Opinion: ASU will need Romello White to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament

White has been the secret key to ASU's success this season

As ASU men's basketball nears the end of conference play and gets closer to the Pac-12 tournament, the Sun Devils hope to make their first March Madness appearance since 2014. While ASU appeared to be a strong tournament contender during its undefeated non-conference start, the Sun Devils have since cooled off. 

While ASU's performance dip can be attributed to other factors such as poor shooting, the performance drop in starting forward Romello White hasn't helped.  

After sitting out his first season in Tempe, White has now become ASU basketball's most important player in his first season as a starter.

At 6-feet-9-inches, from Marietta, Georgia, White, a redshirt freshman, was ranked as the 77th best player in the country by ESPN for the class of 2016.

During non-conference play, White was a force down low. The center averaged 14.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest while shooting just under 70 percent from the floor.

On the defensive end during that stretch, White was an effective rim protector and anchor in the paint for the Sun Devils, averaging 5.2 defensive rebounds a game.

The big man’s strong play from inside helped propel ASU to the No. 3 ranking in the nation as the Sun Devils went undefeated in non-conference play.

Since conference play began, White and the Sun Devils have cooled off, with ASU sitting at 7-7 against Pac-12 opponents

Although White is not solely responsible for ASU's performance dip, the Sun Devil big man's play is a big reason as to why ASU has struggled as of late.

Since the start of Pac-12 play, White is averaging only 9.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, a significant drop-off compared to how effective he was at the start of the year. 

Basketball writer for The State Press, Felipe Corral Jr., said some of these issues could be attributed to discipline and foul trouble.

"Discipline is still his biggest weakness," Corral Jr. said. "He is still finding himself on the bench due to his lack of discipline and fouling."

As a rim protector and defender, White has not been reliable against Pac-12 opponents. White and the other Sun Devil big men have allowed multiple double digit scoring performances from the likes of UCLA's Thomas Welsh, Washington's Noah Dickerson and USC's Nick Rakocevic, to name a few.

However, ASU’s fall in the polls during conference play is not all due to White's performance. The Sun Devils are only shooting 33.7 percent from three-point range and are giving up 77.6 points per game against Pac-12 teams.

Since ASU is one of the shortest teams in the nation, the Sun Devils need the physical presence of White inside if this team wants to make it to the NCAA Tournament.

White’s fellow big men, junior forward De’Quon Lake, sophomore forward Mickey Mitchell and redshirt freshman forward Vitaliy Shibel do not bring the physical aspect of the game that White brings to the lineup.

Lake has some strength inside but is still a center who mainly relies on his length and athleticism. Mitchell is a ball-handling and passing power forward and is not known for his rebounding abilities and Shibel is a three-point shooting big man who spaces the floor on the offensive end.

White is the only player in ASU’s front court who uses his strength as his main attribute in a game.

"White's aggressiveness to go for the rebound is something ASU hasn't had in the post for a while," Corral Jr. said.

Given how relatively small of a front and backcourt the Sun Devils have, ASU will need White to use his strength and physicality inside to not only anchor the paint, but also to give players like senior guards Shannon Evans II and Tra Holder more room to operate on the perimeter

As a team, ASU has simply not played up to their potential during conference play. In order for the Sun Devils to return to their old non-conference form, White will have to go back to being a force inside.

Reach the columnist at kbriley@asu.edu and on twitter @KokiRiley.

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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