It's cliche in sports to proclaim a match-up as an "unstoppable force vs. an immovable object." When Arizona State and Washington State take the court on Friday night (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks), it will be the opposite of that in at least one part of the game.
When it comes to turnovers, Arizona State's offense is the "very easily stopped force", while WSU's defense is the "object that will move quite easily and really you don't even have to say please." The Sun Devils are turning the ball over at the highest rate of any team in Pac-12 play - giving it up on nearly 22 percent of possessions. The Cougs are forcing turnovers at the worst rate in the league, with giveaways occurring on just 11 percent of defensive trips.
Something's gotta give!
There's one good nugget for WSU buried in ASU's turnover numbers - the Sun Devils actually have the ball stolen from them at the second-lowest rate in the league. That means they turn the ball over without the defense getting their pesky hands in the way often.
Unsurprisingly, the Cougs are terrible at stealing the ball, worst in the Pac-12, and that's at the heart of their inability to force turnovers. But against Arizona State, WSU might not have to force turnovers at all. The Sun Devils are elderly ladies with hairnets standing next to trays of food, and opposing defenses are hungry Costco shoppers.
Let's hope the Cougs bring their appetite!
Outside of the turnover battle when ASU has the ball, the Sun Devils have been a solid shooting team - posting a 51.5 effective field goal percentage against league competition.
Part of that efficient shooting is Arizona State subscribing to the Daryl Morey school of shot selection. The Sun Devils take 39 percent of their shots at the rim and 39 percent from beyond the arc. That leaves 22 percent of the field goal attempts coming on 2-point jumpers, 35th-fewest nationally.
The Cougs have been reasonably good at forcing teams into 2-point jumpers. But that's likely because opposing players have been so wide open that they had to take the shots - WSU in ninth-worst nationally in percentage allowed on 2-point jumpers.
So, Sun Devils, feel free to let your hair down and take those mid-range Js. It will probably go well anyway!
When the Cougs have the ball, they should be able to find open looks provided they can take care of the ball - which they have done well in Pac-12 play. The Sun Devils are 11th in effective field goal percentage allowed against league competition, including allowing 40 percent from 3.
But finding looks from long range might not be easy. Arizona State forces teams to do what it doesn't want to do on offense - shoot mid-range shots.
It's amazing how many times you'll see coaches favor a method on one end of the floor - such as chucking a bunch of 3s - only to allow the other team to do the same thing on the other end. It's refreshing to see that the Sun Devils employ the same values on offense and defense.
WSU shouldn't be afraid to attack the rim and seek free throws. Arizona State lacks an intimidating force inside - it's the worst defense at blocking shots in the league. The Cougs still have the best free throw rate in the league, and it should seek to use that advantage at home.
Both these teams have had highs and lows this season, but overall the Sun Devils have a significant advantage because the one constant has been WSU's terrible defense. Arizona State is no great offensive force, but it will more than likely outperform its offensive averages against the Cougs. The only hope the Washington State defense has is that ASU gives the ball away on unforced turnovers at a high rate.
If the Sun Devils aren't doing that, it will be tough for the WSU offense to keep up. ASU limits efficient looks, and WSU hasn't always showed an affinity for attacking a team's weaknesses on offense (See: last weekend against the Oregon schools).
But maybe the Cougs will just go off from 3 and steal another win. It's happened before!