The Washington State Cougars look to bounce back from another tough road weekend as they host the Arizona State Sun Devils in Beasley Coliseum on Wednesday (8 pm PT, Pac-12 Network). The Cougs are coming off back-to-back double-digit losses to Colorado and Utah on what is almost certainly the toughest road trip in the Pac-12. WSU now sits at 3-5 in league play.
ASU is coming off a dramatic come-from-behind victory over rival Arizona. In that game, the Sun Devils trailed by as much as 22 in the first half, but stormed back to win late. That moved Arizona State to 3-3 on the Pac-12 season—having played just six games because they’ve faced Arizona on two different weekends.
Those two rivalry games, plus games against Oregon and Colorado mean that Arizona State has played four of its first six league games against team ranked in both KenPom’s Top 20 and the NCAA’s NET Top 20. With the win over Arizona and sitting at No. 57 in the NET rankings after that tough schedule, the Sun Devils do have a shot to play themselves into an NCAA tournament bid.
Given that WSU itself sits at No. 108 in NET, the Cougs offer ASU an opportunity for a Quadrant 2 win. So, this is a decent chance for Arizona State to build on the resume it instantly established with that comeback last weekend.
Let’s look at how WSU might player spoiler, or how ASU might walk away with a victory.
This season features the best defense and worst offense that Bobby Hurley has had in his time at Arizona State. The Sun Devils are 32nd in adjusted defensive efficiency, but sit at 176th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
The defensive improvement has largely been driven by two things: ASU is forcing more turnovers and allowing fewer 3-point attempts. Freshman guard Jaelen House has played a major role in the turnover uptick, as he ranks 29th nationally in steal percentage—defined as the percentage of opponent possessions that he is on the floor in which he steals the ball.
Preventing 3-pointers can be a function of defensive philosophy. We’ve seen that with WSU’s switch from Ernie Kent to Kyle Smith. Hurley seems to have made the adjustment to have his players chase shooters away the 3-point line more often this season, and that is paying dividends defensively.
Otherwise, Arizona State has been a little above average in shooting percentage defense for both 2s and 3s. The Sun Devils don’t have much size, but 6’8 Romello White is a solid rim protector and an excellent defensive rebounder.
When ASU has the ball, point guard Remy Martin controls most of the action. He takes the most shots on the team and still dishes out assists at a high rate. Martin is quick and can break down his defender, while also being adept enough from long range (33 percent on 109 attempts) that he can’t be left alone. WSU has good defensive guards, but he will test them.
Sporadic starter Alonzo Verge will not be shy when he is the game. He actually takes a greater percentage of shots while he is on the floor than Martin, but is not nearly as effective. Verge is shooting under 21 percent on 3s, and under 44 percent on 2s. That gives him an abysmal effective field goal percentage and an offensive rating around 10 percent below the average. He does have the ability to get hot, as evidenced by a 43-point performance on 29 shots against Saint Mary’s earlier this season. You could say he is always on the verge of a big game.
White is the biggest threat on the inside. He does most of his work on putbacks, dishes from Martin, and at the free throw line. While he doesn’t have the size to tower over WSU’s small frontline, he does have strength and athleticism to give them trouble.
Rob Edwards is another player to watch. He shoots well from deep, but doesn’t do much else particularly well. He has averaged over eight 3-point attempts over his last four games, so expect him to let it fly when given an opening.
Overall, the Arizona State offense’s profile is remarkably similar to WSU’s offense. The Sun Devils don’t turn the ball over much, they struggle to shoot, and don’t take many trips to the free throw line. WSU does shoot a few more 3s, while Arizona State gets to rim more often.
KenPom predicts an ASU win 55 percent of the time with an average score of 72-71. Expect a fast-paced game with lots of misses and limited turnovers. That means rebounding will be a huge factor, as will WSU’s outside shooting if it can continue its Pac-12 play trend of being effective from long range.
8 pm PT
WatchESPN or ESPN App (log-in required)