Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

2013-14 Arizona State Basketball Preview #2

I know everyone wants to fast-forward to Saturday's tilt with Arizona, but there's some business to handle this evening that could end up being far more important.  ASU comes to Boulder for what could be the biggest game of the week in the Pac-12, with both teams playing in desperation mode for post-season positioning.  A win for either makes for the magical 20th on the season, and, with the Sun Devils still in outside contention for a league title, a road win in Boulder could be a big step forward in that race.

Further, this is a huge game for Colorado's confidence.  They've been much better as of late, going 4-1 over their last five to salvage the season - the trick to that run, however, is that not a single win was unexpected. They've been playing to form, taking advantage of winnable home games, and beating the dregs of the conference on the road.  CU needs to prove that they are capable of more than that, and tonight's game is a good opportunity to do just that.  The Buffs may be 'favored' tonight, but the Sun Devils have had their number over the last two seasons, and a win against ASU is anything but easy.  Should CU win, they greatly improve their Tournament standing, and completely move past injury worries.

With that much on the line, it'd be a shame if BuffNation failed to show up.  The game tonight is a late tip, 9pm, but that's not an excuse.  As coach Boyle said recently, "If we want to be considered one of the best student sections in the country, which I think they want, then it doesn't matter who we play, and it doesn't matter when we play."  That sentiment goes for the entirety of the fanbase.  For the team to be their best, and for the CEC to be as intimidating a travel destination as it has been, it needs to be packed and boisterous. Get your ass to the stadium!


Tip-off from the CEC is set for 9pm this evening.  Get home early, take a nap, and make sure you are revved up for the tip, because the late hour is no excuse for a half-assed atmosphere.  For those without tickets, you can catch the action on ESPNU, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

For reference, my preview of the first game can be found here.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Avert your eyes, BuffNation, because this isn't going to be pretty...

Last month in Tempe, CU came out flat and lifeless against ASU.  They were sloppy (19 turnovers), offensively impotent (season-low 51 points scored), and generally undeserving of sharing the court with the much more invested Sun Devils.  The game wasn't nearly as close as the 72-51 final would suggest, and the evening was entirely forgettable.

'Isn't there anything positive to report from the last time these two played?' you ask. Short answer: no, there isn't.  Leave it to Coach Boyle to sum things up succinctly, "This was just a bad game overall. There was nothing we can point to that we can even look at as a positive."  See?  Nothing.
CU could do nothing to slow down the Sun Devils back in January.
The biggest problem was in the backcourt.  Starters Askia Booker, Jaron Hopkins and Xavier Johnson combined to commit 16 of CU's 19 overall turnovers.  They were woefully out-matched by the ASU pair of Jermaine Marshall and Jahii Carson, a fact so startling for a guard-oriented team like CU that they shook up the backcourt rotation the next time they took the court against Utah.

Thankfully, Colorado isn't the type of team to let an implosion like the one in Tempe ruin the season.  They took the following bye week to re-group, re-assess, and re-imagine.  The team that emerged against the Utes was no longer sorry for themselves, they were the capable Buffs we all grew to love over the last four years.  So, maybe there was a positive to be gleaned from the disaster in the desert - it forced CU to get their shit together.

The Sun Devils since then - 

They've actually been one of the better teams in the conference, but not without having to put in the work. Since late January, the Devils have matched CU's 4-1 run, but they've needed a spate of nail-biters to do so. Three of the games (all of them wins) went to overtime, with the other two decided by a total of eight points. Nervy times, indeed, in the Valley of the Sun.
ASU has been pushed, but still finds themselves in 3rd place.
Their most recent, and most impressive victory, came on Valentine's Day against the rival Arizona Wildcats. Not without its share of controversy, the double-overtime win brought the Devils into 3rd place in the Pac-12, and within outside contention for a league title.  Combined with a recent road win over Cal, it also makes them essentially a Tournament lock.  Not too shabby for a team that started league play 2-3.

The key for ASU has been their ability to get to the line.  They're first in the conference for both FTA/FGA ratio and percentage of points scored at the line while enjoying 20 more attempts than any other team in the conference.  Lead by the magnificent Carson (only OSU's Roberto Nelson has taken more than Carson this year), they make a habit of playing to contact, and using it to their advantage.  The Sun Devils as a whole don't necessarily make a lot of their free throw attempts (under 70% in conference play), but, in close games, the parade to the stripe can often make the difference.
Get to the line.  Rinse, repeat.
They've also been excellent defensively.  Second in efficiency, second in block rate, and third in defensive eFG, ASU features prominently at the top of many Pac-12 charts.  That said, they're prone to the occasional off night - 82 allowed to OSU, 78 to Cal, 91 to a healthy UofA, and 87 to UCLA.  Of course, all those teams boast a strong and deep front line, certainly better than Colorado's.  It's no surprise, as the Sun Devils only allow 53% shooting at the rim, which is very low.  Any team that can successfully attack that strength is going to have a good night against them.

Why things could be different this time - 

The previous game with ASU marked the nadir, the low-water mark of the post-Spencer period of malaise. There is almost no comparison between the Buffs of the last three weeks, and the version that flopped around against the Sun Devils.  In the five games between that injury and the bye week break, CU scored only 60 points per game (on just a hair under .9 points per possession), and looked punch drunk on their way to a 1-4 record.  In the five games since then, it has been a completely different story.  Scoring is up nearly 20 points per game (1.1 per possession), shooting is up seven points, and the Buffs have been a very satisfying 4-1.  Quite the turnaround.

Whereas guard play was so abysmal in Tempe, it has been a strength since then.  The lineup shuffle, which saw Jaron Hopkins demoted back to the 6th man role, and an ascension to starter for sophomore Xavier Talton, has worked wonders.  Right off the bat, the move allowed Hopkins to regain some of his shattered confidence.  He had been adrift in the proceeding games, turning the ball over more than he made statistical contributions.  Now, with the opportunity to, as he puts it, 'look at what they're doing offensively and get in there and try to defend as best as I can,' Hopkins is back to his confident, dangerous self.  For Talton, the starting role has allowed his game to blossom like never before.  Since the switch, he has been averaging 10 points per contest, while shooting a mind-altering 71% from beyond the arc.  *ahem*
Talton keeps shooting like this, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him carried off the court again.  From: the BDC
In that vein, I wouldn't put too much stock in the first meeting.  CU was not themselves, and, combined with a venue change and a new-look offensive attack, the chance of a repeat blowout from the Sun Devils is essentially nil.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 13-3.  Against the spread: 8-8.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +1.44 pts/gm)

Lines as of Wednesday @ 12 - CU -4 1/2

... you may have noticed a couched declaration in that last sentence. ASU still has Colorado's number, and I'm still not confident of a victory.  The Sun Devils have won the last three meetings, out-muscling the Buffs along the way, and should step into the CEC this evening like they own the place.  Further, CU will continue to struggle guarding Carson and keep him off the line, and the perimeter will, undoubtedly, still be open for Jonathan Gilling, who went 4-4 from deep last time around.  Taken into account, those considerations outweigh the improved CU offense, at least in my mind.

Give me ASU to win outright.  Damnit.

ASU 72 - CU 70



Aaron Jordan said...

Glad you were wrong dude!

2 things.

1) Technical foul on Dustin Thomas for flagrance, total bullshit or absolute crap officiating?

2) I heard you had a fan section behind you at the game, your thoughts?

RumblinBuff said...

1) both
2) security needs to be better at screening the people they allow into the donor sections