After winning five of their last six games, the ASU men's basketball team is poised for a deep run in the Pac-12 Tournament with their backcourt play and improved team defense leading the way.
Freshman guard Luguentz Dort is elevating his level of play right in time for March. Dort has averaged 15 points per game and has shot a healthy 38 percent from three-point land in the past five games.
Dort is not only looking for better shots behind the arc, but some of the hesitancy he displayed at times when taking these shots has vanished.
Dort has been stepping into these shots more confidently when left open like this, and the results are starting to show.
However, Dort needs to reel some of his confidence back when looking for these shots, especially when he looks to take a heat-check.
Coach Bobby Hurley has worked with Dort on shot selection throughout the season. Overall, Dort has improved in that department. But at times, he still takes a bad shot or two.
Even though Dort made this shot with contact, he took this six feet behind the line with 25 seconds left on the shot clock. In a tournament environment where every possession matters, Dort needs to limit these shots to maximize the value of each possession.
Much of ASU's success in conference play should be credited to sophomore guard Remy Martin. He has averaged 15 points per game and 5.6 assists per game in the past five games.
As previously analyzed, Martin's ability to drive and finish in the paint over taller defenders lends to his ability to find open players for good shots.
It's Martin's uncanny ability to finish shots like these that help him draw multiple defenders. The defender plays the best defense possible here on Martin's shot, but he makes it anyway.
With that said, weak-side defenders naturally are more likely to help on Martin's drives to prevent him from scoring. This allows Martin to make these plays, where he dumps the ball off to redshirt sophomore forward Romello White, who dunks it home.
The Sun Devils' defense is peaking at the right time. They have held their opponents under 70 points in three of the past five games. Much of that is due to ASU's ability to force turnovers. The team has forced an average of 14 turnovers per game in the past five games.
On this play, multiple players get beat on drives, but other players are there to help each time.
This causes multiple swings of the ball, until sophomore forward Kimani Lawrence reads the ball-handler's eyes and picks off a pass on a drive and kick.
Hurley specifically noted this improved defensive play as a common theme throughout some of ASU's big wins in conference play.
"Moving our feet, making teams shoot tough shots, and rebounding," Hurley said. "We did it against Washington, against Oregon, in overtime against Arizona the first time. When we are that team ... we're tough to beat."
Jeffrey Horst is the digital editor-in-chief of The State Press. He previously served as the publication's sports editor and worked at Cronkite News and ArizonaSports.com.