ASU men’s basketball will make a deep NCAA tournament run

Guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II will lead the Sun Devils back to March relevance

ASU men’s basketball is back and better than ever. ASU is positioned for success, and fans should expect to see their Sun Devils playing and winning games on the highest stage: the NCAA tournament next March. 

The team is off to a 6-0 start, is first in the Pac-12 conference and has the depth and talent to compete for the Pac-12 title as well as get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014.

With Arizona, USC and UCLA all ranking in the top 25 at the beginning of the season, it was easy to overlook ASU — but the Sun Devils' hot start, highlighted by a 16-point win against Xavier in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational championship game, has caught national attention. 

The offense, led by senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II, has looked tremendous so far this year, scoring at least 90 points in every game, including 102 against Xavier.

Holder and Evans II have complemented each other nicely in the backcourt, with Holder averaging 23.3 points per game and Evans II scoring just under 20 per contest.

“The execution level has been really impressive,” Jon Wilner, sports writer at the Mercury News and author of the Pac-12 Hotline, said. “Usually, defense is kind of ahead of the offense with a lot of teams, but ASU is humming (offensively). It helps to have experienced guards who are skilled and can shoot.”

Compared to the other top Pac-12 teams (Arizona, USC and UCLA), ASU has been superior, but the aforementioned schools should not be taken lightly. 

Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton was arguably the top high school player a year ago and is only going to improve as the season progresses. USC and UCLA have talented rosters, as well. 

One major thing all those schools is dealing with that ASU is not is off-court legal issues.

Both USC and Arizona are part of the Department of Justice’s investigation regarding fraud and corruption within their basketball programs, and UCLA is sorting out the stealing incident involving LiAngelo Ball and two of his teammates in China earlier this month. 

All this bodes well for Sun Devil basketball.

While those schools are handling their issues and trying to play elite basketball, ASU can play solid games now and compile wins to build its resume heading into the spring. 

“The fact that ASU doesn’t have a major off-the-court issue is going to help them in terms of maintaining their positioning,” Wilner said. “I would not be shocked (if they won the conference). They look like they’re a top-three team. They’re doing what you have to do.”

Of the six wins ASU has this season, three were against quality opponents. The NCAA tournament selection committee prioritizes quality wins, and ASU’s victories against San Diego State, Kansas State and Xavier could help them immensely in March.  

It is wishful thinking to believe ASU is on the same level as a powerhouse like Duke or Kentucky, but the Sun Devils catapulted to No. 20 in the most recent AP poll and have set themselves up for success. 

A critical matchup against Kansas on Dec. 10 and conference games against Arizona, USC and UCLA later in the season will test ASU and show how they compete against elite opponents; but with Holder and Evans (II) leading the team, there’s no reason to think they can’t maintain their spot in the top 25 for the remainder of the season. 

“(College basketball) is a guard’s game, and there’s no substitute for elite guards,” Wilner said. “(Holder and Evans II) need to make shots and create opportunities for everyone. (ASU is) going to be a team to be reckoned with (if that happens).”

There are still a lot of games left to be played before March Madness, but ASU is on track to be one of the 68 teams competing for the title come tournament time. 

If head coach Bobby Hurley continues pushing the right buttons, ASU will have no problem making the tournament and will be a tough team to knock out. 

Time will tell, but ASU basketball is destined for a deep tournament run this year. 

Reach the columnist at 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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