Arizona State Basketball had a brutal non-conference schedule last season which included two eventual top seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Sun Devils ended up being the last undefeated team in the country while finishing those games 12-0 with commanding wins over Kansas on the road and Xavier at a neutral site. They were ranked No. 3 in the nation before their first defeat at Arizona and eventual struggle in the Pac-12.
This season, ASU’s schedule prior to their conference opener against Utah should be very difficult once again. Highlights include with a rematch against Kansas in Tempe, Nevada in Los Angeles and Mississippi State in Las Vegas.
The Sun Devils’ schedule starts off very manageable with home games against Cal State Fullerton, McNeese State and Long Beach State and a road matchup at San Francisco, who the Devils beat 75-57 last year.
In all four games ASU should be favored, but there could be a lot of shuffling and trial-and-error. The Devils will have a vastly different look than last year. Their top three scorers, Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice, have graduated, taking their volume outside shooting with them. This year the squad has more size and depth on the bench, but shooting from deep could be a lot less prominent.
Head coach Bobby Hurley’s bunch better have it together by November 19, when they participate in the MGM Resorts Main-Event/Las Vegas Games. They start that mini tournament against Mississippi State and will end it with either Utah State or Saint Mary’s, who finished last season ranked in the AP Top 25. MSU finished 25-12 last season and have returned each of their top five scorers. Sports Illustrated ranked the Bulldogs the 18th best team entering the campaign.
After that potential tough stretch in Vegas, the Devils have a couple of easier games before they take on the Wolfpack. Nevada was a surprisingly successful team last season finishing 29-8 with the 18th best scoring offense. Caleb and Cody Martin are back from that group, along with Jordan Caroline. That trio put up 50.6 points per game last year en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance.
Following the Nevada game and a two-game SEC road trip, the Kansas Jayhawks will come to Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe for their rematch. Kansas has a lot of hype surrounding their team once again, as Bill Self’s program has reloaded with a couple of strong transfers and incoming recruits. They also return dynamic big man Udoka Azubuike and regular starter Lagerald Vick.
ASU shot lights out from deep in order to secure a win at Allen Fieldhouse last December, but that will unlikely be the case this year. This year the Devils have a lot of length, with 12 players in the program standing 6-foot-4 or taller, and their emphasis on shooting from the perimeter will most likely be diminished. It will take a different type of effort to beat the Jayhawks again this year.
The Sun Devils retained their bigs Romello White and De’Quon Lake, as well as added 7-footer Uros Plavsic. 6-foot-8 wings Taeshon Cherry (ASU top recruit) and San Diego State transfer Zylan Cheatam (9.1 points per game as a sophomore) highlight the team’s cache of wing players, ending what was known as “Guard U” and turning into something like “small forward U”.
Arizona State “lived by the three and died by the three” a lot last year, mostly because of their personnel which strained their defense. This new bunch has a chance to thrive in the areas where last year’s squad failed, which should be an exciting prospect for Hurley.
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