Pac-12 play will determine whether ASU men’s basketball is a contender

The Sun Devils need strong second-half play to have a fighting chance in tournament play

It’s time for ASU men’s basketball to reevaluate some things.

The national buzz the Sun Devils generated by starting the season 12-0 and reaching No. 3 in the AP poll at the end of 2017 has died down considerably after a 3-4 start to conference play since the new year started.

“A lot of it is teams getting used to them,” Chris Dobbertean, SB Nation resident bracketologist, said. “Xavier was a big deal. Winning at Kansas is even more impressive. People got a little bit ahead of things.”

After the torrid start to the season, the Sun Devils opened conference play with three tough road games at Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

While Colorado and Utah might not be the best competition in the conference, traveling from state to state takes a toll on players and coaches. ASU lost by nine to Colorado and only defeated Utah by three points.

Following those games, ASU has gone 2-2 with alternating losses and wins against Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford and California, respectively. 

It’s not exactly the kind of play many fans and analysts expected from the Sun Devils after the team's hot start.

“You’d think it’d be a very strong team,” Dobbertean said. “It’s a collective thing. This is a team that’s struggled a bit adjusting to conference play. This is a senior-heavy team, so (Pac-12 opponents) are more familiar with what they can do from playing them in the past.”

Three of ASU’s biggest playmakers, Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice, are seniors, so Pac-12 teams have a much easier time finding tape on how to defend them. Neutralizing the big threats makes defending the other players that much easier. 

No matter how fast-paced the offense is, Pac-12 teams are going to have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Despite the overall struggles, the offense really isn’t and hasn’t been a huge concern for ASU. 

According to Pomeroy College Basketball’s adjusted offensive rating, which calculates how many points a team would score per 100 possessions against an average Division I defense, ASU is seventh with a 120.7 rating.

When it comes to defense, however, ASU touts a much more pedestrian 101.9 adjusted defensive efficiency rating. For reference, Virginia leads the nation with an 81.5.

ASU’s defense isn’t bad by any means, but it’s going to be crucial for the offense to remain explosive through the remainder of the season to make up for inefficiencies on the defensive side of the ball. 

Every team’s goal is to compete for the National Championship during March Madness, and there’s no reason ASU shouldn’t have a spot come tournament time.

The big question surrounding the Sun Devils at this point is what seed they will have, and the answer should become clearer over the next few weeks. 

In late December, ASU was in the conversation for a potential No. 1 seed, but they’ve dropped off considerably since then. According to Dobbertean’s bracketology predictions as of Jan. 23, ASU would be a No. 5 seed if the tournament started then. 

“If they keep on struggling in the Pac-12, they’re going to probably be in that (No.) 7 or (No.) 8 seed range,” Dobbertean said. “Not a lot of teams are going to have wins like (Xavier and Kansas). They have a shot to get back to the (No.) 3 or (No.) 4 seed line.”

It’s clear the Sun Devils have the potential to do great things, but they are going to need big-time production from their leaders and quality wins against top conference opponents if they want to make any major noise late in the season.

Without a clear favorite in this year’s college basketball field, the time is now for head coach Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils to reestablish themselves through strong play during the second half of the season and show the nation why they are a tough team to beat in March.


Reach the columnist at Steven.Slobodzian@asu.edu or follow @PSlobodzianASU on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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