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PULLMAN, WA - NOVEMBER 15: Washington State Men’s Basketball versus UC Santa Barbara at Beasley Coliseum - Michael Flowers (12)
Michael Flowers
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What to Watch for: Scouting WSU at ASU

The Cougs start Pac-12 play against the Sun Devils tonight.

The Washington State Cougars head down to Arizona today to kick off Pac-12 play against the 2-5 Arizona State Sun Devils. WSU is coming off of a really disappointing loss against Eastern Washington, but they look to bounce back against a struggling Arizona State team.

The game tips off at 4:30 p.m. PT and you can find it on Pac-12 Network or at Pac-12.com (with a subscription, of course).

The Sun Devils have not had an ideal start to their season. After winning their first game against Portland, ASU lost to UC Riverside and have now lost four straight. It is important to note that these four losses have come to much better opponents than the Cougs have played so far during their non-conference schedule. San Diego State, Baylor, Syracuse, and Loyola Chicago are all quality teams, and the Sun Devils return home prepared for the Cougs.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Offense

2021-22 ASU Synergy Offensive Efficiency

The Sun Devils are a solid, but not great offense. They tend to capitalize on their spot-up opportunities thanks to their guard rotation that is full of solid shooters and drivers. A major strength for ASU is their offensive rebounding, which could prove a tough match, given the Cougs’ struggle to defensive rebound so far this season. ASU isn’t great when tasked to score without a pass or rebound though. The Sun Devils are average or below in pick-and-roll scenarios, isolations, and post-ups. The Cougs could gain some defensive mojo back against a team like ASU.

Arizona State generally runs two bigs, just like WSU, and they will vary how they are used throughout the game. Here, they run a high-low set with the low big sealing off the defender from the basket. They like to get into this action at the start of games, halves, or after timeouts because it generates a good look quickly and takes advantage of their bigs’ athleticism.

The ASU offense tends to be very chaotic, with a lot of movement and motion going on all over the court. It can be hard to parse what is schemed and what is not, but there are some clear principles at play. Here, they run an extended horns set and every guard is moving all around the two bigs at the top. A one dribble drive and a quick relocation leads to a good look.

A lot of the movement is clearly schemed base. Here, there is a lot of movement to start the play, but once it bogs down and nothing was really created, everyone stops moving. The Cougs could try to force these late-clock scenarios and trust the isolation defense to win out.

The constant movement can sometime make the spacing wonky too. They try to set up an Iverson cut here, but the play gets so busy on the strong-side that there is not a driving lane along the baseline like there is supposed to be. The guard still attempts the baseline drive and is bailed out by some poor defense.

The last major note for ASU is that they are a very guard-heavy team with depth and size at that spot. In some ways, them running three guards makes them a good matchup for the Cougs because the size difference is not drastic, but in others it can be problematic. They will still have size advantages over Tyrell Roberts and Michael Flowers that they will exploit to get into the lane, and they are going to shoot more, which has killed WSU in the past three halves they’ve played. Our bigs will have to step up as rim protectors to help our guards out.

Defense

2021-22 ASU Synergy Defensive Efficiency

ASU is a pretty poor defense overall with some pretty obvious weak-spots the Cougs should look to exploit. The 2nd percentile in spot-up scenarios is a bit misleading, especially if the Cougs continue to shoot like they have, but they do tend to give a lot space and have undisciplined closeouts that can be driven off of. The transition number is a major one the Cougs should look to exploit. The Sun Devils are undisciplined and erratic in transition defense and opposing teams tend to get a lot of good looks against them if they run the floor.

That transition defense issue often rears its head in plays that shouldn’t necessarily result in transition run outs. Sometimes this is off of defensive rebounds or blocks that ASU just doesn’t recover in time to defend against. Here, the man on the wing is simply slow to get back and out of position, leading to an easy layup.

ASU is also a pretty poor defensive rebounding team and WSU should look to exploit that at all times. ASU bigs rarely box out and they are all a bit undersized too, leaving easy over-the-top rebounds and crash-in boards to be had.

The Sun Devils, in general, lack a lot of defensive communication and it leads to some easy buckets. Here, Loyola Chicago runs a Spain pick-and-roll to perfection and gets the easy layup under the basket. The Cougs run Spain quite often and it is the type of play that will get open looks against an undisciplined team.

Players to Watch

Luther Muhammad is a player that is due for a breakout and it could happen against WSU. Muhammad is a big, strong guard who can shoot a lot better than his 19.4% from three would suggest. He could take advantage of his size against WSU’s smaller guards and have his first big game of the season.

Kimani Lawrence is the 5th year senior big for ASU and he plays with a toughness and grittiness that could be tough for our young bigs to handle. He is only 6’8, 220 pounds, but he can get off the ground quickly and really attack the offensive boards.

DJ Horne is currently ASU’s leading scorer and he is an absolutely lights out shooter. The 6’1 sophomore can hit pull-ups from deep range and he is not shy about taking those shots. Well over half of his field goal attempts on the year have been from three and the Cougs will have to lock onto him, lest they want a repeat of the Winthrop and Eastern games.

Washington State Cougars

Players to Watch

Efe Abogidi has really struggled since his immaculate performance against UCSB, and the Cougs desperately need him to turn it around. ASU is a more conventional college team than EWU or Winthrop and that should allow him more chances for blocks on the inside. WSU needs his rim protection to normalize against Pac-12 teams for the defense to reach its ceiling.

Dishon Jackson was one of the few bright spots against Eastern and he could continue that momentum against the Sun Devils. ASU is smaller than many Pac-12 teams, but they have the size on the interior that won’t allow them to just flop around and draw fouls. Jackson should really be able to get himself going in the post and hopefully the defense continues to be solid.

Andrej Jakimovski has had a solid start from deep this season and the Cougs really need him to keep shooting. His on-ball playmaking has been a bit rough, but his shooting and defense have given a real path to playing time against Pac-12 competition. Jakimovski might have to play big minutes to space the floor for our bigs against ASU and he could get quite a few open looks from out there.

What to Watch For

The Cougs’ rim protection has remained solid, even in the last three halves. The issue has not been protecting the rim itself but forcing the offense to try and score inside at all. WSU needs to be willing to take advantage of their elite shot blockers and trust that they can beat opposing offenses at the rim. Running the offense off the line and forcing them to take more twos is a clear path to success for the Cougs.

Forcing turnovers should be a major focus for WSU in this game. ASU’s transition defense is really poor and there are a lot of points to be had in runouts. Being more aggressive in passing lanes and on the ball will also make getting wide open looks from deep harder and it could mitigate some of our size issues on defense.

Handling the road will be a big test for the Cougs, as this is basically the first true road game of the year. Going on the road is always tough and there is reason to worry that our young team could struggle with the pressure. Hopefully, the Cougs play under control and execute their gameplan effectively despite being on the road.

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