Preview: USC at ASU
Arizona State (4-4 overall, 1-1 Pac-12) wraps up its two-game homestand with a Saturday evening showdown against USC.
The Sun Devils are coming off an 81-75 overtime loss to UCLA on Thursday night. It was a valiant effort from ASU, which was severely short-handed.
The team had to play without two of its starters (Remy Martin and Jalen Graham) and two key reserves (Taeshon Cherry and Jaelen House). In total, ASU had only eight scholarship players available for Thursday’s contest.
Nonetheless, the Sun Devils kept it close throughout the game, displaying more aggressiveness than usual, especially on the glass and defensive end.
Despite suffering a second-straight loss, Bobby Hurley said he was pleased with his team’s effort level.
“I thought we did a good job, especially through the regulation, to dig in the post,” Hurley added. “We were able to create 18 turnovers without pressing UCLA very much in the game.”
The 18 turnovers marked a season-high for the Bruins, who came into the game as one of the more sure-handed teams in the conference.
In addition to creating turnovers, the Sun Devils also battled on the glass. Against one of the better rebounding teams in the Pac-12, ASU only got out-rebounded by four.
Offensively, the team was led by senior Alonzo Verge, who tied his season-high with 25 points (on 8-of-22 shooting). The flashy guard also posted seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
The freshmen duo of Josh Christopher (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Marvin Bagley (11 and 11) also turned in solid performances.
One area of concern, however, is the Sun Devils’ continued shooting woes. On Thursday, they shot only 38.9 percent from the field, including 6-of-26 (23.1 percent) from three-point range.
It continues an alarming trend for ASU, who has shot only 40 percent from the field (and 27.8 from beyond the arc) over the last four games – three of which were losses.
Hurley, however, is optimistic about this team’s long-term potential, and believes the Sun Devils will eventually find its shooting touch.
“I think that’s where the growth potential is still there, too, for our team,” he said after Thursday’s loss.
“Our offensive game, our percentages weren’t great, yet we hung in there. I think there are some guys that can shoot better percentages than we shot tonight, and I think we’ll get there. We’re on the right track.”
Note: At the time of publication, it is unclear if any of the four ASU players who missed Thursday’s game will be available on Saturday.
At a minimum, it would appear Graham is out for at least two weeks, according to Thursday’s telecast on ESPN. The status of the other three players is unknown. Martin went home this week to California to attend his grandfather’s funeral, while Cherry and House were out due to a non-disciplinary, non-injury issue, which is the team’s designation for the obvious reason in the current climate.
USC (7-2 overall, 2-1 conference) enters Saturday’s matchup fresh off an impressive 87-73 victory over Arizona in Tucson.
This is not the most talented USC team under Andy Enfield, who is in his eighth season as the Trojans’ head coach, but it might be his most complete team.
Despite returning only three scholarship players from last year’s team, Enfield has found a way to make it work with all of the newcomers.
Picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, USC will likely exceed those expectations. It is still early – just a little over a month since the 20-21 season tipped off – but this Trojan squad looks like a legitimate NCAA Tournament team.
They have the requisite experience, athleticism, and size -- eight players are 6-7 or taller.
USC has used its superior length to be disruptive on the defensive end. On the season, the Trojans have held opponents to 63.7 points per game on 35.9 percent shooting from the field, which is the fourth-lowest clip in the country.
They are not extremely quick on the perimeter, but their guards can be aggressive and take chances since they have help on the backside in the form of mobile, athletic post players who are elite rim protectors. As a team, USC averages 5.7 blocks per game, which ranks in the top-10 nationally.
Not surprisingly, USC is also a good rebounding team, however, they are prone to being overly aggressive on shot challenges, which creates offensive rebound opportunities for opponents, as evidenced by the 12.8 offensive boards per game they give up.
On offense, the Trojans have relied on its slew of newcomers, including freshman phenom Evan Mobley. The future NBA lottery pick has lived up to all of the hype and leads the team in scoring (15.4 per game), rebounding (8.3), and blocked shots (2.7).
He shares the frontcourt with his older brother, Isaiah, who has improved as a sophomore this season.
The rest of the starting five is rounded out by a trio of transfers – Tahj Eaddy, Drew Peterson, and Isaiah White.
Eaddy, a grad transfer from Santa Clara, is usually the team’s starting shooting guard but has run the offense the last few weeks while USC’s starting point guard (Ethan Anderson) has been sidelined with a back injury. Eaddy is a reliable ball-handler who can stroke it from deep (41.5 percent from beyond the arc).
Peterson, a transfer from Rice, provides size (6-8) and outside shooting (56.3 percent from 3-point range). He has a nice all-around game and possesses a high basketball IQ. White, a grad transfer from Utah Valley, adds even more size (6-7) and athleticism to USC’s perimeter. White is one of the team’s better on-ball defenders.
USC typically goes nine deep into its rotation, with a bulk of the bench minutes going to senior post Chevez Goodwin (7.6 PPG), junior guard Noah Baumman (6.1 PPG), and sophomore wing Max Agbonkpolo (4.7 PPG).
G Holland Woods, 6-0, Sr. (5.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.9 APG)
G Alonzo Verge, 6-2, Sr. (17 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 3.2 APG)
G Josh Christopher, 6-5, Fr. (17.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.5 SPG)
F Marcus Bagley, 6-8, Fr. (12.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 39.4% 3PT)
F Chris Osten, 6-9, Jr. (3.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 61.1% FG)
G Tahj Eaddy, 6-2, R-Sr. (12.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 3 APG)
G Isaiah White, 6-7, R-Sr. (8.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.1 SPG)
G Drew Peterson, 6-8, Jr. (10.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.9 APG)
F Isaiah Mobley, 6-10, So. (8.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.9 APG)
F Evan Mobley, 7-0, Fr. (15.4 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.7 BPG)
Key Stat: ASU has won the last seven meetings in Tempe, and the Sun Devils are undefeated at home against USC (5-0) during Enfield’s tenure. The last time the Trojans won in Tempe was in January 2011.
X-Factor: The three-point line. ASU’s struggles from 3-point range have been well documented this season, and unfortunately for the Sun Devils, they are facing one of the better 3-point defensive teams. The Trojans have held opponents to a measly 29 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Additionally, USC is one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting squads themselves. On the season, the Trojans have connected on nearly 39 percent of its 3-point attempts.
Prediction: USC 74, ASU 69
When: 5:00 pm MST
Where: Desert Financial Arena – Tempe, Ariz.
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Networks / 620 AM
Up Next: The Sun Devils travel to Eugene to play Oregon on Thursday (7:00 pm MST).