Tip off: 8 p.m. MST
Television: Fox Sports 1
The Sun Devils have dropped their first three conference games on the road to Arizona, Oregon State and Oregon. It doesn't get any easier for ASU Thursday when No. 8 Utah visits Tempe. Perhaps the friendly confines of Wells Fargo Arena will help the maroon and gold to notch its first conference victory of the season. The Utes are just the 3rd top 10 team to visit Wells Fargo Arena in the past seven seasons. ASU will need a lot of magic to take down a tough Utah squad which has already proven itself to be a legitimate Pac-12 foe this season.
ASU update: 8-8 (0-3)
The maroon and gold are coming off consecutive losses on the Oregon road trip, falling 55-47 to OSU in Corvallis and barely losing to Oregon 59-56. Turnovers once again plagued the Sun Devils, who lost the ball a combined 31 times in both games. Head coach Herb Sendek tried to switch up the lineup against Oregon, bringing Gerry Blakes in off the bench while Kodi Justice got the start. Justice only played for nine minutes while Blakes had 24 minutes and four points. Shaquielle McKissic stepped up against the Ducks, leading ASU with 18 points in 32 minutes of action. The Sun Devils struggled mightily from beyond the arc, making just 3 of 17 shots from beyond. McKissic now leads ASU with 11 points per game, followed by Gerry Blakes (10.8), Savon Goodman (10.7), and Eric Jacobsen (10.2).
Utah update 13-2 (3-0):
In head coach Larry Krystkowiak's fourth season, the Utes were expected to be and have proven themselves as a team to be reckoned with. The program's No. 8 ranking is its highest since the 1998-99 season and indicative of how they've played to date. Utah is coming off a blowout 74-49 victory over Colorado in which 5-foot-10 junior guard Brandon Taylor had 14 points and was aided by stud 6-foot-5 senior guard Delon Wright with 13 points and six assists. The Utes certainly have a ton to play for. Wins over ASU and U of A on this road trip would thrust the program into the national spotlight. Utah already has big wins over the Los Angeles schools in Pac-12 play and also hold a huge win over then No. 8 Wichita State. Their only two losses came against then No. 10 Kansas and No. 16 San Diego State.
Keys to victory:
1. Pick your poison
The one thing that makes Utah so lethal is they have a lot of ways to hurt opponents. Wright and 6-foot-6 junior forward Jordan Loveridge provide an efficient 1-2 punch for the Utes. They lead the team averaging 14.9 and 10.8 points per game. Wright is even better on the road averaging 16.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. Behind them are Dakarai Tucker and Brandon Taylor who offer similar skill sets. In the paint, freshman 7-footer Jakob Poeltl (He's Austrian) has taken the starting spot away from Dallin Bachynski and he leads the team with 8.3 rebounds per game. The Utes also shoot an impressive 39.7 percent from beyond and almost 50 percent from the field. Bottom line is this team has a lot of ways to win. The Sun Devils need to pick one or two areas where they feel more confident in their skill set than Utah or pick a player or two and shut them down to try and make half the lineup do twice the work.
2. Sendek's time
ASU is 2-3 at home against ranked teams under Herb Sendek.Those wins came against No. 7 Stanford in 2008 and No. 2 Arizona last season. In the previous 24 seasons before Sendek arrived, ASU was 4-23. While he's not perfect at home, he does have some kind of recipe for beating vastly superior competition like the Sun Devils will face Thursday night. He'll need to draw upon his own skills as a coach because ASU will not win this game based on matchups because Utah is the better team. He'll need a game plan that both exploits the Utes weaknesses while enhancing the talents of his own players how he sees fit. A young, inexperienced group like the maroon and gold who now don't have a lot to lose this season can be dangerous for teams like the Utes.
3. Fewer turnovers
This will be a key until it is fixed, which it hasn't been. Second chance points have killed ASU this season and its not easy to win basketball games when a team doesn't win the turnover battle. How does one fix turnovers? It's a return to fundamentals such as keeping their head up and not telegraphing passes. On a deeper level, its making sure not to pick up the dribble as well as not passing the ball into turnover prone situations such as the corners of the court or along the baseline. This goes hand in hand with spacial awareness on the court. The Sun Devils have to know where they are so that when they go to shot fake from the corner or make a pass, they aren't stepping out of bounds in the process.
Prediction: Utah- 85 ASU-67