Arizona State finished up their regular season with a home loss to Stanford in a nailbiter 84-83. Arizona finished up winning their last two games to secure the #1 seed (14-4) in the tournament while ASU will be the #9 seed (8-10).
#9 Arizona State vs. #8 Colorado
Arizona will have a first-round bye, and they will play the winner of this game Thursday at noon PT. ASU and Colorado split the season series with both teams winning at home.
In the first matchup on January 4th, ASU was number 4 in the country and coming from a heartbreaker at the McKale Center. ASU started out good shooting 33% from three and 38% from the field while taking a 5 point lead at the half. Colorado turned the switch in the second half though.
They shot 50% from three and 55% from the field, but they were 7-12 from the line. ASU struggled from three shooting 3-14, but they turned it around in the final minutes to force the game to OT on the road.
ASU struggled in OT with a lot of foul trouble as Tra Holder and Mickey Mitchell fouled out. Kimani Lawerence and Dequon Lake had 3 fouls each in just 14 minutes combined. This was one of Mitchell’s better games has he had 10 rebounds with four coming on the offensive glass. The Buffs ended up pulling away at the end to win 90-81, and the fans stormed the court.
It is fair to say that Colorado took advantage of their home advantage this season against most opponents going 12-3 at home and 1-10 on the road.
In the second matchup in Tempe, the first half looked much like the first game with struggles shooting from 3 as the Devils were 0-10 to start the game. Tied at 32-32, the Devils made a huge charge in the second half hitting 10 of 21 threes.
ASU stayed out of foul trouble in this game, and Holder (22) and Evans (19) combined for 41 points. Holder (24) and Evans (11) had 35 points in the first game.
This is a good matchup for ASU despite losing to them once this year. Their guards are bigger than ours with George King (6’6″), Namon Wright (6’5″), and Tyler Bey (6’7″), but they really only have one big man in 7-foot freshmen, Dallas Walton.
The guy who killed ASU in the first game was McKinley Wright, the PAC-12 All-Freshmen member, who scored 19 points and drove the ball with ease all game long. In the second game, he scored just two points on 1-10 shooting. The key will be to keep him in check like in the second game in Tempe.
Second Round – Winner of ASU v Colorado vs. U of A
U of A split the home and road with Colorado just like ASU did. In the first game, U of A got off to a terrible start and were down 16 at halftime. Dallas Walton had the game of his career with 15 points, but he only had 1 rebound. The senior, George King, dominated and had most of the rebounds for the Buffs with 11.
Walton was completely shut down in the second game by the likes of Ayton, Ristic, and Pinder with just 4 points and 2 rebounds. The two Wright’s for Colorado had 30 points in the first game, but 19 in the second game. King stepped up the second game with 22, but Allonzo Trier countered with 23.
The guards will be the difference for Colorado as they have the quantity advantage over U of A, but Trier is the best guard in the game. With my prediction though, Colorado won’t make it past the Devils in the first round which sets up an epic second round in-state matchup.
3rd Times the Charm?
On Wednesday, ASU has the chance to play U of A for the third time in a year for the first time since 2009. ASU had James Harden, Derek Glasser, and Jeff Pendergraph. Also, whoever wins this second-round game will have a great chance of winning the tournament in Las Vegas.
The winner of this would play the winner of Stanford and UCLA, then in the championship game against USC, Washington, Oregon, or Utah.
With the conference being so up and down, anything could happen on that other side of the bracket. All four of those teams have a chance to make the tournament with a big weekend too. All four are on the outside looking in, but they all have good enough resumes to get in with 2-3 wins in Vegas.
Keys for the Wildcats
Now back to the anticipated game, U of A swept the season series against ASU in games that both came down to the final minutes. U of A was able to pull ahead at the end of the second game pretty handily because of a clutch Trier three.
At the end of the day, Dusan Ristic and DeAndre Ayton have been the difference makers in the two games with their abilities to play on the court together and offensive rebound. Ristic had 12 points in each game, and Ayton had 23 and 25. Ayton also has 35 rebounds in both games with Ristic adding 14 more. In the second game, Ristic was able to create shots with Ayton waiting to put work on the offensive boards. Ayton had 8 offensive boards that led to a lot of easy putbacks.
While Rawle Alkins hasn’t done much in both games, Trier has been able to score 23 and 19 points while hitting 3’s at a good clip of 6-13.
Keys for the Sun Devils
For ASU, their 3 point shooting has been off against the Wildcats shooting just 15-50 at 30%. Tra Holder has 51 points combined in both games, but Evans has disappeared in both games with just 12 points. He is 1-11 behind the arc which has been detrimental to the team in these tight games.
If Evan’s shot isn’t falling, Remy Martin needs to take some of his time to bring in that playmaking ability. Evans is extremely important to this team, but he relies on his shoot a lot. Martin has 21 points in these rivalry games, and he has played 27 fewer minutes than Evans.
The biggest key for ASU is for the big men to slow down Ayton and Ristic. Lawrence is going to play a big role on the defensive end even though he is smaller than their two guys. He has shown growth on the defensive end with steals and blocks piling up a bit in the past few weeks. In 20 minutes against Cal, he had 4 blocks and 2 steals. A couple of those blocks came at the end, but he showed he can play as a big 4. He has had a great game against UCLA with 3 steals and a block in 16 minutes.
ASU will need two of their big men on the court at almost all times to have a chance in this game. Any combination of Romello White, Dequon Lake, Kimani Lawrence, and Mickey Mitchell will do. Romello White and Dequon Lake haven’t played much together, but that combination could be lethal in holding back Ayton and Ristic. Those two will have to stay out of foul trouble and pick their spots to foul.