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Arizona State is Struggling Mightily

Utah’s length gives the Sun Devils fits

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NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Was the non-conference part of the schedule as good as gets for the Arizona State Sun Devils men’s basketball team in 2017-2018? After the Utah Utes forced overtime and walked out of Wells Fargo Arena with an 80-77 win Sun Devil fans maybe asking themselves that question.

The Sun Devils came out of their non-conference part of the schedule with an unblemished record. Arizona State had a top five ranking, the saying of “Guard U” was being mentioned, a win over Xavier, a win over Kansas, and the general feeling was that Bobby Hurley had possibly turned the corner with his basketball program.

Looks like it could all be for naught in Tempe.

Doing in well in your non-conference schedule is one thing, but when Pac-12 Conference play begins it is an entirely different animal. Just like in football, the Pac-12 Conference tends to eat their own when conference play starts.

The conference is starting to swallow the Sun Devils. Teams have figured them out. Not that it was all that difficult.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

After starting 12-0 in non-conference play, the Sun Devils have squandered any type of momentum by dropping to 3-5 in league play. Really, they should be 2-5 in conference, if it wasn’t for a big comeback win over Oregon State a couple of weeks ago.

What has gone wrong? Not sure if we have that amount of time, but I’ll give it a shot.

Arizona State likes to go up and down the court. The Sun Devils want to get out in transition with Kodi Justice, Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II, and Remy Martin. It’s hard to do that when the other teams are slowing the pace down and using the press to slow the Sun Devils down.

The other conference teams are making the Devils think about how they want to go up the court when the press is on. I’ve seen the Sun Devils up close and personal and it’s apparent that they tend to get a little rattled when the press is instituted by their opponents. Arizona State can’t get into that frantic pace of play that they like to do when the opponent forces them to slow down and think about how they can attack a press.

The other aspect of this slump by Arizona State is that all the opponents are contesting the Sun Devils three point attempts. The Sun Devils can certainly knock down the open look from beyond the arc, but most teams now know that if they simply contest the three, get a hand up, the Devils percentage goes down.

If the Sun Devils are not making their three point shots, their lack of any type of consistent inside presence makes them an easy team to defend.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Sun Devils do not play inside-out, the Devils basically just play from the outside. Teams are daring the Sun Devils to pass the ball inside. Many teams in the conference have much better length and size than Arizona State.

On Thursday night against Utah, the Sun Devils got some baskets from their inside guys like De’Quon Lake and Romello White, but it partially because Utah made some bad rotations or took a chance at a steal and missed. Lake and White didn’t pose any sort of threat to Utah.

Utah had the length and size to counteract anything the Devils were going to throw at them.

Jayce Johnson, Tyler Rawson, and David Collette of Utah simply had to put their arms up and use their length to contest shots or to simply make the Sun Devils more difficult.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s face another reality here. The Arizona State guards have been figured out as well. Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II make their living from the three point arc. Defend that, and it negates them from a big game. When Holder and Evans don’t have their shots falling from the outside, they drive recklessly down the lane.

Holder and Evans usually are the ones initiating the contact in the lane. These two guys go looking for the contact. The shots they let go are wild and out of control. On Thursday night, these crazy shots were mistaken for fouls by the Arizona State fans. There were no fouls on many of these drives to the basket.

NCAA Basketball: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The refs have seen this game a few times now with the ASU guards. Most of the conference refs know what Holder, Evans, and Remy Martin are all about when going to the hoop. Referees watch film of teams, so they pick up on tendencies with players.

The Sun Devil players have to change this narrative on them. Whether they will or not is another question. Sometimes you have to look inward to get change. Time to spend some more time with the game film gentlemen.

This is just the tip of the iceberg with what is wrong with the Sun Devil men’s basketball team right now. Let’s hope the Sun Devils see the iceberg and not become the Titanic.