ASU MBB: Exhibition Takeaways

Mar 5, 2016; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley coaches against the California Golden Bears during the first half at Wells-Fargo Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2016; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley coaches against the California Golden Bears during the first half at Wells-Fargo Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

After a 240 day hiatus, Sun Devil basketball came back in a big way Thursday night with a 98-53 exhibition victory over UC Santa Cruz.

Despite a slow start, ASU’s defenisve intensity allowed them to pull away from the Banana Slugs well before the first half came to a close.

Notably, six players took the floor for ASU for the first time Thursday night with expected growing pains.

Here are my three takeaways of the exhibition game:

1. Torian Graham is a spark plug off the bench

Putting together a top-25 recruiting class headlined by four-star prospects Sam Cunliffe, Jethro Tshisumpa and Romello White and the regained eligibility of former Buffalo standout Shannon Evans II allowed Graham to fly under the radar.

Once a top-50 recruit in the country, Graham has bounced around but looks to have a found a home in Tempe. He checked in off the bench with 15:34 left in the first half and his presence came with an immediate improvement in intensity and pressure on the perimeter.

While he started off 1-7 from the floor, once he found a ryhthm  in head coach Bobby Hurley’s up-tempo offense it was very difficult to contain him. Graham led all scorers in his Sun Devil debut with 23 points on 9 of 16 shooting with five three pointers.

When he plays in control, Graham has the potential to be a consistent spark off the bench and possibly work his way into the starting five.

2.  ASU’s big men need to mature quicker 

The Sun Devils opened the exhibition with a starting five of Tra Holder, Evans, Kodi Justice, Cunliffe and Obinna Oleka. This unit ran multiple plays with the four guards around the arc but Oleka was inching out to shoot jumpers, leaving no one under the rim.

Defensively, UCSC grabbed a handful of offensive rebounds despite having no one taller than 6’7″ on the roster. When Ramon Vila came off the bench, there was a new dynamic to this team. Guards found easier shots and Vila eliminated second chance opportunities for the Banana Slugs.

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There were also a few instances where Hurley had two of his three bigs on the court between Tshisumpa, Vila and Andre Adams.

The liability of putting defensive big men on the floor for too long is that Adams is still recovering from an ACL tear that sidelined him in 2015 while all three lack an established offensive game.

Hurley has offensively skilled bigs in Romello White and Vitaliy Shibel but both will not play as White will sit with an academic redshirt and Shibel tore his ACL.

As Tshisumpa, Vila and Adams develop on the offensive end, this team will only benefit.

3. This is still Tra Holder’s team

It was previously mentioned that many new players suited up for the first time against UCSC. However, Tra Holder is still the leader of this team.

The growth he has made from his early days with Herb Sendek show in his play under Hurley.

Offensively, his shot has improved exponentially. He is confident in taking aggressive drives to the hole but can convert from 16 feet out or long-distance.

Holder might be one of the smaller players on this team but is without question one of of the most tenacious.

While trailing in the opening minutes, Holder took over and scored a majority of his 15 points in the opening half of the first half, finishing with five baskets on eight shots.

His decision making as a passer still leaves something to be desired but between having Evans II on the court with him while learning under Hurley, it is apparent that Holder will be fine.

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On the defensive end, he is persistent in handling difficult assignments. Holder showed his quick hands by picking up two steals but he needs to be a vocal leader. There were several miscommunications defensively with Holder on the floor. It was often a double team with the wing not closing out on an open shooter.

Despite all of the talent around him and having only played an exhibition, Holder has shown that he is ready to lead this team.

Now, ASU will have a week to prepare for its season opener against Portland State on Nov. 11.