For the next couple of weeks, the ASU men’s basketball team’s frequent flyer miles are about to pick up.
The Sun Devils (21-8, 10-6 Pac-12) embark on their last road trip of the regular season when they travel to Eugene, Ore., on Tuesday to face Oregon and Corvallis, Ore., on Saturday to play Oregon State.
But the traveling doesn’t stop there.
After the Oregon road trip, ASU will play in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, which starts March 12. A week later is the start of the second round of the NCAA Tournament, which ASU is almost certain to make.
While it appears the Sun Devils don’t need to do much to make their case to make the NCAA Tournament, ASU could still end up in the Pac-12 Tournament with a first-round bye, which is awarded to the top four teams in the regular season. As of Monday, ASU stands third in the conference. Winning both games this week would secure a bye.
“We’re trying to win every game,” senior center Jordan Bachynski said. “A bye would be huge because playing back-to-back is tough, especially on our team that we have guys that play a lot of minutes. To have that rest and to be fresh for the first game is huge.”
ASU faces another week when it has another unusual gap between conference games, as the Sun Devils will have three days off before it faces Oregon State on Saturday.
This time, coach Herb Sendek said the team would return to Tempe immediately after the Oregon game Tuesday. The Sun Devils had another trip two weeks ago at Utah and Colorado, where they were on the road for six days, and Sendek said he regrets making the team stay on the road in between games.
“After the three days in between the Colorado and the Utah game, our guys were just really stale,” Sendek said. “It was a long week.”
ASU’s first opponent of the road trip, Oregon (20-8, 8-8 Pac-12), is riding a five-game winning streak after starting conference play 3-8, its last loss being to the Sun Devils back on Feb. 8. The Ducks fell out of the NCAA Tournament picture throughout most of Pac-12 play, but Oregon is making a late push to get back to the Big Dance.
“They’re going to be good no matter what,” Sendek said. “They’re going to be ready to play. … Anybody that looks at their roster knows they’re one heck of a basketball team.”
The Sun Devils know how scrappy the Ducks can be. ASU had a 20-point lead at the start of the second half, but Oregon sophomore guard Joseph Young single-handedly erased the deficit for the Ducks. The Sun Devils needed Jordan Bachynski’s last-second block to survive with a 74-72 win.
“We have to do a better job on Joseph Young than we did in the second half, I can assure you that,” Sendek said. “I thought he had one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time when we held him to 29 points in the second half. Got to be at the top of our hit list.”
Oregon redshirt senior forward Mike Moser is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week after putting up a total of 32 points and 32 rebounds against USC and UCLA last week. The transfer from UNLV had 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting in the first game against ASU.
Oregon State also gave ASU a scare when the Beavers took the Sun Devils to overtime Feb. 6. Beavers senior guard Roberto Nelson had 26 points in Oregon State’s 86-82 loss.
The theme for ASU in the first set of games against the Oregon schools was the Sun Devils allowed their opponents’ best scorers to keep their respective teams back in the game. To prevent that from happening, the Sun Devils must rotate better on defense.
“(Oregon) really picked us apart in the pick-and-roll, so that’s one thing we’re really focusing in practice is how to better defend the pick-and-roll,” Bachynski said.
Matchups to watch:
- ASU redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson vs. Young. Both guards are capable of scoring in volume numbers, and they’ll have to rely on their speed to defend one another.
- ASU senior guard Jermaine Marshall versus Nelson. Marshall and Nelson are both capable of scoring anywhere on the court, but look for both Sendek and Oregon State coach Craig Robinson to use other defenders to stop the scorers. ASU senior forward Shaquielle McKissic and redshirt junior guard Bo Barnes could be matched up on Nelson while Oregon State senior forward Devon Collier could be used on Marshall.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion