Coming off of their sixth loss in 10 games, No. 25 ASU basketball will look to right the ship Sunday before their most difficult stretch of the season.
Who would have guessed this would be happening?
After starting the season 12-0 and being ranked as high as third in the AP Top 25, it seemed that the Sun Devils would be a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament.
Now, those chances are quickly dwindling, as Thursday’s loss against Washington once again denied Bobby Hurley‘s squad of picking up their first victory in the front end of a conference week this season.
With eight games to go in league play, the Sun Devils (16-6, 4-6 Pac-12) now face a situation where they could find themselves sitting on the bubble on the day of Selection Sunday.
Thankfully, they just may have found the perfect opponent in the midst of their latest defeat.
The Washington State Cougars (9-12, 1-8 Pac-12) are currently ranked last in the conference standings, showing struggles to find consistent tempo on both ends of the floor. After starting the season 6-0 and winning the Wooden Legacy Tournament, the team hasn’t been able to overcome their recent defensive struggles, being ranked dead last in scoring defense in Pac-12 games at 81.2 points per game.
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The Cougars gave up 100 points against Arizona on Wednesday, allowing the Wildcats to shoot 62 percent from the field and 59 percent from the three-point line. Their core of Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins and DeAndre Ayton combined for 65 in the victory.
For a Sun Devil team that predicates itself on a high-scoring, fast-paced offense, Sunday’s matchup could provide a chance for both starters and role players to find some confidence against a struggling defensive unit. Since shooting above 50 percent from the floor eight times in non-conference play, the Sun Devils have yet to shoot above that mark in league play.
The Cougars are led by sharpshooting wing Robert Franks, who has scored above 20 points in nine games this season. Against Cal last month, Franks converted on 10-for-13 of his three-point attempts, nailing shots both off of the catch and the dribble.
Franks’ offensive output is complemented by Malachi Flynn, a 6-foot-1 sophomore who has shown to provide consistency at the point guard role. Flynn is averaging 2.6 three-point makes per game while dishing out four assists per contest.
The Cougars, much like the Sun Devils, have had trouble dealing with the size of some of their conference opponents. They currently rank 11th in the conference with a -4.0 rebounding margin, just behind ASU at the 10th spot.
With the matchups on the interior holding no particular advantage for either team, expect Hurley to encourage both De’Quon Lake and Romello White to impose their will by crashing the offensive glass. Finding confidence on the low block will be essential for an ASU team that has been beaten up by all types of big men in the conference.
As USC, UCLA and Arizona get set to come to Tempe in the next two weeks, the Sun Devils will look to find a spark on Super Bowl Sunday to light a fire for a strong end to the conference season. According to most bracketologists, the Devils will have to secure wins in five of their last eight games and a victory in the conference tournament to lock down a NCAA Tournament bid.
It’s safe to say that the panic button has been activated. Now, the Sun Devils will have to use the month of February to find a rhythm and get back on track before postseason play. Sunday afternoon’s game will be that first test.
Tip-off between the Sun Devils and the Cougars will be at 2 p.m MST where you can catch the game live on ESPNU.