March Madness Preview: Arizona State draws Syracuse in Play-In Game

For the past week and a half, Arizona State Men’s Basketball team and fans had no idea if the Sun Devils were going to make the NCAA tournament. Going 8-11 in PAC-12 play and an early round exit in the PAC-12 tournament made it seem like the Sun Devils were going to miss the tournament according to many bracketologists including ESPN’S Joe Lunardi.

The agonizing wait is now over, and the selection committee decided to spare Arizona State. The Sun Devils are an #11 seed along with Syracuse in the Midwest region. The play-in game will be on Wednesday at 6:10 P.M. If Arizona State can rekindle their non-conference magic, this team could make a deep run in the tournament.

Yet Again, ASU faces 2-3 Zone

Arizona State will be going up against a very experienced coach in Jim Boeheim who has won a National Championship and has made 4 Final Four’s. Jim Boeheim and Syracuse are known for their vaunted 2-3 zone which has been a problem for the Sun Devils throughout the season especially in conference play.

Syracuse is long and lengthy which could cause problems for ASU. If Arizona State’s guards get hot from the field especially from 3, then ASU could easily take control of this game though.

The Orange are not the best offensively (309th nationally at 67.5 ppg), but they are led by Sophomore Tyus Battle who averages just under 20 points a game. Arizona State, on the other hand, is a good offensive team averaging around 84 points a game. ASU is led by their 3 senior guards: Tra Holder (18.4 ppg), Shannon Evans (16.6 ppg), and Kodi Justice (12.6 ppg).

Keys for The Sun Devils

If Arizona State wants to advance, then ASU has to penetrate Syracuse’s 2-3 zone and big men Romello White and Dequan Lake cannot get into foul trouble early. Syracuse allows 64.5 points a game which is 16th best in the nation, but they only score 67.5 points per game. Syracuse has a thin rotation playing usually 7 guys a game, and it is imperative that ASU plays fast and keeps a good tempo throughout the game in order to get the Orange in foul trouble and tired. This will be key especially in the beginning of the game.

In addition, if ASU can get to the free throw line and cut down on turnovers then all signs point to ASU winning this game. Guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, and Kodi Justice cannot be content with just setting for jumpers and three’s especially if their shots are not falling early.

Rebounding will also be a huge factor in this game. Syracuse is a great offensive rebounding team averaging 10.2 offensive rebounds a game which ranks 54th in the nation. Rebounding has been an issue with Bobby Hurley’s squad all season long. It will be very important for ASU to not allow Syracuse to get multiple looks and put-backs during critical possessions in the game.

Final Thoughts

I believe facing Syracuse could cause problems for ASU, especially early on if shots are not falling for the Sun Devils. With the senior guard leadership, the Sun Devils should have a good shot of knocking off this blue blood program.

If ASU beats Syracuse, they will go on to play #6 seed TCU on Friday. This Arizona State team has already shown the nation that they can beat anyone which should scare any team that has to play the Sun Devils. Hopefully, Bobby Hurley’s squad can get their swagger back and make a magical run in March. It all starts Wednesday at 6:10 P.M.  Let the Madness begin Sun Devil fans.


Photo from Sun Devil Athletics (Twitter)



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