For the third time in the Bobby Hurley era, ASU men's basketball will play in the NCAA Tournament's First Four in Dayton, Ohio. They will match up with the University of Nevada, Reno; the last team selected into the tournament field on Selection Sunday.
The game will tip off at 6:10 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on TruTV.
Made up partially of the last four teams selected to the tournament, the First Four precedes Thursday's start to "March Madness" and acts as a play-in game to the tournament's field of 64. ASU and Nevada will face off in the First Four's final contest.
The Wolf Pack finished the season 22-10 and fourth in the Mountain West Conference boasting wins over tournament teams San Diego State, Boise State and Utah State.
They are led by senior guard Jarod Lucas, who won Mountain West Newcomer of the Year after transferring to Nevada this season following three seasons at Oregon State. As a Beaver, Lucas averaged 8.6 points per game in five games against the Sun Devils through his first three seasons.
Lucas was joined by fellow senior guard Kenan Blackshear on the all-Mountain West Conference second team. Redshirt junior center Will Baker was selected as third-team all-conference.
After Tuesday's practice, junior guard DJ Horne talked about how the team would defend Blackshear, who, at 6 feet, 6 inches tall, is taller than most point guards in the NCAA.
"I think the way we approach him will be the same way we've done all season," Horne said. "We've been an undersized team, but we use our speed and agility to combat that. I think (we're) going into this game with the same mindset and everything."
Fifth-year guard Desmond Cambridge Jr., who transferred to ASU from Nevada alongside senior center Warren Washington this offseason, said that although Baker presents a unique challenge as a shooting big man, he believes the aggressive Sun Devil defense is built for Wednesday's contest.
"Baker being a pick-and-pop five, can score the ball well and shoot the three. That will probably be an emphasis," Cambridge Jr. said. "But at the end of the day, if we play our game, I'm confident in us, and we've just got to play defense and give ourselves the best chance to win."
Nevada's defense could pose problems for the Sun Devils as well. Blackshear and junior forward Tré Coleman, a close friend of Cambridge Jr., made the Mountain West Conference's all-defense team.
Both teams rank in Division-I's top 100 scoring defenses, each holding their opponents to fewer than 68 points per game. The game could come down to whose offense can best break down the opposing defense and create sustained scoring, which is often a coaching battle.
The Wolf Pack is coached by Steve Alford, who previously spent nearly six seasons as a coach at UCLA. Alford's team is known for its fundamental play, averaging only 10.3 turnovers per game, good for the 19th fewest in Division I.
Because forcing turnovers has been a calling card for ASU this season — the Sun Devils force 14.4 per game — the game may be won or lost with the turnover battle.
ASU's backup point guard, freshman Austin Nunez, has missed six straight games, including the entire Pac-12 Tournament, in concussion protocols after suffering a head injury against Utah on Feb. 18. He fully participated in Monday's practice. Hurley said on 98.7 FM that he might be available to play "at some point" this week.
After Tuesday's practice, Horne said that playing for Hurley, who won two straight NCAA Tournament championships with Duke in 1991 and 1992, gives the team an advantage as they prepare for the game.
"Playing for somebody like Coach Hurley, he has a lot of experience, especially in this tournament," Horne said. "He's been giving us some of his past experiences with it and everything, just kind of telling us what it would be like and how tough it is to get wins in this tournament … Just knowing he's been somebody to play in it and make it all the way, you want to listen to anything he can drop off to you."
After learning ASU was selected for the tournament, Hurley said that he believes they can beat any team.
"All year when we've been down, man, I've been telling these guys we're gonna win," Hurley said. "We're going to find a way to win, and we're going to come back. And we believe in each other, so having a group that believes in what we’re doing is pretty special."
The winner of Wednesday's matchup will face TCU in the Round of 64 in Denver on Friday at 7:05 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on TruTV, in the last of the day's 16 games.
Edited by Walker Smith, Reagan Priest and Grace Copperthite.
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