Martin scored 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while Luguentz Dort had 15 points and Zylan Cheatham had 13 as the Sun Devils won in Tucson for the first time since 2010 and swept the series for the first time since 2008-09.
Arizona State 95 Arizona 88 in Overtime January 31, 2019 at The Bank
Remy Martin dropped 31 adding eight assists while Zylan Cheatham swallowed up 22 boards the most by a Pac-12 player in a league game in 19 seasons leading ASU to a huge early season victory. The Sun Devils had five players in double digits, as Luguentz Dort had 15-points with six assists, Rob Edwards 19 and Romello White 13. Arizona State shot 72.7-percent from the field (16-22) in the second half to counter U-Tucson’s 14 of 28 shooting from downtown for the game. ASU outscored UA 12-5 in overtime and held UA to 0-of-4 field goals in the extra stanza while scoring the first seven points. This Year Against U of A: Arizona is favored by 11-points with a Game Total set at 146.5. ASU has an NET Ranking of 52 currently as compared to Arizona at 20. The Sun Devils have 3 losses on neutral ground, and one at home. ASU is undefeated in true road games. This one will indeed be fun, and Arizona State will make some runs. If ASU goes “Guard U” and settles for 3’s it will be a long-long-night in Tucson for the Sun Devils. Ultimately look for this ending with another Sean Miller win over Bobby Hurley in a revenge game. But Arizona State will keep it within reach, and with great ball movement and intense defense, the Sun Devils could pull off the upset. Arizona State vs. #25 Arizona Saturday January 4, 2020 7:30pm MST PAC-12 NETWORK Arizona 81 - Arizona State 68 (149) Over 146.5
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