2 PM PST -- Friel Court at Beasley Coliseum
Kenpom.com prediction: ASU wins 54-53 (53 possesions, 57 percent confidence)
It's Senior Day, but it's so much more than that. As we know, today represents another opportunity to show a postseason committee -- NCAA, NIT or otherwise -- that we belong in the postseason. Personally, I think the answer already is clearly yes, given that many of our resume problems stem from a young team trying to find its way, but this team now has to take any opportunity it can to prove it with wins.
A number of people noted on Thursday that Arizona just looked tired late in the game, and it was no surprise -- in the previous six games, the Wildcats' big three had played an absurd 707 of a possible 720 minutes. I bring this up because Arizona State is facing similar issues coming off an emotional overtime loss to Washington:
- Overall this season, James Harden has played 87.2 percent of the minutes available in ASU's games; but in the past six games, that number is 95.9.
- Overall this season, Richard Penergraph has played 77.6 percent of the minutes; in the past five games, it's 95.6.
- While he hasn't logged quite as heavy of minutes overall, Rihards Kuksiks played 43 of 45 minutes against the Huskies.
Think back to that second game against Arizona State last year. The Sun Devils were a team that relied to an extreme on Harden, and it was undeniable that it took its toll. By that game, Harden -- who thrives on bullying his way into the lane and drawing contact -- lacked his previous explosion and Kyle Weaver essentially reduced Harden to a jump shooter with tired legs. Well, guess what? That's basically what the Huskies did to Harden on Thursday (7-of-19 overall, 1-of-5 3-pointers, 4-of-6 FTs).
If the Cougs make a commitment to make Harden work for every single shot, keeping their feet and staying in front of him, I don't think he has the will or the desire to fight through it at this point in the season -- especially when their conference title hopes have all but disappeared. Expect the Cougs to throw a lot of fresh bodies at Harden, primarily Capers, Thompson and Casto, who had extraordinary success bothering Harden with his length in the first matchup.
Now, let's look at Pendergraph. He's had very little success against the Cougs the past two years -- just 7.3 ppg and 8.0 rpg. Think he's relishing the idea of banging though Aron Baynes after playing 43 minutes on Thursday? And it's not like those were 43 ordinary minutes -- he carried the load with 24 points and 13 rebounds. There's a lot of reason to believe that Baynes will be able to neutralize Pendergraph again.
And how about Kuksiks? In games following games in which he played more than 35 minutes, he's just 11-for-41 from 3-point range -- just 26.8 percent from a guy who's shooting 47.0 percent on the season. There's reason to think tired legs will be a factor here, too.
Tired legs could have an impact defensively, too. The Cougs absolutely shredded the Arizona defense in the second half with a wonderful high-post attack that featured DeAngelo Casto in the pivotal role. While ASU's zone is a little different -- and certainly better -- than Arizona's, the high-post offense run through Weaver was a major factor in our success last year. Coaches will run a zone when their defense is tired, but the real truth is that tired legs are death to a zone when the offense knows what it's doing, as slow rotations will lead to wide open shots.
Some might say the Cougs could be just as tired as ASU today, but that's more perception that reality. Yes, one unit logged most of the minutes in the second half, but when you look at the game as a whole, the minutes were fairly balanced. Rochestie checked in with his usual 40 minutes, but Klay played a reasonable 34 and nobody else logged more than Marcus Capers' 30 -- including Baynes at 28 minutes.
If the Cougs can play with the desperation they've showed the past two games and once again bring high levels of energy on both ends of the floor, I really like our chances to win this game. I don't really like the fact that it will be hard to establish the energy level early with the five senior lineup that Tony Bennett is likely to start (never mind what that might do to the rotation), but these seniors have earned it.
Let's see if we can complete step two even with the likely slow start.
Oh, and don't forget to follow Grady on Twitter -- he'll be sending updates from the game that will appear in the widget on the right-hand side of the page.