ASU men's basketball is halfway through its Pac-12 schedule, and fans have found the first half frustratingly inconsistent. Unexpected wins against seemingly better opponents, such as Arizona, have been canceled out by losses to inferior teams like Washington State.
Given the Sun Devils’ lack of consistency, it is hard to accurately predict how they will fare the rest of the way, but that’s exactly what we will try to do.
An NCAA Tournament bid is still not out of the realm of possibility for ASU, and this week could be important for their hopes. The Sun Devils will welcome both Southern California schools to Tempe this week, and good performances will bolster their effort to get to the Big Dance. Here’s a look at this week’s games.
ASU vs. UCLA (Thursday, Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. MST, Tempe, Arizona)
The Bruins have endured a difficult season so far. Many expected them to compete for a tournament spot, but a mediocre start to the season has left them with a slim chance to get there. They would essentially need to go undefeated for the rest of their games to be considered.
However, the Bruins still have some decent talent. Chris Smith has led UCLA through a difficult period riddled with injuries and other notable absences. The junior guard scored 30 points Thursday to lead his team to an upset win over No. 20 Colorado. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see him put up similar numbers against ASU.
However, the Bruins’ offense as a whole has struggled. They average just under 70 points per game, largely due to not possessing a consistent scoring option outside of Smith.
UCLA has also struggled on defense, allowing opponents to shoot just under 38% from three, which is the 14th-worst mark in the country. As a result, I expect ASU sharpshooter Rob Edwards to have a big game. Against the Bruins’ shoddy three-point defense, the redshirt senior guard could put up points in a hurry. If Edwards and the rest of the team get into a good shooting rhythm, the Sun Devils could run away with this one.
ASU: 82.52% chance to win
UCLA: 17.48% chance to win
Prediction: ASU 76, UCLA 68
ASU vs. USC (Saturday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. MST, Tempe, Arizona)
This matchup figures to be a bit tougher for ASU. The Trojans come into the week with a much bigger composite index than the Bruins. And unlike their crosstown rivals, they have not dealt with many injuries or absences to this point.
The Trojans boasted one of the nation’s top recruiting classes from a year ago, and those freshmen are showing out. Forward Onyeka Okongwu is nearly averaging a double-double, and fellow forward Isaiah Mobley is making big contributions off the bench as well.
The game could ultimately come down to the one-on-one matchup between Okongwu and ASU redshirt junior forward Romello White. Like Okongwu, White averages double-figure scoring and comes close to that in rebounds. But at 6 feet, 8 inches, White might be disadvantaged against the taller Okongwu, who stands at 6 feet, 9 inches. If White can find a way to get the better of Okongwu, ASU will have a much better chance to win.
If that is going to happen, White will need to score a good amount from inside the paint. However, USC comes into the game with one of the nation’s better interior defenses, ranking 25th in the country in opponent’s field goal percentage inside the three-point line. The Trojans’ ability to stifle opponents at the rim poses a huge issue for the Sun Devils.
Even with a higher overall composite index, they might not be able to overcome that. It’ll be close, and I hate to second guess the math, but this will be a tough game for ASU to win.
ASU: 55.64% chance to win
USC: 44.36% chance to win
Prediction: USC 78, ASU 77
Now, let’s take a look at where each team in the Pac-12 stands in the composite index. Just to give some perspective about how unpredictable ASU has been, their last three games have featured two wins over teams with indices of 2,211 and 10,633 and a loss to a school with a 216.
A team's composite index is one number formed using stats and recruiting rankings from the past several years and games played this year. Read below to see specifics about how the composite index is formed.
The primary component of the composite index is a custom power index formed by statistics from previous seasons as well as recruiting rankings from the past several years. Stats are collected from Sports Reference and recruiting rankings are pulled from 247 Sports.
Essentially, stats that help a team’s success are added to the score and metrics that hurt are subtracted. This one-number scoring system makes for easy mathematical predictions for each game.
Because the current season is in progress, the system weighs recruiting rankings and stats from previous years higher than this season's numbers. As the season progresses, the composite index will weigh current statistics more and more. At this point in the season, most of the system's weight comes from this year.