Preview: ASU vs Stanford
Arizona State (15-14, 7-9) returns home after being swept by Utah and Colorado. It was a disappointing two-game stretch for the Sun Devils, who apparently forgot to pack their defense for the road trip. The Sun Devils allowed 80-plus points in back-to-back games for the first time this season. With only two regular-season games remaining, ASU is looking to generate some momentum heading into next week's Pac-12 tournament, beginning with tonight's matchup against Stanford.
Before the road trip, ASU was playing its best basketball of the season, having won seven of their last ten. However, any momentum gained in recent weeks was halted over the weekend. The Sun Devils played well enough on offense to win Sunday's game, scoring 81 points on 48 percent from the field, including 8-of-20 from beyond the arc. The problem? ASU could not stop the Buffaloes' ball handlers from getting into the lane and inflicting damage. As a result, Colorado attacked the hoop at every opportunity, scoring 36 points in the paint.
Colorado, one of the worst shooting teams in the Pac-12 this season, had their second-best shooting performance (59.2 percent) since joining the conference four years ago. It was a surprising display of accuracy considering the Buffs had shot below 40 percent in seven straight games prior to Sunday.
ASU is currently tied for seventh place in the conference standings, but the final seedings are far from being determined. A slew of teams are clustered in the middle of the standings, and based on this week's results, ASU could finish as high as a No. 5 seed -- or as low as a No. 10 seed -- in the upcoming Pac-12 tournament.
Just a few weeks ago Stanford (18-10, 9-7) was considered a lock to make the NCAA tournament. However, after losing five of its last eight games, the Cardinal have fallen onto the wrong side of the bubble. With an RPI of 56 (and BPI of 38), Stanford's tournament résumé needs some work. At a minimum, the Cardinal will likely need to sweep the Arizona-schools and have a strong showing in the Pac-12 tourney if they expect to go dancing.
However, considering Stanford's talent and experience, it wouldn't be too surprising to see that scenario play out. They have the highest-scoring trio in the Pac-12 in Chasson Randle, Stefan Nastic and Anthony Brown. The three seniors average a combined 48.2 points per game. Randle, one of the best scorers in the conference (19.2 points per game), is the heart and soul of the team. The Cardinal will likely go as far as he takes them.
Aside from the Big Three, Stanford has a nice collection of role players in Marcus Allen, Rosco Allen (no relation), and Reid Travis. The Cardinal also have two rotation players - Michael Humphrey (Sunnyslope) and Dorian Pickens (Pinnacle) - who played their prep ball in Phoenix . Humphrey was recently inserted into the starting lineup and has played well. He has averaged 11.7 PPG in his last three games.
G - Tra Holder (6.9 PPG, 3.5 APG) vs. Chasson Randle (19.4 PPG, 3.1 APG)
G - Gerry Blakes (11.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG) vs. Marcus Allen (5.4 PPG, 3 RPG)
F - Shaq McKissic (11.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG) vs. Anthony Brown (15.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG)
F - Savon Goodman (10.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG) vs. Michael Humphrey (3.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG)
C - Eric Jacobsen (8.8 PPG, 64% FG) vs. Stefan Nastic (13.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG)
Why ASU Can Win: The Sun Devils have protected their home court this season (13-3) and should be inspired after last week's poor performance. Don't be surprised to see ASU give a more inspired effort on the defensive end. And aside from the Utah game, the Sun Devils' offense has been in sync over the last few weeks. Stanford's frontcourt is long, but has a reputation of being soft. The duo of Jacobsen and Goodman should be able to out-muscle the Cardinal post players (if they are able to stay out of foul trouble). ASU is rebounding the ball much better in recent weeks, which should neutralize Stanford's normal advantage on the glass.
Why Stanford Can Win: The Cardinal are fighting for the NCAA tournament lives, and will likely be a determined and focused team on Thursday. Aside from being one of the top scoring and rebounding teams in the Pac-12, Stanford is a matchup nightmare for opponents. The Cardinal's frontcourt is long and surprising agile, while their backcourt is quick and explosive. On offense Stanford likes to spread the floor on and take advantage of their many shooters. They shoot 39 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks second in the Pac-12. The Cardinal also get to the charity stripe as much as anyone in the conference (22.7 attempts per game) and their 71.8 percent from the line ranks second in the Pac-12.
Key Stat: In the past six games, ASU is outrebounding its opponents by 7.5 per game, including 71-39 on the offensive glass. As a result, the Sun Devils have an 80-47 advantage in second-chance points.
X-Factor: Slowing down Randle. The senior guard has tormented ASU fans for four seasons, dating back to his 30-point performance as a freshman in the Pac-12 tournament. In four games over the last two seasons, Randle has averaged 20 PPG against the Sun Devils. ASU point guard Tra Holder will be assigned the duty of slowing down Randle, not an easy task for anyone, let alone a freshman.
Final Score Prediction: ASU 73, Stanford 70
When: 9:00 p.m. MT
Where: Wells Fargo Arena
TV/Radio: Fox Sports 1/KMVP 98.7 FM