ASU basketball look to pick up a signature win as they travel to take on the second-ranked Kansas Jayhawks at the “Phog” Sunday afternoon.
For the first time since the 1975 season, the Arizona State Sun Devils have opened with a perfect 8-0 record, being ranked 16th in the nation while standing alone at the top of the Pac-12 standings.
Right where we expected them to be.
After stringing together victories against one of the nation’s premiere defenses in Kansas State and a reigning Elite Eight squad in Xavier, the Sun Devils have shown that they deserve to be in the running for the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.
The question is, do they belong at the top?
Coming off of another strong neutral-floor performance against St. John’s Friday night, the Devils will now get a crack at one of the most storied programs in college basketball in their first true road game of the season.
Although he never made an appearance at the Allen Fieldhouse during his NCAA playing days, head coach Bobby Hurley knows what type of environment his team can expect on Sunday afternoon.
“I’m very interested to go there,” Hurley said. “I’ve played in a lot of tough places [like] Cameron Indoor, and I’ve been told that it’s every bit that, so it should be a lot of fun.”
A “fun” environment would definitely be a way to characterize it if you’re a fan of KU. During Bill Self’s 13 years as head coach, his teams have posted a record of 211-9 at home along with 12 straight Big-12 regular season championships.
Despite KU’s longevity of success, some question marks have surrounded this year’s campaign. Early season victories against Kentucky and Syracuse have recently been marred by a questionable loss against the University of Washington Wednesday.
Coming into that game, the Jayhawks had five players averaging double-figures in points, showing a well-rounded offense that shot above 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from the three-point line. With the Huskies showing flashes of both a 2-3 and a 3-2 zone, they limited Kansas to 25 percent shooting from the 3-point line, leaving just one player in double-digit scoring.
Although the Devils haven’t played much zone defense this year, Wednesday night’s matchup showed that even a team like Kansas can go cold and fall prone to hot shooting on the other end.
Being one victory away from possibly being ranked in the top-10 and making a statement as one of the premiere teams in the nation, here are three things that the Devils will have to focus on if they’re going to come away with a win on Sunday afternoon.
Pressure the Guards
This year, the stellar guard play exists within the experienced seniors of Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and breakout junior Lagerald Vick. As a trio, they’re averaging nearly 46 points and 15 assists a night, providing the engines that make the Jayhawks go on offense.
Against Washington, the playmaking ability of Graham and Newman was essentially shut down, as the pair combined for 11 points and seven assists on 4-of-14 shooting.
With players like Remy Martin and Shannon Evans that love to guard their men the full length of the floor, it’ll be imperative that the Sun Devil backcourt tries to replicate a similar performance that the Huskies put on in Kansas City. They’ll have to get up and bother the guards of KU on defense, forcing them to make quick passes and possibly create some steals for opportunities in transition.
If the Devils can force the Jayhawks away from getting set in their half-court offense, there should be a very similar result to what Kansas showed Wednesday night, which was sloppy offense and being unable to adjust to a game that wasn’t being paced at their style of play.
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Find Ways for Mickey Mitchell to Contribute
He’s back, folks.
After sitting out a year and a half due to transfer rules, sophomore forward Mickey Mitchell will be making his Sun Devil debut on Sunday afternoon.
For coach Hurley, Mitchell has been one of the most exciting additions he’s been looking to add to his team throughout the early season.
“Guys don’t want to go near Mickey at practice,” said Hurley. “He’s physical, downhill and a tough guy. We’re excited, and I know he is too.”
Since arriving in Tempe, Mitchell has made a lot of changes to his work ethic, which included dropping 25 pounds of excess weight and following a strict dietary regimen. For him, it’s all been necessary to give his best when he returns to the court on Sunday.
“It’s been a long time,” Mitchell said. “I’m going to go out there and hustle and do what I can.”
For the Sun Devils, Mitchell provides a new dynamic that could provide added depth both in the backcourt and the frontcourt. As a stretch-three, he could operate both in a small-ball and traditional lineup.
Against Kansas, unfortunately, there won’t be much time for him to try all of these things.
In order for Mitchell to have success, it’ll be essential that he stays in one role, which will most likely be running as a traditional forward alongside De’Quon Lake and Romello White. By doing so, he’ll be able to switch out with any of ASU’s three senior guards without disrupting the flow of ASU’s stout defensive presence.
Nobody has seen Mickey Mitchell on film with this squad yet; like Arizona’s victory over UCLA last season, returning a key player like Mitchell in place of Allonzo Trier could give the Devils an edge on the road.
Stick to the Gameplan
Like any game on the road, the environment at Allen Fieldhouse will be loud and rowdy, especially after coming off of a loss.
It can’t bother the Sun Devils.
Basketball is a game of runs, and realistically, Kansas will make runs that’ll be boosted by the energy of their fanbase.
The senior guards of ASU, therefore, must guide their younger players to stay the course and learn not to fall into the trap that so many other teams have fallen into over the years. With experience in a game two years ago at Rupp Arena, they have a bit of familiarity with the type of audience that’ll be on hand and how to handle it.
“You just have to stay composed,” Tra Holder said. “We got to stay together as a team [throughout].”
Poise and comfort will be able to carry the Devils to all the successes they hope to get Sunday night. With the experience they have both in their coaching staff and in their roster, they have all the pieces necessary to put together a competitive outing in the “Phog” on Sunday.
The Devils and the Jayhawks will tip off at noon MT at Allen Fieldhouse, where you can view the matchup live on ESPN.
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.