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Plummeting WSU takes on struggling Arizona State

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Two teams trying to figure things out will battle in a mostly empty arena before the Super Bowl kicks off.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Shortly after 1 p.m. PT today, while you’re either preparing food and/or eating food and/or drinking alcohol in preparation for the Super Bowl, the Washington State Cougars and Arizona State Sun Devils will tip off in a contest in Pullman that is most notable for what it would say about the visitors if they somehow lost to the hosts.

The game will be broadcast on ESPNU, and you can also find it online at WatchESPN.com or on the ESPN app on your phone if you’d rather relegate the game to second screen status while you watch the Super Bowl pregame.

Much was made around these parts about the Cougars’ magical 6-0 run to start the season, but that was small potatoes compared to the Sun Devils’ 12-0 start that featured wins over Kansas, Xavier and Kansas State and vaulted them all the way to No. 2 in the country.

Since, they’ve gone 4-6 and fallen all the way out of the top 25.

None of those six losses are “bad” per se; the lowest ranked kenpom team of the bunch was Colorado, which beat ASU in Boulder, a notoriously difficult place to play, and even Thursday’s loss to Washington doesn’t look bad anymore now that the Huskies are 7-3 in the conference after a win over Arizona last night. (Sigh.)

That’s where today comes in: If the Sun Devils want to make sure nobody starts contemplating their NCAA tournament fate — which still seems secure — they can’t lose to the Cougs.

The catalyst behind that ascension to No. 2 was an explosive offense that features four starters who each have offensive ratings over 113 — a rough estimate of points created per 100 possessions — and they bring two more guys off the bench posting at least 110.

The Sun Devils shoot it well, they get to the free throw line, and they don’t turn it over. In short, they’ll probably shred the Cougs and triple digits is on the table again.

If there’s reason to hope, it’s this: ASU hasn’t scored as well in conference play, posting just the sixth-best offensive efficiency in league. Shooting has been a particular problem, as the Sun Devils’ effective field goal percentage is a paltry 11th in the league over that time.

Additionally, ASU’s defense is nothing special — 114th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and 8th in the Pac-12 in efficiency since league play started. Shots from the perimeter will be plentiful.

But will they be bountiful? As we know, the Cougars’ ability to hang usually hinges on their ability to hit threes. That’ll probably be true again today, because for as inconsistent as ASU’s offense has been since league play started, their weak points don’t align with a WSU strength. ASU’s guards get a lot of their shots blocked and sometimes struggle to finish around the rim.

The Cougs, though, don’t have any kind of interior presence, which is part of the reason they don’t really ever stop anyone who has any level of offensive athleticism. You’ll likely see a plethora of layups today from Tra Holder, Remy Martin and Shannon Evans with the occasional to each other and Kodi Justice for threes.

Kenpom.com predicts this to be a game WSU wins about twice in nine tries, and forecasts the Sun Devils to win, 85-76. Vegas favors ASU by eight. Both seem closer than I would predict, but ... hey, you never know!

Go Cougs!