Washington State looks to make it to 4-5 in the first half of their conference slate as they take on ASU this afternoon at 2pm Pacific Time. The game will be televised on ROOT Sports Northwest.
The Cougars and Sun Devils are both without key contributors as Faisal Aden and Trent Lockett will be out with injuries. Arizona State also kicked off leading scorer Keala King earlier in the season for "unacceptable conduct."
Those losses depleted what was already a struggling Sun Devil squad. Last Saturday may have been the bottom, as ASU suffered a 64-43 loss at the hands of lowly Utah. That came on the road, and they have been playing much better at home. They hung tough with Washington on Thursday and knocked off Oregon State two weeks ago.
Under Herb Sendek, Arizona State will always slow down the pace. So far this year they have played the 304th slowest tempo in the country. That keeps the scores lower, margins closer, and blood pressures higher.
Offense and defense previews after the jump.OFFENSE
The Sun Devils have won a few games they probably shouldn't have - OSU, at Tulsa, at USC - in large part because of their ability to shoot the ball. ASU is second in conference play in 3-point shooting, 4th on 2-pointers, and 3rd in effective field goal percentage.
Freshman Jonathan Gilling almost exclusively shoots threes, as 68 of his 85 field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc. He has knocked down 41% of those shots, so he definitely a player that WSU needs to keep an eye on. Carrick Felix and Chanse Creekmur are also streaky outside shooters than can be very dangerous if they get hot.
Despite Arizona State's shooting success, they have been the 10th worst offense in Pac-12 play. Why? They can't take care of the ball. ASU is turning the ball over on a remarkable 27% of their possessions and have the ball stolen from them on 13% of possessions. Losing Lockett and King may actually help in this area, as they were both turning the ball over at a high rate. The guys who have come in to take over their minutes have been better at holding on to the ball, but the Sun Devils have still turned it over more than 23% of the time in each of the three games Lockett has missed.
Rebounding hasn't been a strong point for ASU, but they do have some giants in Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski that can make it tough to secure boards. Sophomore Kyle Cain is a good rebounder at both ends.
The key to stopping ASU on offense seems to be just letting them stop themselves. WSU doesn't force opponents into many turnovers, so it will be interesting to see if they can exploit that weakness. The Cougs have been giving shooters wide-open looks from three all season long. Ending possessions early with turnovers will be important.
ASU has been the best shot-blocking team in the conference with the 7-footers Pateev and Bachynski anchoring the zone. This hasn't translated into good two-point defense, as they've let Pac-12 opponents shoot 52% inside the arc. WSU may be able to take advantage, as Brock Motum and company have shot it well from two. But 7-footers are a rarity, and it will be interesting to see how the Cougs handle the challenge.
Opponents have visited the free throw line frequently against the Sun Devils. They are tenth in Pac-12 play in free throw rate, giving up about 40 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts. WSU has been the second-best team in league play at getting to the foul line. Definite advantage for the Cougs.
Not that anyone should ever expect WSU to grab many offensive rebounds, but it will be a struggle in that department today. ASU's rebounds well and the their height may be too much to contend with.
If WSU is to win this game, it will likely come at the foul line. If there is any positive thing that this team has done consistently, it has been drawing fouls and earning free throws attempts. They've also been shooting a high percentage during conference play, knocking down 75%.
This might be a slow, frustrating game but don't be surprised if the offenses are efficient. These are two of the poorest defenses in the conference. Kenpom predicts the score to 68-65 in favor of WSU with 64% confidence on just 63 possessions.