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NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Washington State

What to Watch For: Scouting WSU vs Arizona State

The Cougs look to break even against the Sun Devils

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Cougs had a heartbreaking loss to Arizona despite putting up an impressive defensive performance, but they look to bounce back against a good Arizona State team at home. ASU is on a three-game slide, including a head-scratching loss to UW on Thursday. The Sun Devils come to Pullman hungry for a victory and they will be prepared after beating WSU earlier in the year.

The game tips off from Beasley Coliseum at 5 PM PST and can be watched on ESPNU.

Arizona State Sun Devils


Arizona State is a solid, but inefficient offense. They rank 95th in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and they do most things well, but nothing exceptionally. They rank 102nd in turnover rate, 112th in offensive rebound rate, and 136th in free throw rate. Their biggest struggles come when scoring the ball, as they rank 276th in three-point percentage and 212th in two-point percentage. They do play fast- 3rd in the Pac-12 in average offensive possession length- and that has allowed them to shoot better in conference play than they have over the course of the full season- 2nd in two-point percentage in the Pac. They shoot a good number of threes despite their percentage issue as they rank 6th in the conference in three-point attempt rate.

In the last matchup between these two teams, WSU really struggled to prevent ASU from getting easy shots near the rim. A lot of this was on WSU’s star big-man, as he provided little resistance near the rim, but just as much was on WSU’s help defense. The Cougs were very in-tuned to ASU’s three-point shooters despite the Sun Devils being a mediocre shooting team and that opened up a lot for ASU near the rim. ASU went 26-39 from two- 66.7%- which is a tough number to overcome.

ASU plays most of their offense out of Chin looks. Chin is basically a 4-around-1 set that is built around ball-movement, cuts, and off-ball screens.

Arizona State runs chin sets with the general purpose of creating something on an empty side. After the initial cuts, they tend to pop their big above the three-point line for a catch. From that, they like to get into wing pick-and-rolls or handoffs. This is a fun example, where they then set a pindown after the handoff to create a good look.

Oftentimes, these wing handoffs are run like normal pick-and-rolls on an empty side. This is particularly effective against WSU’s hard-hedge because the big can get behind the defense with the help being far away. This specific look led to a lot of Warren Washington’s buckets came out of this look and it is because WSU’s help was so late.

Bobby Hurley also runs quite a few creative set plays to create specific looks. This is a box pindown into a blur- or ghost- screen. ASU loves these guard-guard blur screens because they are hard to defend. No contact is actually made, so if the defense tries to catch or switch, the screener can pop for an open three, but if there is no catch there then the ball-handler has a clear path to the rim.


The Sun Devils are an excellent defensive squad, ranking 37th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Their rim-protection is elite, as teams are shooting only 43% from two against them, which ranks 8th in the country. They do sacrifice some threes in the name of rim-protection, as they rank 212th in opponent three-point rate. However, teams are only shooting 32% from deep against them because their perimeter defense is so stifling.

WSU had a solid offensive game in the last meeting between these two teams. Over half of their shots were from deep and they went 11-32 on them- 34.4%. That is a solid number even though a couple of their high-minute players didn’t hit a single three. This was a game where Mouhamed Gueye struggled, scoring only 8 points on 3-8 shooting. Gueye struggled with ASU’s length and athleticism, but he did have a good passing game, posting 5 assists. WSU needs Gueye to get going more as a scorer, but their chest sets were effective in this one.

ASU will look to drop their bigs deep in pick-and-roll. They want to keep Warren Washington near the rim so that he can prevent easy layups. The ASU guards will go over screens most times, trying to prevent easy pull-ups from behind the arc. They are athletic, so they can stick on someone while dropping the big without giving up an easy mid-range jumper or floater.

ASU switches most of the like-sized screens when possible. This allows them to prevent easy looks that come with off-ball screens, but it can also allow the offense to get a beneficial matchup for an isolation or pick-and-roll.

To take advantage of this 1-4 switching, expect WSU to run these Horns Flare plays. This is where the 4, often DJ Rodman or Andrej Jakimovski, set an initial screen and then are run off of a flare screen away from the ball. This is a good set to take advantage of the fact that WSU’s 4s can dribble, pass, and shoot, forcing a defensive scramble or getting a good pick-and-roll look.

Finally, ASU is ultra-aggressive when guarding the ball. They rank 87th in opponent turnover rate and a major reason is their tenacity when guarding the ball-handler. They don’t give any space to ball-handlers, which helps them prevent easy pull-up shots and create turnovers with their quick hands.

Players to Watch

Warren Washington had a dominant performance against the Cougs, scoring 18 points on 9-10 shooting from the field, 4 assists, a block, and a steal. His defense was stifling, as he prevented Gueye from getting going as a scorer and he took away the rim for WSU’s drivers. His points cam mostly on dunks that WSU gave up out of their hard hedges, but he even got himself going with a couple of buckets in the post against Gueye. He will certainly be a priority on the scouting report in this one.

Devan Cambridge is potentially the best NBA prospect on the Sun Devils’ roster and he showed that off against the Cougs in their last meeting. While he only scored seven points, he had an excellent defensive performance on whomever he was guarding. His athleticism and length cause a lot of problems for the Cougs.

Frankie Collins had a fairly quiet game against WSU in their last meeting, but he is not someone who should be slept on because of it. Collins has been one of the best playmaking guards in the Pac-12 this season and his athleticism and craft make him deadly as a driver. He is averaging 10.7 points and 4.9 assists and he is the driver of a solid ASU offense.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch

Adrame Diongue played only one minute against ASU in their last meeting, but he could play huge minutes in this one. He has stepped up nicely into the back-up big role, but he might get even more than he is used to because WSU might need his rim-protection. Gueye has a lot of strengths, even on defense, but rim-protection is not one of them and that was a huge reason for their struggles in Tempe. Diongue can provide some more defense around the rim and his offensive game has gotten solid enough that the Cougs can survive with him out there.

Andrej Jakimovski barely played in the last meeting between these two teams and he struggled mightily from the field. However, he had an excellent defensive game against Arizona and he has excelled in the starting lineup as he has gotten healthier. He has looked better and more confident attacking the basket, he has become a high-level defensive playmaker, and he can even lockdown opposing scorers if the assignment calls for it. When the jumper is falling, he is arguably the best two-way player on WSU.

Justin Powell had his best game in a Coug uniform against Arizona and it was nice to see him play with some real aggression. He put up 15 points and three assists on 6-11 from the field and 1-2 from deep. He was getting into the lane consistently and making plays for himself or others. He will likely have a size advantage over whoever is guarding him against the Sun Devils and he should be able to use that to get into the teeth of the D and make some plays. Hopefully he remains confident in his floater and continues hunting that shot.

What to Watch For

Winning the bench minutes is huge for the Cougs in this one. Both ASU and WSU have fairly short benches, but they both tend to vary up who actually plays. For WSU, it is usually Jabe Mullins and Kymany Houinsou playing big minutes, with Diongue as the other regular, but they will also mix in Dylan Darling and Carlos Rosario for big minutes as needed. ASU doesn’t have many high-minute bench players, but Luther Muhammad and Austin Nunez are both guards who can get hot and Alonzo Gaffney excels as a backup big. WSU needs to get a solid contribution from at least one of their bench guards, which is something they have not gotten for a few games straight.

Protecting the rim is something that has been discussed ad nauseum throughout this preview, but it truly is THE key in this one. If WSU had just prevented a few more easy layups at the rim in the last meeting, they would have walked away with a win. Instead, ASU got a ton of wide-open layups and dunks that led them to the win. Whether it be more Diongue minutes, more aggressive help defense, or different screen coverages, WSU needs to do something to drop ASU’s percentage near the rim.

Question of the Game

Will WSU keep ASU below 55% at the rim?

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