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Opinion: ASU men's basketball to finish third in Pac-12, reach tournament

Guard U style is key to third consecutive tournament berth

Bobby Hurley watches opponents

ASU head coach Bobby Hurley watches the opponent Cal Golden Bears before the game at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.

ASU men’s basketball reached its second consecutive NCAA tournament in 2019, the second time in school history for back-to-back appearances and the first time since 1961-64. With this is mind, head coach Bobby Hurley’s squad will small ball their way to the tournament once again in 2020, finishing third in the Pac-12 in the process.

At Pac-12 media day on Oct. 7, ASU was predicted to finish sixth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll behind Oregon, Colorado, Washington, UA and USC. The Sun Devils have the talent to be ahead of USC, Washington and Colorado when the dust settles. 

The Sun Devils brand of "Guard U," the slogan the team referred to itself as in the 2017-18 season, is back in full swing this season.

"We were down multiple guys on the frontcourt, so we were concerned about rebounding," Hurley said at a media availability on Oct. 30. "We compensated for that just by how fiercely those guys competed and guarded the ball, created turnovers and scored off turnovers. We looked a lot like two years ago."

Hurley referenced the 2017-18 squad that began the year with an undefeated non-conference slate and was ranked as high as No. 3 in the country. He said he believes his team is similar to that group. 

47 of 71 points the team scored in the season opener on Nov. 8 in Shanghai, China against Colorado were from guards 6-feet-5-inches or smaller. 

The best takeaway from game one was the team’s ability to stick with Colorado, who was selected to finish second in the Pac-12 preseason poll, even without its two most prominent big men in Taeshon Cherry and Romello White. 

The Sun Devils kept it a game late into the second half and only fell by 10 with relatively no inside presence. If Cherry and White were on the court, it is safe to say the Devils keep it closer, if not come out on top. 

Guard play, specifically 3-point shooting, is the key to defeating a zone. The Sun Devils shot 40 percent from beyond the arc against Colorado. This will be a major factor in the team’s two games against No. 20 Washington, a team that almost exclusively runs a zone. 

The x-factor to the 2019-20 edition of Sun Devil basketball will be the addition of three of the top 12 junior college transfers. Alonzo Verge, Jr. looks to have the biggest impact of the three, as he has already impressed Hurley. 

"Alonzo Verge has been off the charts for me," Hurley said. "He showed that he can bounce back from a slow start like he did in the scrimmage."

The Pac-12 currently has an early-season record of 18-1 with its only loss coming from ASU. Strong, major conference wins against No. 16 Baylor, Iowa State and Illinois  set the conference up well for a great non-conference season. This would change the narrative of the conference, which only has three teams to the NCAA tournament in 2019.

The combination of tremendous guard play, influence from an impressive junior college recruiting class and a very strong Pac-12, ASU men's basketball will find itself dancing in March. 

Reach the columnist at or follow @anc2018 on Twitter.

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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