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Previewing ASU: Part 2

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Looking at the (presumably) less felonious side of the desert road trip

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

When: Thursday, 6:00 pm
TV: ESPNU

Boy, what does it say about the Pac-12 that Arizona State went 12-0 before conference play with wins over Xavier, Kansas St. and Kansas, only to enter the final weekend of Pac-12 play with a record of 7-9? The conference must be legit this year!

Not so much, of course. ASU managed a perfect non-conference schedule by riding a scorching offense fed by crazy shooting. In the games listed above, the Sun Devils shot 31-66 (47%) from three, riding hot shooting to some big wins.

But hidden by all of that lights-out shooting was a decidedly mediocre defense. And much of ASU’s 7-9 conference record can be explained by shooting regression - the Devils have only made 33% of their triples in conference play, costing them dearly in narrow losses to Colorado, Washington, and Arizona, amongst others.

Does this matter much against Cal? Probably not. ASU actually had their single best 3 point shooting performance of conference play against our Bears at Haas (because of course) in a game that Cal kept close-ish behind a big scoring game from Marcus Lee. Playing in Tempe will only make things tougher in a game that ASU absolutely must have to keep their tenuous NCAA hopes alive.

Roster

Starters

G Shannon Evans - Doesn’t have the slasher/finishing skills of Holder, but a reliable shooter/handler
G Tra Holder - His talent is maintaining the same level of efficiency as his teammates despite carrying a heavier offensive burden
G Kodi Justice - A bit more selective with his shooting than ASU’s other guards
F Mickey Mitchell - He’s basically in there to rebound, finish easy buckets, and stretch the floor, and he does that well enough.
F Romello White - solid rebounder for his size, and the main beneficiary of playing with a bunch of willing-to-pass combo guards.

Bench

G Remy Martin - 4 star recruit is like a slightly more turnover prone version of Evans. As smooth as the cognac he’s presumably named after?
F De’Quon Lake - athletic finisher/dunk monster struggles with fouls and defense, limiting his minutes.
F Kimani Lawrence - 4 star recruit missed first half with foot injury, minimal impact since return.
F Vitaliy Shibel - Limited minutes, shoots rarely, weird statistical profile. Shoots 4x as many 3 pointers even though he rarely makes them?

The players that really matter here are Evans, Holder, Martin, and Justice. Those four guards play every minute available at the 1, 2, & 3 positions, and ASU will even occasionally play with all four of them on the court. They take 73% of ASU’s shots, 83% of ASU’s assists . . . you get the point. It’s a guard oriented offense. And they are all remarkably similar statistically. It’s a pick-your-poison kind of offense.

Romello White is the only big who offers a consistent offensive threat, though De’Quon Lake is an efficient finisher in limited minutes. In the end it’s about how well teams can defend ASU’s collection of guards and wings.

Keys to the game

Another huge game from Marcus - ASU is undersized, and Marcus took advantage of that at Haas with a 10-13 performance that saw him draw a ton of fouls. ASU doesn’t really have anybody that can defend him without fouling, and Cal will need him to run wild again to have a chance at the win.

It’s also worth noting that Cal oddly didn’t do much on the offensive glass. Look for a better effort on that front from Marcus as well.

Keep the Devils off the line

ASU is both good at drawing fouls and good at making free throws, which they demonstrated ably enough by going 13-16 at Haas. Beyond the short term necessity of keeping Marcus Lee out of foul trouble and terrorizing ASU’s undersized front court, Cal can’t afford to send a parade of Devils to the line.

Is ASU going to miss shots, and can Cal do anything to cause bricks?

The first time around, Cal did reasonably well inside the arc but got torched on 3 pointers, and that earned ASU a comfortable win despite one of Cal’s better offensive performances of the year.

Cal probably won’t be putting up the same level of offensive performance on the road, and ASU’s elite ball handling means that forcing turnovers isn’t really a viable strategy for Cal’s defense. That means that something is going to have to cause ASU to miss shots. Whether that’s some kind of improved defensive performance or just random luck, Cal will need it.

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Kenpom sez: ASU 87, Cal 68, 4% chance of a Cal win

This isn’t quite ‘so you’re telling me there’s a chance!’ territory, but we’re not that far off either.