Arizona State and Stanford kick off the 2013 Pac-12 Tournament, held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The battle between the Sun Devils and the Cardinal is considered to be the best matchup in the first round, as both teams finished conference play with a .500 record and both teams are dark horses to make a surprise run in the conference tournament.
ASU and Stanford enter the postseason going in completely different directions: Stanford's season culminated in two big wins over Utah and California, while Arizona State lost four straight and went from possible NCAA Tournament team to the 9th seed in the Pac-12.
Due to the 18-game conference format, the Cardinal and the Sun Devils only played once this season, a February 9th battle at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe that ended 62-59 in favor of Stanford. Dwight Powell was the player of the game, scoring 22 points and grabbing 10 rebounds while causing serious defensive matchup issues for ASU.
Powell's double-double was just one of the reasons why Stanford defeated ASU that day: the Cardinal were 10-18 from beyond the arc, good for 55.6%. All told, they made nearly half their shot attempts, while the Sun Devils struggled from the field (34.4%), beyond the arc (30.4%) and particularly at the free throw line (8 for 16, 50%).
All that is in the past, but it helps us plan ahead and prognosticate on the important factors that lie ahead for ASU in their game against the Cardinal.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Dwight Powell vs. Carrick Felix: For the uninitiated, Dwight Powell is a 6-10, athletic forward that can shoot from long distance and can also make plays happen off the dribble. While not a big man in the traditional sense, his versatility causes problems for teams like ASU that rely on bigs such as Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev for their interior defense.
To combat Powell's versatility, ASU coach Herb Sendek found some success with a smaller lineup on the court, tasking Carrick Felix to play out of position and guard Powell. We can anticipate more small ball tomorrow afternoon, as Sendek may attempt to put as much scoring on the floor as possible by playing four guards and Jonathan Gilling.
Here are a few more things to watch out for:
Jahii Carson vs. Aaron Bright: Both of these point guards want to make a big run in the Pac-12 Tournament, and they will come out gunning. Carson got the best of their battle last month, but point guard play will be a big factor in this game.
Arizona State's free throw shooting: The ultimate achilles heel, the Sun Devils have struggled mightily from the charity stripe all season long. Makes and misses from the line will be key.
Eric Jacobsen's playing time: The Devils may give Jacobsen some added responsibility against the athletic front court of the Cardinal, and the local product has shown flashes of talent throughout conference play. Should he be given extended minutes, the impact of his performance will be important to measure.
The turnover game: ASU stayed in the game against Stanford last month because they only had 8 turnovers while the Cardinal turned it over 14 times. Expect both teams to attempt to bend the other to their will, and that could lead to fast break opportunities and foul shots.
The winner of the ASU/Stanford game will play the #1-seeded UCLA Bruins in the second round on Thursday at noon. While the Bruins may be a good match for the Sun Devils, ASU has their work cut out to even have that opportunity.