ASU men's basketball took the court for its first public action of 2018 Tuesday and defeated the Arizona Christian Firestorm 104-76 in the Sun Devils' first exhibition game of the season. Below are four big takeaways from the first ASU victory of the year.
The Sun Devils feature significantly more depth this year than they have in recent memory, and head coach Bobby Hurley showed it off early and often Tuesday night. Hurley was quick to change up the lineup throughout ASU's matchup with Arizona Christian, and he wasn’t scared to trot out relatively unconventional units.
One of the most intriguing decisions was displayed early in the first quarter, as ASU sent out freshman guard Luguentz Dort, sophomore forward Kimani Lawrence, redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham, freshman forward Taeshon Cherry and redshirt sophomore forward Romello White.
Four of the five players on the court stood 6 feet 7 inches or taller, yet nobody eclipsed even 6 feet 9 inches. Their collective length will give even the strongest rosters fits, but their success will lie in their ability to shoot the ball.
“We have a lot of position versatility,” Lawrence said. “We have a big team and our guys are really skilled, so we can bounce around to different positions. That’s one of the things we emphasized in the offseason.”
For Hurley to feel confident trotting out this lineup on a consistent basis, someone other than Dort and Lawrence will have to establish themselves as simply a competent shooter from the outside. If Cheatham, Cherry or White develops a relatively reliable three-point shot, there should be just enough spacing to run a viable offense.
All eyes on Dort
Much of the excitement surrounding Tuesday night’s scrimmage stemmed from the long-awaited debut of Dort. Dort was universally regarded as one of the top guards in his class, and is the first ESPN five-star recruit of the Hurley era.
He put his athleticism on display early and often, as his first bucket in a Sun Devil uniform came off a gorgeous twisting layup midway through the first half.
“He’s so aggressive in getting to the paint,” White said. “A lot of the time they can’t really stop him, like it takes three people to come down and try and stop him. He really looks to pass, and we all just fit well together.”
Defensively, Dort has been touted as a special talent by multiple ASU coaches, yet he often looked anxious and out of place against a feisty Firestorm team.
Much of that can be chalked up to first game jitters and trying to do too much, but his defensive progression will be an interesting storyline as the season progresses.
Dort was a constant presence on the boards, flying over the opposition to violently rip down defensive rebounds. Dort’s final stat line of 16 points, five rebounds and two assists doesn’t do his overall impact justice, and as his confidence improved, so did his performance.
Both Cheatham and redshirt junior guard Rob Edwards figure to be two of ASU's more important players heading into the season, and they both displayed why on Tuesday.
Cheatham displayed his combination of size and skill, alternating between taking slower defenders off the dribble and punishing smaller defenders in the low post. His versatility was as good as advertised, as Cheatham seamlessly transitioned between guard and forward depending on the players he shared the court with.
“He’s a multi-position guy,” Hurley said. “He’s very comfortable scoring around the basket. He can get to the basket because of his length and mobility, and then he’s a guy who can get the rebound for us and push the ball.”
Edwards's talents were also on full display, as he exhibited many of the skills that made him one of the most highly coveted transfers heading into last season. Edwards displayed an elite feel for the game, and with likely starting point guard Remy Martin sitting out, both Edwards and Dort were able to show what they could do as the team’s leading guard. Edwards's defining quality is his lethal stroke from beyond the three-point line, and while his two for nine performance from three is not ideal, the talent is clearly there.
That other freshman
While much of the excitement surrounding this year’s recruiting class centered around Dort, Cherry debatably looked better in his first Sun Devil action.
Finishing with a team high 17 points on 7-10 shooting and eight rebounds, Cherry showed comfort handling the ball and touch around the basket few expected coming into the season.
Donning a sizeable knee brace on his right leg, Cherry looked unhindered.
“Taeshon showed what he’s capable of in terms of his offense,” Hurley said. “His ability to finish around the basket, he’s got good touch from distance. He’s a really good offensive player, and he’s playing hard and still working to get back into shape.”
Tuesday was the first step in a long journey for a Sun Devil squad primed for another big season. Behind strong games from a few new faces, ASU was able to cruise to an easy victory and begin preparation for their season opener next week.