The Sun Devils may have lost eight games already this season, but it’s not because they lack aggressiveness. ASU is averaging 82 points a game against a difficult schedule and pushes the third-fastest pace in the Pac-12 with a load of wing players who can drive-and-dish or shoot from 3-point territory. They’ll typically start a traditional two-post look with Obinna Oleka at power forward, but often will shift Oleka to center and play four perimeter players around him, with leading scorer Torian Graham coming off the bench. ASU has a pair of combo guards who both play the point: Shannon Evans, a transfer from Buffalo who followed coach Bobby Hurley to Tempe, and junior Tra Holder. Evans leads the Sun Devils in assists and is their third-leading scorer while taking more than half his shots from 3-point territory. Holder is a capable 3-point shooter who also has a knack for getting to the free-throw line.
"They could have five guys on the court at one time all shooting 3s, and that would include Obinna Oleka at the five with four guards. So obviously that’s a big concern. They shoot a lot of 3s and they make a lot of them. The way they play means you have to prepare very hard for. … I think what they do a good job of is they get 3s in transition and they have good plays, good screening action to get their players open looks from 3. Not only do they have 3-point shooters but their guards do a great job getting in the paint and breaking down defenses, and they’re intelligent — they’re not going to try to score it in the trees, so they’ll kick it back out. I think they’re connected to each other. They do a great job of playing together. …. (Having Graham in reserve) is working for them. He’s a gifted scorer and that’s the way they’re doing it. He has great size and athleticism. He’s wired to score and make shots. He can take a tough shot and make it look not tough. (Holder and Evans) are both combo guards in my opinion. They both do a great job of penetrating and a great job of shooting 3s. Holder is a menace. He does so many things to disrupt your team." — UA assistant coach Mark Phelps, who scouted the Sun Devils.
One of the Sun Devils’ bigger problems is that all their fast-paced scoring is often matched by opponents. They rank only 258 in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.com, allowing 108.6 points per 100 possessions, and are 11th in that metric during Pac-12 conference play so far (118.3). ASU does create some issues, however, with a mostly man-to-man look. Even though he isn’t the quickest of ASU’s perimeter defender, Kodi Justice has a knack for picking up steals and Jethro Tshisumpa is a designated shot-blocker off the bench, averaging 1.4 steals a game despite playing just 8.4 average minutes. Oleka and Justice both average nearly a block per game, too.
"They play hard and they have really, really good overall team quickness. They played some 2-3 zone against us (last season) but are mostly man to man. Kodi Justice has a really good awareness around the ball and that’s something you make note of. (Tshisumpa) is a legitimate shot-blocker. He’s big, strong, athletic and that’s what he does. He blocks shots." — UA assistant coach Mark Phelps, who scouted the Sun Devils.
The Allonzo Trier Saga continues to spread into national college basketball news.
While the Associated Press distributed nationally a story this week saying UA coach Sean Miller has “hope” that Trier will play at some point this season, three of four ESPN.com college basketball analysts chose Trier as the player who has been the biggest disappointment this season.
Andy Katz chose Duke’s polarizing Grayson Allen but ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan, C.L Brown and Myron Medcalf said it was Trier.
“Obviously, it’s not because of what he’s done on the court,” Brown wrote. “With Trier, the Wildcats could contend with UCLA and Oregon for the Pac-12 crown. The problem is he hasn’t played in any of the Wildcats’ 17 games.
“It’s one of the most bizarre suspensions — if you can call it that, since the school has not announced exactly why he’s out — in recent memory.”
Medcalf also questioned UA’s lack of transparency on Trier.
“We’re still not sure why he’s still sitting, and Arizona officials continue to offer vague explanations for his absence,” Medcalf wrote. “It’s disappointing because we’re still not sure why a talented player has yet to play a minute this season.”
By now, there’s a pretty good chance anyone following college basketball in Arizona has heard of or seen the video of ASU coach Bobby Hurley telling his team after they beat Colorado last Thursday that anybody entering the state needs to get to “(bleeping) Tucson” to get a win.
But in a news conference Tuesday before the game, Hurley said his comments were not directed at the Wildcats.
“If our travel partner was USC, then I would have said to go to L.A. if you want to try and get a win,” Hurley said. “It was my way to motivate my team to try and do a better job of winning league games at home and establishing home court.
“I rarely lost as a player (at Duke) when teams came to Cameron Indoor. My record was very strong at home at Buffalo. I just wanted to get through to the guys how vital it is in league play to win your home games. It's hard to win games on the road.”
UA coach Sean Miller appeared unconcerned, saying Hurley’s remarks were an example that behind-the-scenes activity “can really be misunderstood.”
Miller said all coaches try to motivate their teams in different ways, depending on their style and the makeup of their team.
“If you have an experienced team that’s been there, done that, you tend to guide that ship that way,” Miller said. “If you have a group of guys that are inexperienced, or if you’re a team that’s tying to climb the ranks of college basketball, or your conference, there are certain things you want to emphasize.
“I think each coach is different, each program is different, and once in a while even in our program from one year to the next there’s so much change that the things that worked a year ago could be completely different six months later, nine months later.”
While UA has issued the most media credentials (around 60) for Thursday’s game than any other in the past two seasons, perhaps reflecting increased interest around the state, Miller and the Wildcats say they view it only as another big conference game.
One reason: Miller says he never likes to emphasize any game as bigger for fear that players might believe another is less important.
“Believe me, the players on our team sense that,” Miller said. “It’s important for us that we are the same, that we take every game seriously and we try to play with equal effort.”
As he has often before, Miller said another reason for his even-keeled approach is that rivalries in college basketball are much different than in football.
College football has "a season of about 12 games,” Miller said. “We have a season of 35 games and many times the rivalry that you’re bringing up, you could play them three times in a year. So it’s being able to manage that.”
Among the focuses in the “At All Costs” documentary on travel club basketball featuring UA guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and former UA guard Gabe York is the behind-the-scenes prodding and support of Ramon Cartwright, Parker’s father.
Among other things, Ramon Cartwright said high school ball “doesn’t mean (bleep) to my kids” because the exposure and competition of travel ball is better, and that he was willing to take his son to any high-profile camp asked of him. Parker also played regularly for the Nike-sponsored California Supreme club.
“Let’s be straight about it,” Ramon said in the movie. “Nike’s selling shoes, and Ramon’s selling Parker.”
PJC says he appreciates his father’s efforts.
“My dad is passionate. He’s a passionate guy,” Parker said. “He just wants the best for me. He pushed me in a good way. It was never like I didn’t want to do something. It was all on my terms.
"But he always lit a fire under me, being small, being 5-9, and playing against good competition my whole life, he’s always been there to make me feel I belong.”