The ASU men’s basketball team will tip off in its first regular season game this Wednesday in Chicago, and fans will finally get an in-game look at how its 11 newcomers will play as an unproven unit.
Over the offseason, ASU lost all but five of its players and only retained one of its top five scorers, junior guard Frankie Collins. The Sun Devils are confident with their newcomers and look to utilize their versatility to score with different looks at all five positions.
With nine players above 6-feet 4-inches tall, ASU can repeatedly switch between positions and create mismatches to make defenses uncomfortable.
Head coach Bobby Hurley will use this style of play to find success in his team’s upcoming non-conference games. The team also has the pieces to run a traditional one-through-five or play small ball.
“You don’t want to be just a 90 mph fastball every time,” Hurley said. “You want to have a changeup and a slider and all those things.”
The new Sun Devils have had to learn to gel together, and sophomore Kamari Lands, a transfer from Louisville, said things are going well so far. ASU’s newcomers were able to grow closer before the season when most of the team took the trip overseas and played preseason scrimmages together.
“I think it's been going well,” Lands said. “Every team is going to have its ups and downs in practices early, but like I said, we got a lot of that out of the way getting to play.”
He said he knows everyone can be a playmaker and that no one is a liability on the court.
The Sun Devil roster is full of good players. But with many new faces, finding which players will make an impact in certain roles will be a narrative to follow throughout the non-conference schedule. Lands said he wants to be a leader on the team.
“Coming from last year, especially with this new of a team, I'm just trying to be a leader,” Lands said. “Just trying to be one of the impact guys offensively and defensively.”
Since ASU's leading scorer last season, Desmond Cambridge Jr., has since graduated, and Hurley said that the team is full of guys this year who have the potential to step up and take over that role.
Another pair of shoes that needed to be filled was center Warren Washington’s, who transferred to Texas Tech over the summer. He led last season's squad in rebounds at 6.9 a clip. Hurley's addition of sophomore seven-footer Shawn Phillips Jr. could do just that.
“Shawn Phillips has really come on, and he’s shown a lot in this offseason and a lot of development,” Hurley said. “He’s going to get better and better as we go, but he’s bridged a loss of a guy like Warren, so that was a real positive.”
Phillips Jr. and company will be challenged in ASU’s non-conference schedule of 11 matchups, five of which are at neutral sites. The Sun Devils should bode well against San Diego and Sam Houston State but will have to fight through tough matchups against solid Power Five opponents.
Mississippi State, Nov. 8
The Bulldogs mimicked the Sun Devils last season by getting off to a hot start in its non-conference schedule before regressing in conference play. Yet, unlike ASU, Mississippi State has an experienced roster of two seniors and six graduate students, four of whom are returners.
The game won’t be in Arizona or Mississippi, but in Chicago at the Barstool Sports Invitational. The event features Florida Atlantic taking on Loyola Chicago before the Sun Devils and Bulldogs face off later that night.
ASU’s first game could come down to whether the team can shut down Mississippi State’s graduate forward Tolu Smith. The 6-foot, 11-inch tall big man is aggressive on the boards and creatively finishes around the basket.
Smith could prove a challenge for Phillips Jr. or senior Zane Meeks on both ends of the court, but the Sun Devils are confident Hurley will plan appropriately.
“I don't know how we’re gonna go and attack them, but coach Hurley is gonna come up with a great game plan,” graduate guard Jose Perez said. “ I feel like the bottom line is just about winning when we get in between those lines.”
San Francisco, Dec. 3 in Tempe
The Dons are trying to make it a yearly tradition to beat the Sun Devils after winning the last two matchups. Last season, San Francisco crushed No. 25 ASU 97-60 as Hurley’s squad shot an abysmal 27.9% from the floor.
This year’s installment will feature familiar faces for Meeks, who transferred from San Francisco. He started 15 games for the Dons last season and averaged 10.3 points per game. Now the Sun Devils play host to a Dons team that lost its top three scorers, including Meeks, to graduation and the transfer portal.
San Francisco is counting on junior guard Marcus Williams and junior forward Isaiah Hawthorne to step up as the team’s primary scorers. ASU could snap the Dons’ winning streak by shutting down Williams’ scoring and distribution to neutralize an offense that scored 76.2 points per game last season.
TCU, Dec. 16 in Fort Worth, TX
ASU looks to get revenge against the Horned Frogs after their nail-biting 72-70 loss against them in this year's March Madness.
Over the off-season, TCU lost its two leading scorers, Mike Miles Jr. and Damion Baugh, but they brought five transfers on in return. Most notable was Jameer Nelson Jr., a guard transfer from Delaware who led the CAA, averaging 20.6 points and 2.4 steals per game.
This clash will be just the start of the ASU and TCU matchup now that the Sun Devils are joining the Horned Frogs in the Big 12 in 2024.
Northwestern, Dec. 20 in Phoenix
ASU will close out its non-conference slate close to home against Northwestern. The matchup is one of two games in Jerry Colangelo’s 2023 Hall of Fame Series at the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix.
Northwestern is led by graduate guard Boo Buie, who averaged 17.3 points per game last season. Buie is an electric and experienced guard with a 6-foot, 2-inch frame that can drive into the paint or dish it out to teammates.
Hurley will count on Collins to neutralize Buie’s production to give his new offense some breathing room. ASU’s defense has been its bread-and-butter in past seasons, and it needs to be in this matchup.
Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan