Men’s hoops faces tough pair in Baylor, Richmond

FULL SPEED AHEAD: Senior guard Jamelle McMillan looks for an option during ASU’s recent game against UAB. Just days after falling in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout, the ASU men’s basketball team gets back to the grind against Baylor Thursday and Richmond Sunday. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

There are plenty of college basketball teams that get a breather and have favorable non-conference matchups.

On the other side, there are the college basketball teams that don’t have a chance to relax during a grueling early-season stretch.

Currently, the ASU men’s basketball team is the latter.

After losing in the Great Alaska Shootout championship game last weekend, the Sun Devils only had a few days to rest, regroup and hit the road again against a talented opponent.

Ranked No. 10 in the country (11 in the AP poll), the Baylor Bears await the Sun Devils at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas on Thursday.

BU is led by senior guard LaceDarius Dunn, who has averaged 22.0 points per game after serving a three-game suspension to start the season.

ASU held Dunn to just 7 points on 3-of-10 shooting last year, which was his second-lowest total of the 2009-2010 season.

“They are so talented it is amazing,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said of the Bears. “They are long, they rebound, they block shots [and] they have one of the elite guards in the country. They aren’t ranked 10th in the country for no reason; they’re good.”

One of the Bears’ many strengths is their rebounding, which is paced by junior forward Quincy Acy (16.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game) and freshman center Perry Jones (13.0 points and 9.4 rebounds per game).

Jones is the highest-rated recruit in BU history and The Sporting News named him the best NBA prospect in the Big 12 Conference.

With some of the rebounding problems that ASU has had early on in the season, BU will present a challenge on the glass.

“They are a big, physical, long team that can definitely rebound,” ASU sophomore guard Trent Lockett said. “We are going to have to put an extra emphasis on rebounding going into this game and we’ll be fine on the boards.”

After Thursday’s road challenge, ASU’s journey doesn’t get any easier when a talented Richmond squad comes to Wells Fargo Arena on Sunday.

The Spiders made the NCAA Tournament last season and feature a talented point guard in senior Kevin Anderson, who is averaging 15.9 points per game.

“They have everyone back from an NCAA Tournament team from last year,” Sendek said. “They have one of the best point guards in the country. It is going to be another really, really challenging week for us.”

Playing quality opponents this early has helped ASU find out a lot about its team, something that Sendek thinks will benefit the Sun Devils down the road.

“We are learning the truth about ourselves at an early stage,” Sendek said. “There is nothing that is being swept under the carpet. There is nothing that is being camouflaged. We are learning the good, the bad and the ugly, very transparently, right out of the gates.”

Changes to WFA

Fans coming to Wells Fargo Arena on Sunday will notice a drastic difference.

As part of the plan to reduce capacity of the arena from 13,947 to roughly 12,000, a wall featuring pictures of former players has been set up in the upper deck.

Other than reducing capacity to get a better home court advantage feel, it will also add some color to the arena.

“It is an opportunity to dress our arena up,” Sendek said. “Not a lot has been done to our arena in a long time. It was an opportunity to brighten it and make it more pleasing. I was in favor of that.”

Injury update

A few Sun Devils are on the mend from nagging injuries suffered early on this season.

Senior guard Ty Abbott is still battling a knee injury he suffered against Alabama-Birmingham, while the others suffered their injuries in Alaska.

Senior forward Rihards Kuksiks hyperextended his elbow, Lockett injured his back after falling hard to the floor and freshman forward Kyle Cain hit his knee hard on the floor during the tournament in Alaska.

Sendek expects all to play against BU.

Reach the reporter at andrew.gruman@asu.edu