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Cal-Arizona St. Hoops Preview: Battle for First in the Pac

The big question for our matchup tonight with the Sun Devils is what style of basketball will triumph tonight--Cal's up-tempo and speedy offense, or Arizona State's nightmarish, matchup zone, defensive grindfest?

Team Oeff Deff Tempo eFG% TO% Off Reb % FTA/FGA
Cal 117.6 (7) 93.5 (66) 70.9 (50) 52.7 (48) 17.8 (39) 35.9 (69) 36.0 (212)
ASU 110.8 (46) 89.2 (25) 62.5 (332) 53.9 (24) 18.6 (72) 29.6 (283) 40.5 (102)

(Stats courtesy of Pomeroy)

The Bears and Devils split the season series last year, and those Sun Devils featured the two most talented players on the court in James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph (who are both playing plenty in the NBA this year). However, despite the lack of big names, ASU still remains one of the toughest teams to beat in the conference, especially at home. The Sun Devils are 11-2 in Tempe, with those two losses coming to a good Baylor and a solid Arizona squad. After getting smarted at home by the Wildcats, no doubt the Devils will be motivated tonight to get after the Bears. Herb Sendek will have them ready, as he guns for Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors.

I should emphasize this is our TOUGHEST ROAD GAME of the season. Arizona State is playing exceptionally well on both sides of the ball and are the second likeliest team behind the Bears to win the Pac-10. If we win here, it's a BIG victory. If we lose, our rematch with them at Haas enters must-win territory to have any shot at capturing the conference crown. And we are expected to lose.

We delve into individual matchups and see how exactly the Bears and Devils matchup on the hardwood.

Individual matchups

Big man: Eric Boateng (63.3 eFG%, 63.0 true shooting %, 62.2 FT rate, 12.9 offensive rebound %, 18.6 defensive rebound %)

Golden Bear he's matching up with: Because of MSF's injury, Jamal Boykin will meet his old Duke roommate in the paint tomorrow night.

"Eric's like a brother to me," said Boykin, now a senior at Cal. "We still talk all the time."


"I am looking forward to it," Boateng said. "We are great friends and it should be fun. He was a very good roommate. I don't have any dirt on him. He always brought a lot of energy to the room."

Boykin will have his hands full--Boateng is one of the most efficient big men in the country, and looks like he'll only get better with time and development. Keeping him off the boards might be a tall task for the smaller power forward--you could see Cal put in Max Zhang for extended periods, just to provide some size down low to try and make his shots tougher to hit. Unfortuantely Zhang fouls a lot too, so we could see a parade of Boateng to the free throw line.

Point guard: Derek Glasser (81% of minutes played, 111.3 offensive rating, 56.5 true shooting %, 32.8 assist rate, 50.0 FT rate

For all the pub Randle has gotten leading the Bears as a floor general, Glasser is the true point guard of the conference in terms of dishing the ball. He'll never be a great shooter (only 47.3 eFG%), but he shoots well from downtown (39.3%, about the same as Jerome), has an outstanding assist rate, and makes his free throws (90% this season). Not a better player than Randle of course, but for his role with the Devils, he works just fine. It'll be interesting how these two play, with Glasser likely to take advantage of his size to get dribble penetration and find open shooters.

After the jump, come learn about the "next LeBron." Yeah, you heard me.

Scorers: Rihards Kuksiks (75.8% of minutes played, 117.7 offensive rating, 25.9% of shots taken, 57.7 eFG%, 60.6 true shooting %, 39% 3 point shooter, 11.8 TO rate)

Theo Robertson better be prepared to guard the perimeter, because Kuksiks is easily ASU's best outside threat on the court. He takes the majority of the 3s and is very very good (similar to Theo's numbers from downtown). You could probably say his lone responsibility on the floor is to shoot.

Ty Abbott (110 offensive rating, 26.2% of shots taken, 14.6 TO rate, 41% 3 point shooter)

Not quite deadly a shooter as Kuksiks, but still, Christopher has to be wary of leaving Abbott wide open. He's about as efficient as Kuksiks and gets plenty of looks based on the shot percentage. It's interesting that both Arizona State and Cal seem to predicate their offense on getting open jumpers, and both seem to shoot the 3 exceptionally well. Screen setting, dribble penetration and perimeter defense are probably the big keys to whoever wins this one.

Jamelle McMillan (118.4 offensive rating, 57.7 eFG%, 58.7 true shooting %, 24 assist rate, 15.5 turnover rate, 2.7 steal %)

McMillan seems to be the second primary ballhandler, so look for Jorge Gutierrez or Nikola Knezevic to lock in on him if he the Devils deploy a two point guard look with Glasser and McMillan. Also, he seems to be a pretty good pickpocket, so Randle might see McMillan either guarding him or intercepting his passing lanes.

The next Lebron? Demetrius Walker. He's only a frosh, but that's what people have been touting about him since he was 14.

Team California, Demetrius Walker's AAU squad, hasn't lost a game in 21/2 years--that's 160 straight wins, including last year's AAU championship for boys 13 and under. Most of Team Cal's games are against high school teams, and even in those matchups Demetrius looks like, well, a man among boys. Forget the smooth way he strokes the J, the ease with which he draws contact on the drive and then goes to the line and converts, the crisp chest passes, the 360-degree dunks, the first step so fast it once caused a defender to slip out of his Nike. Instead, check this highlight from the championship game of an AAU tournament at Rialto High on Nov. 21: On a two-on-three break against a high school squad from Lake Elsinore, there are three defenders between Demetrius and fellow eighth-grader Rome Draper, apparently obstructing every conceivable passing lane, but D throws a bounce pass that vanishes into the welter of arms and legs before reappearing in Rome's hands, its arrival so surprising that he bobbles the rock for a second before laying it in. "You can't teach that," says Keller, who in addition to his coaching duties is a talent scout, earning a six-figure compensation package from Adidas. "I've never seen any kid that age do what D can do." Keller should know: He's worked with dozens of players who have gone on to the NBA, including, most recently, Chicago Bulls center-forward Tyson Chandler, Atlanta Hawks guard-forward Josh Childress and Charlotte Bobcats forward-center Jamal Sampson. "I've never seen a combination of speed, size and coordination like this kid has," Keller says.

Four years later? Well, he's shooting 28% from the field, 64% from the line, has a 91.3 offensive other words, he's developing. We'll see where that gets him, but hopefully if he gets going, Jorge will be able to handle him. He's done some decent damage in conference play and he could see the ball plenty if no one on ASU gets going, so watch out.