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Cal vs. Arizona State: Hey it’s the Sun Devils Again!

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Cal’s first rematch in Pac-12 play is a trip to visit Bobby Hurley and the Devils.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Oregon State Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

When: Wednesday! Tonight!
Time: 8:00 pm PT
TV: ESPNU

We’ve had a running joke this season about ‘Cuonzo gravity,’ a name for the remarkable ability of Cal MBB to impose ugly basketball upon their opponents. This can be good for the Bears, like when they make Virginia’s offense look mortal or when they choke the life out of Markelle Fultz. It can be bad for Cal, like when they can’t muster up enough offense to easily pull away from teams like Southeast Louisiana or Washington State.

Arizona St. is so extreme that they almost escaped.

Back at Haas, the Devils shot lights out on a bunch of normally mediocre jumpers for 30 minutes, but Cal matched them bucket for bucket. The Bears led 56-54 with 10 minutes left and it looked like we were in store for the ultra-rare Cuonzo game where the loser reaches 80 points in a game that doesn’t reach 70 possessions.

But nobody can break the law of Cuonzo gravity. ASU finally stopped hitting shots, Cal didn’t, and the Bears emerged with a comfortablish win.

Now they have to do it again on the road.

Personnel

Starters

PG Shannon Evans - ASU’s most versatile offensive player is particularly deadly from 3.
G Tra Holder - combo guard a reasonable shooter but his specialty is getting to the paint and finishing through contact.
G Kodi Justice - Pretty much just a stretch-the-floor shooter
G Torian Graham - one of the best volume shooters in the conference. Thankfully doesn’t do a ton else.
F Obinna Oleka - A spectacular rebounder for his size (6’8’’), his versatility is the only reason ASU can play small and be reasonable competitive.

Bench

F Ramon Vila - freshman big is a solid offensive rebounder and will get put back buckets against unaware teams. May not play enough for you to notice him.
F Jethro Tshisumpa - First team all Pac-12 name, but otherwise really not ready for power conference play. Bet Hurley wishes he could’ve given him a redshirt.

ASU is arguably the least deep team in the country. Their starters play 82.2% of available minutes. Tra Holder has played at least 36 minutes in every conference game.

The starters, for what it’s worth, are pretty good . . . on the offensive end, at least. ASU is in many ways the polar opposite of Cuonzo’s personnel and style choices. By always playing small, ASU really avoids turnovers and they earn good looks frequently. But they give all of that value back on the other end, where they can’t rebound, can’t risk fouls, and generally get crushed.

Keys to the Game

Will the same basic formula work again?

As noted above, ASU pretty much always plays small. Cal pretty much always plays big, but occasionally will play Ivan at the 5 when another team goes small and Kam/King can’t keep up.

The last time around, Kingsley played 26 minutes and keyed Cal’s crunch time run. As a consequence the Bears crushed ASU on the glass and dominated paint scoring. Will the same formula (with the added benefit of a healthy Kam Rooks!) lead to a similar result? ASU doesn’t really have any other personnel options to throw at us if it does.

Can Cal do a better job of locking up the arc?

ASU likes to shoot 3s. In a league that is more 3 point averse than average, the Sun Devils hoist 43% of their shots from downtown.

In their first matchup, Cal didn’t do a great job of denying 3 point attempts, as 40% of ASU’s shots came from deep. But the Sun Devils didn’t punish Cal, making just 7 of 24. To Cal’s credit, 7 of those attempts came from Oleka, by far ASU’s weakest threat from deep, so the game plan might have been more about preventing ASU’s guards from getting good looks. Either way it’s something to watch out for.

Does ASU have any hope on the glass?

No, probably not. ASU only managed 10 more rebounds than Ivan managed by himself. But Cal still needs to go out on the court and make it happen. Own the boards Bears!

Does Cal zone up, and if so will it help?

The Bears have been deploying more and more zone defense of late. True, in many cases it’s in response to Ivan foul trouble, which we might reasonably expect to avoid against ASU.

Conventional wisdom suggests that zone wouldn’t be great strategy against a team that likes to take a bunch of 3s. We’ll get a better sense of just how much Cuonzo trusts his zone looks in this one.

#Kod5

Just as much as ASU likes shooting 3s, they’re not much for guarding the 3 point line. Cal went 11-25 from 3 against the Devils at Haas, highlighted by a 5-8 night from Grant Mullins. If ASU does manage to turn this game into a 3 point shooting contest, we’ve got enough shooters to do damage ourselves.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Kenpom sez: Cal 74, ASU 72, 57% chance of a Cal win

You guys all totally comfortable with a slightly better than even chance of beating the 123rd ranked team in the RPI? Me neither.

I find myself feeling more confident than usual, since I typically just defer to our computer overlords. Cal beat ASU by 16 at home despite ASU shooting pretty danged well on medicre jump shot looks for most of the game. I would expect Cal’s rebounding and interior defense to travel, and so it feels like ASU will need a great night of deep shooting to win.

They’re certainly capable of doing just that. If so, it will be incumbent upon Cal’s offense to take care of business against a bottom-of-the-barrel defense, even if it means shooting well away from Haas.

I’m trying hard not to look forward, so let’s just state the obvious: this would be a great game to secure before certain games in the future. Go Bears.