Just a half game up on California at 11-8 in the conference standings, the Sun Devils are one of four teams fighting down the stretch to finish in the top four and win a 1st round bye in the conference tournament.
ASU is strong defensive squad anchored by the league's best shot-blocker and probable DPOY, Jordan Bachynski.
Their switch to an up tempo offense has produced more sporadic results. They like to have hiccup-quick point guard Jahii Carson push the ball and use his penetration to score or to set up three point shooters. If their deep ball isn't falling, then it's often up to Carson to carry the team.
The blueprint for beating the Sun Devils this year has been to get Bachynksi in foul trouble, and chase their shooters off the three point line. Carson is hard to slow down, but you can force him to be a volume shooter. Most recently, the Utes kept their bigs in to protect the paint, blocked twelve shots, and held Carson to a 3 of 13 night.
Like most teams not named Cal, ASU is much tougher at home than on the road. They knocked off the Furds earlier this week and are the only other team in the nation to have upset the mighty Arizona Wildcats.
When these two teams played earlier this year at Haas, Cal squandered the rarest of unicorns; an ineptly called game in our favor. We even contrived to keep Bachynski on the bench most of the night, but still managed to let this one slip away in overtime.
It was the familiar litany of poor focus, lack of energy, and sloppy play.
We let their reserve bigs push us all over the court, did a poor job of marking their shooters, and generally let Carson run wild.
Chalk this one up to one big mental let-down. Case in point: Marshall hit an open three to send the game into overtime despite the fact that Monty told the guys exactly what play ASU was going.
For the stats enthusiasts, kenpom gives us a 29% chance. Depending on our mindset, that actually might be a little generous. For what it's worth, Cal didn't beat themselves at Arizona no matter what the scoreboard says; it was a good effort negated by a better team playing at a very high level. If our sturdy Golden Bears can come out with the same type of energy, we've a got a puncher's chance for a road win.
C Jordan Bachynski(Sr), 7'2, 248 lbs, 11.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 4.4 bpg
F Jonathan Gilling(Jr), 6'7, 219 lbs, 6.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg
G/F Shaquielle McKissic(Jr), 6'5, 200 lbs, 8.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg
G Jermaine Marshall(Sr), 6'4, 215 lbs, 15 ppg,
G Jahii Carson(So), 5'10, 180 lbs, 18.2 ppg, 4.6 apg
G/F Egor Koulechov(Fr), 6'5, 205 lbs, 4.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg
F Eric Jacobsen(So), 6'10, 235 lbs, 2 ppg, 1.7 rpg
G Chance Murray(Fr), 6'2, 180 lbs, 3 ppg
G Brandon Kearney(Jr), 6'5, 190 lbs, 2.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg
Personnel Review from our last preview:
"Jordan Bachynski broke out last year with a 9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.4 bpg season. As formidable as that was, he's even better this year and has evolved from just a shot-blocker into a scoring threat.
Jonathan Gilling plays as a stretch-four. He's a very good passer, but is also one of the top three point shooters on the team. (42% 3FG)
Shaquielle McKissic is a JuCo transfer from Edmonds Community College. (22 ppg) His jump shot is a bit shaky, but he's a capable scorer off the dribble.
Brandon Kearney is a transfer from Michigan State who just became eligible to play. Like all Tom Izzo players, you'd expect him to be tough and able to defend. Although he was expected to be their 6th man, he's been pressed into duty as a starter after Marshall went down to injury. He's not nearly the scorer, but he does offer some three point shooting. (43% 3FG)
Jermaine Marshall is a transfer from Penn State. He's been a much needed second scorer next to Carson and is by far their best three point shooter. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, he injured his groin against UCLA and the timetable on his return is unknown."
1) Get back in transition
Like all uptempo teams, the Sun Devils thrive on easy points. Carson is tremendous, but let's at least make him work for it in the half court.
2) Check the shooters
Gilling is a stretch four. He's essentially useless inside the arc, so crowd his right hand and force him to put it on the floor or give it up. Marshall is a more versatile scorer, but he's much less dangerous if you force him to drive. He's the guy you don't help off of and remember to be especially disciplined with the close-outs.
3) Hedging vs. Switching
In game #1, we insisted on switching on all screens and were flat-out destroyed by the mis-matches. A really sharp defensive team could hedge on big screens and switch on shooters. Unfortunately, our relative youth means that the defensive sets are still a work in progress. We're probably better off hedging as our default and relying on good rotations for help. Because Carson is short, he might have a tougher time passing it over Solo or Kravish. It's got to be an aggressive and committed hedge, however, because we're in trouble if the double gets split or Carson is able to turn the corner.
4) Staying Big vs. Small Ball
Ideally, our starting bigs are able to get Bachynski in foul trouble and then proceed to dominate the paint. In the ever-so-unlikely event that our post production is once again inconsistent, playing four guards with one post might be the way to go. Kreklow is a better match-up defensively on Gilling or his backup.(often another wing) Spreading the floor with more shooters is a good way to get better shots against Bachynski and their collapsing defense.
Tip-Off: Saturday, March 1st, 3pm
Television: Pac-12 Network
Radio: KGO 810 AM