Licking their wounds, the Buffs left NorCal bemoaning of opportunities lost. Coach Boyle was even driven to call his team "mediocre." However, as I discussed Tuesday, I think everything was blown out of proportion by the disheartening second-half implosion against Stanford. For 7/8ths of the road trip, the Buffs evenly competed with the best the conference has to offer. While that might not be the most daunting of comparison points this season, it's still the standard by which the Buffs should be considered.
I'm not looking for moral victories, I hate moral victories, but I don't see losing two games on the road against good competition as a sign of doom.
With that in the team's rear-view, its back to the friendly confines of the CEC. A little home-cooking tends to cure what ails the Buffs, and I'm sure the team will be eager to wash the memories of that frustrating road trip away. First-up: the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Tip-off is awkwardly scheduled for 6:30 MT. Being the first game held after winter break, I expect the returning students (you were sorely missed) to create a feisty atmosphere. If you're in the area, you'd do yourself a favor by getting up to Boulder and experiencing it first hand. If you absolutely can't make the trip, you can still watch the action on ROOT Sports. Radio coverage is set for 760AM.
Click below for the preview...
Opponents season so far -
In the wake of three straight 20+ win seasons from '08-'10, the Sun Devil program has seen some serious setbacks. Departures have stripped the program of much of its talent, and replacements have been hard to come by and maintain over the past two seasons. With incoming freshman Jahii Carson ruled ineligible, and the dismissal of then-leading scorer Keala King, there really isn't much left in Tempe this season to speak of.
ASU is a lousy 18-30 since being upset by Jacksonville in the first round of the 2010 NIT. Sitting at 6-11 (2-3) on the year, with the bulk of conference play left ahead of them, even in the weak Pac-12 it would take a hoops miracle for them to make post-season play. It looks like another lower-table finish for the program.
This season has exuded the problems associated with the recent down-turn. They're a shockingly bad 3-7 at home, although their win from last weekend over Oregon St isn't too shabby. Turnover issues, both causing them and allowing them, plague the team (they turn it over nearly 17 times per game), and highly efficient shooting stats (23rd nationally in eFG) are offset by low rebounding numbers, weak perimeter defense, and a slow pace of play.
|The win over struggling Oregon St is the lone bright spot on the year for the Sun Devils.|
On defense, the Sun Devils utilize a match-up zone, and do a good job limiting good looks from inside the arc. The Buffs have looked better of late against the zone, especially as outside shooting has heated up, but it's still something to think about going in.
Coming to Tempe in '06 from NC State and the shark-infested ACC waters, high school valedictorian and Carnegie-Mellon graduate Herb Sendek was riding a string of 5-straight Tournament appearances. After a loss-heavy first campaign, he righted the ship, reeling off a 3-year combined record of 68-34 while taking ASU to the second round of the Tournament in '09. Buoyed by talent like James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph, it appeared the often forgotten ASU program had found some strength that could be built upon.
|It was all smiles for Sendek... for a while, at least.|
Even one year without post-season play is not normal for Coach Sendek. Throughout his 18+ seasons as a head coach he's only seen three of them end immediately after the conference tournament. Still, there's no doubt that the denizens of Sun Devil Nation were expecting the good times to continue to roll. He's well respected amongst the coaching ranks, but, without a late-season turnaround, ASU may use the opportunity provided by the influx of Pac-12 cash to chase in some fresh-blood to lead the program.
Star Players -
Without the presence of the freshman spark-plug Jahii Carson, or the departed point guard play of Keala King, the title of "offensive leader" on the squad remains with 6-4 junior Trent Lockett. Coming into the year, he was the only returning Sun Devil who had averaged more than 5.4 points the previous season. This year he's continued to improve his outside jumper, and is an integral part of the ASU offense. He provides 14/6 each night, while shooting 55% from the floor (42% from deep) with an eFG near 60%. Lockett also turns the ball over more than three times per night.
|Lockett is the undeniable leader of the remaining Sun Devils.|
At the end of the ASU bench are two towering 7-footers who rarely see extended action. Both imports, the 7-0 Ruslan Pateev (from Moscow) and the 7-2 Jordan Bachynski (from Canada) combine to see 28 minutes and contribute 7 points and 5 rebounds each night.
|Unconfirmed image of Pateev during a short-lived boxing career.|
While getting drunk with the roommates last night, the conversation eventually turned to Buffs basketball (coincidentally, about the same time I began to bring up the topic of Buffs basketball). The general consensus about tonight's match-up with ASU is that "we're going to win the fuck out of basketball."
Drunken ramblings aside, I do feel that CU should have no problem with the Sun Devils tonight. Both Vegas and Kenpom like CU by just under 10 points, and the Sun Devils have yet to impress me to the point that I would seriously consider them upset material.
It should still be interesting. They'll try to slow the game down with Princeton and zone, but the Buffs have done a good job over the past month utilizing their speed at altitude to break out of slow pace issues. Additionally, as Thorburn brought up yesterday, "Arizona State has shot 55.1 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point distance over the last four games." That's some seriously lights-out shooting, especially within the confines of conference play. Particularly since Coach Boyle focuses so much on opponent shooting percentage, it'll be important to watch.
Since the start of conference play, even including the defensive break-down in Palo Alto, the Buffs are holding opponents to 37% shooting. Should CU hold the Sun Devils even to just the low 40's, Coach Boyle will be afforded an opportunity to empty his bench towards the end of the game.
I'll give the points, and take the Buffs minus -9.5
CU 74 - ASU 62
GO BUFFS! BEAT THE SUN DEVILS!