As the year 2022 concludes, the Wildcats will look to add one more win to a year full of many successes as they hit the road for an in-state rivalry game up north in Tempe, Arizona. A newly constructed Arizona State University basketball team has head coach Bobby Hurley in a strong position entering the new year, with the heat of conference play around the corner.
Throughout college basketball’s off-season, there were speculations that Hurley was on the hot seat as last year marked his third consecutive season with a win percentage record under .500, and he failed to make the NCAA tournament, as his previous trip to the dance was in 2019. Hurley has had only two NCAA Tournament appearances since taking over in Tempe in 2015.
The Sun Devils enter this game with an 11-2 record, a turnaround compared to recent memory, primarily because of the added talent Hurley acquired in the transfer portal last spring. Two key transfers, Desmond Cambridge and Frankie Collins highlight the list of newcomers.
Cambridge can impact the game on various levels on the offensive side of the ball. The 6-foot-4-inch guard is a high-volume scorer, capable of lighting up the scoreboard when in a rhythm. Since starting his career at Brown University, he has had a reputation for being a dynamic shot-creator in the mid-range area. The fifth-year senior enters Saturday’s game averaging 11.5 points per game.
After being one of the more sought-after high school prospects, Collins had a disappointing first year at the University of Michigan. Although, since departing, his transition to the desert has been smooth, mainly because Hurley's system is more beneficial to his play style, allowing him to play in space and have more freedom with the ball in his hands.
Nevertheless, his weakness is decision-making, tending to cause ill-advised turnovers when in transition, changing speeds. The turnover rate has improved slightly however, through the first five games of the season Collins was averaging 4.4 a contest compared to 3.2 through 13 games. In addition, the Sun Devils are susceptible to a fast-paced offense as Hurley uses rotations consisting of four guards. Hurley could counter his primary tendencies, given the size and speed of Oumar Ballo and Azuolas Tubelis.
Next to Collins in the backcourt will be D.J. Horne. The senior gave the Wildcats trouble in their meeting at McKale Center last season, having 17 points and drilling in five three-pointers. All things considered, Horne has been struggling lately, shooting 12 for 30 in his previous three performances, and will be eager to get back.
How can Arizona leave Tempe with a victory? Two key factors:
The outcome of Saturday's game will largely depend on the opening energy from the starting lineup. Saturday will mark Arizona’s first game in ten days, plus the team will be coming back from Christmas break distractions from basketball were certainly evident and turning back the gears must occur.
This will be the second road test of the season for the Wildcats, the first not playing to their benefit. Tommy Lloyd will emphasize this early on to his group as the Desert Financial Arena will be packed with maroon and gold.
Another area that Arizona must execute in will be attacking close-outs on the defensive end. This is an area that Arizona has been suspected of throughout the first half of the season. The last case was evident in the first half against the University of Tennessee as the Volunteers caught fire early from the perimeter within the first 10 minutes, knocking down shots at will. Lloyd’s adjustments combined with the McKale Center crowd, eventually helped erase the hot hands of the Volunteers.
Furthermore, Arizona State relies on distance shooting, attempting 23.4 shots per game, more than any opponent the Wildcats have seen. As a result, the Sun Devils will likely look to space the floor surrounded by Warren Washington inside the lane. Ideally, the Sun Devils would like four shooting threats along the perimeter, stretching the Wildcat defense and challenging Tubelis and Ballo to defend the perimeter while putting the pair in ball screens to free up shooters.
Playing as the road team, the Wildcats have a record of 29-24 against the Sun Devils. Saturday will mark the first of two meetings between both schools this season. The game will be broadcasted on FOX at noon mst live from Tempe, Arizona.
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