The Arizona Wildcats (10-3) will open Pac-12 play Saturday against the Arizona State Sun Devils (9-4), looking to avenge last season’s series sweep. Tip-off in Tucson is set for 7:30 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Network.
ASU is the No. 87 team in the country, according to KenPom’s ratings, with the No. 135 offense and No. 60 defense. It has wins over St. John’s and Georgia, but losses to Colorado, Virginia, Saint Mary’s and Creighton.
We wanted to know more about the Sun Devils before Saturday’s Pac-12 opener, so we caught up with our friends at HouseOfSparky.com.
Here is our Q&A with staff writer Jacob Rosenfarb.
What were expectations like for the Sun Devils this season, and how have they lived up to them so far?
Expectations in Tempe were mixed heading into the 2019-2020 season with so much uncertainty surrounding the team. The loss of both Luguentz Dort and Zylan Cheatham left a massive void for ASU on both ends of the floor, and while there was certainly optimism that Remy Martin and Romello White would elevate their games there were serious doubts that ASU had the depth to compete in a much improved Pac-12.
So far this season, that has mostly rung true. Martin has coupled some outstanding performances with a handful of shockingly dismal efforts, while White has been an integral part of the Sun Devil attack. Concerns about depth still exist, but guards Alonzo Verge and Jaelen House have provided a deep rotation of backcourt players at Bobby Hurley’s disposal.
What are ASU’s strengths and weaknesses?
ASU first and foremost builds their identity off of their speed. Hurley has shown an affinity for three guard lineups, emphasizing quick shots and strong transition play. In halfcourt sets, the Sun Devils like to funnel their offense through White in the post. He has shown stark improvement as both a passer and scorer and more times than not is able to produce a good shot for either himself or a teammate.
The Sun Devils have struggled this season against strong defensive teams that can control the pace. Martin has had issues against bigger defenders and will often force shots when the ASU offense goes stagnant. ASU has also failed this season to find any consistency from three point range, save for their drubbing of Texas Southern, and has had issues making teams pay for clogging the lane.
What is Romello White’s status, and how big of a loss would it be if he cannot play?
White’s status still remains very much up in the air, with Hurley coy on the severity of his ankle injury. In his latest update, Hurley called him limited and was still unsure of his availability come Saturday. The loss of White would be drastic for ASU for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, he is an important cog in the Sun Devils offensive attack as both a passer and a scorer. Secondly, ASU has little depth behind White. Freshman forward Jalen Graham has played well in limited minutes, but he is still recovering from a concussion suffered a few weeks ago. After that, the pickings become very sparse, with senior Mickey Mitchell becoming the next likely option for ASU.
Alonzo Verge has had an impressive debut season so far. What makes him special?
Verge has really come into his own after a wrist injury derailed the early parts of his season. The junior college transfer is a natural scorer with a strong feel for the game and a wide array of finishing moves around the basket. He has debatably been ASU’s strongest player over their past five games, and his presence helps ease the pressure off of Martin to be the team’s only offensive initiator.
Remy Martin’s scoring numbers have jumped this year. In what areas has he improved?
With the departures of both Cheatham and Dort, much more has been asked of Martin on the offensive end. He is the driving force behind the ASU attack, and in moments of unproductivity Martin has been the one to ignite the Sun Devils. He has shown solid improvement both finishing around the basket and in the pick and roll, and would benefit greatly by an improvement in his teammates’ shooting performances.
What are the keys for the Sun Devils in this one?
For ASU to escape with the upset, a number of factors will have to go in the Sun Devils favor. Most importantly, they will look to play the game at their pace, pushing the ball in transition and forcing UA into quick and inefficient shots. Secondly, ASU will have to continue their hot shooting from their December 28th win versus Texas Southern where they made a season-best 12 threes. The uptick in production helped ease the pressure off of Martin while balancing out the Sun Devil approach. Lastly, ASU must create chaos with their press. The full court pressure instituted by Hurley and his staff this season has helped set the tone defensively while providing a new layer to the Sun Devil strategy. If ASU can turn defense into quick offense, they have a strong chance to start their Pac-12 season off on the right foot.
I predict this game will be tight throughout, but will ultimately end in the Wildcats favor. UA is both the more talented and more desperate, coming off of two straight losses, and should come out firing in their Pac-12 opener. While both teams have struggled shooting the ball as of late, I have slightly more faith in UA to regain some of their early season success.