Through four games of the 2012-13 season, the Arizona St. Sun Devils have played well. Much of the improvement over last season is due to the arrival of Jahii Carson, who has averaged 18.8 points in his first season wearing maroon and gold.
Tonight, the Sun Devils face their stiffest test: the #14 Creighton Bluejays. The game will be televised on ESPNU at 9 PM Arizona time. Now, we break down the five keys to ASU victory.
1. Contain Doug McDermott
One of the nation's most dynamic scorers, McDermott is nearly impossible to stop. Last season, McDermott scored 22.9 points a game and led the Jays to a 29-6 record and a Round of 32 matchup against #1 seed North Carolina. The 6-foot-8 forward put up 20 points against the Tar Heels, but Creighton lost 87-73.
McDermott is lethal from beyond the arc and also leads the team in rebounding while making 28 of his 30 free throw attempts in 2012. His versatile game will give the Sun Devils fits, but focusing defensive effort on the leading scorer should put more pressure on his supporting cast to produce points in a high-scoring affair.
2. Make sure Jordan Bachynski is a factor on both ends of the court
A 23-year old junior, Bachynski is the X-factor for tonight's game. Through four games, the 7-foot-2 center from Calgary has averaged a double-double, scoring 13.3 points while grabbing 10.8 rebounds per game.
For Bachynski to exert influence over Creighton, he must accomplish several things. First, he must stay out of foul trouble. Picking up quick fouls would force Ruslan Pateev into the game earlier than coach Herb Sendek would like. Next, Bachynski must establish his space in the paint against Gregory Echenique, a fifth year senior who, while five inches shorter than Bachynski, has a lower center of gravity and a sturdy body type. It will be critical to own the paint and give his team open looks on the outside.
Finally, Bachynski must have a huge game on the boards. Since the Devils have struggled with their long distance shooting lately, grabbing those misses and giving the offense another chance is of the utmost importance.
3. Use your athleticism
Between Carrick Felix and Jahii Carson, the Sun Devils have a lot of athleticism in the backcourt. For everything that Creighton does exceptionally well, they have yet to play a team as athletic as Arizona State this season. Without much time to prepare in the film room, could the Sun Devils overwhelm the Bluejays with speed and a fast pace? It's not likely, but a laborious pace would not do ASU any favors. Give the ball to the playmakers and allow them to operate the offense in an exciting way, and the Sun Devils might just hit the jackpot in Vegas. But even if you push the pace, ASU still needs to ...
4. Turn the ball over less
The Sun Devils are averaging more than 14 turnovers a game. You simply cannot give up that many possessions against a team as balanced and talented as Creighton. While his scoring is necessary, Jahii Carson must focus on weathering the pressure-packed situations that the Jays will throw at him.
5. Intelligent shot selection
Arizona State will live and die by their three-point shooting this season. Averaging nearly 22 long-range shots per game, the Sun Devils have converted only 34.4% of those shots. Jonathan Gilling and Evan Gordon have struggled the most, combining for 27.7% from beyond the arc.
For the Sun Devils to be a competitive team throughout the year, ASU will need to pass up some contested long distance shots and look to the paint for some higher percentage options. With Bachynski on the block, the inside-outside game could be Sendek's bread and butter against Creighton.