ASU men's basketball focused on St. John's prior to matchup against Kansas

An NCAA tournament-type atmosphere, a family battle and Mickey Mitchell's return highlight ASU heading into the weekend

Ask anyone covering college basketball if they envisioned that No. 16 ASU would be the only undefeated team in the Pac-12 at this point in the season with the fourth-highest scoring offense in the nation. Pure silence.

That type of success typically comes from Arizona men’s basketball, which has struggled early this season with a 6-3 record. The Sun Devils have managed to flip the script. 

ASU has caught the college basketball scene by surprise. They defeated a gritty Kansas State team and upset then-No. 15 Xavier to win the Continental Tire Invitational, beginning the season 7-0 for the first time since the 1980-81 season and ranking nationally for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

Many believed the invitational was ASU’s opportunity to showcase that they can compete against exceptional competition, but the upcoming weekend tests against St. John's (8-1) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and at No. 2 Kansas (7-1) will be the Sun Devils' toughest opponents to date, something head coach Bobby Hurley said they are treating like the NCAA tournament.

“... St. John's ... has the talent and the defensive mindset to be an NCAA tournament team,” Hurley said. “And, then again, if you would be fortunate enough to advance in that game, then you are looking at an opponent like Kansas that always has something to say about who advances in the tournament.” 

Despite having a nationally televised game on ESPN against No. 2 Kansas this Sunday, Hurley said his team is dialed in on St. John’s.

The Red Storm is led by sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds (20.2 PPG), who had 28 points against Grand Canyon on Tuesday night, but will be without their second leading scorer, redshirt sophomore guard Marcus LoVett (14.9 PPG), who is sidelined due to a knee injury. 

“We are going to face a team on Friday that plays with such energy and works at it on defense,” Hurley said. “We had some situations today (Wednesday) where we put a sixth defender on the court just to run around and try to trap and make it a little more chaotic because they scramble very well on defense. They rotate very well and have great athletes with length, so it's a big test for us.”

Family Reunion? Maybe, Maybe Not. 

Although St. John's and ASU face off on Friday night, the guard matchup between senior guard Tra Holder and Ponds makes the meeting between both teams more interesting – for reasons that go past basketball.

“He’s a great guard – supposedly he’s like my cousin through marriage or something crazy like that,” Holder said with a laugh. “So, it’ll be a funny little family battle.”

Holder said his father told him about the relation last year before ASU knew they would face St. John's, since he has family in New York. 

“I don’t know if he (Ponds) knows that,” Holder said. “It could not even be true, but that’s what I heard.” 

Hurley said his team is dialed in on St. John’s with Holder leading the way. He is having a tremendous year, averaging 22.1 points per game, highlighted with 40 points against Xavier that helped ASU win the Las Vegas Continental Tire Invitational. Ponds has increased his workload in absence of LoVett and figures to be the Red Storm's focal point as he was against GCU.

Allow him to re-introduce himself, his name is Mickey Mitchell

Sophomore forward Mickey Mitchell will make his Sun Devil debut on Sunday against No. 2 Kansas after sitting out last year and the beginning of this season after transferring from Ohio State. When asked what has been the toughest part about sitting out, Mitchell kept it simple.

“You just said it: sitting out.”

It is without a doubt that Mitchell is eager to return after sitting out for almost two years. Although coach Hurley and his teammates are excited about his addition, the redshirt sophomore is focused on the win/loss column.  

“I think winning is the most important thing,” Mitchell said. “So, we have to keep the 7-0 record going and stay undefeated I think."

As far as knocking off some rust, Mitchell knows he cannot worry too much.

“I really can’t even think about that,” he said. “I just need to go out there – I know how I can play. (I need to) go out there and hustle, do what I can. I am not going to try to do too much and take what they have going on right now, obviously. So, I want to keep them going – they’re hot right now shooting the ball, so we’ll keep that going.”


Game Information

2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Classic 

No. 16 ASU vs. St. Johns @ Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA

Friday, Dec. 8 at 6:00 p.m. MT

TV: Pac-12 Network


Non-conference game 

No. 16 ASU @ No. 2 Kansas 

Sunday, Dec. 10 at 12:00 p.m. MT

TV: ESPN


Reach the reporter at fcorral1@asu.edu or follow @felipecorraljr on Twitter.  

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