Fresh off an exhibition victory last Saturday against Western New Mexico, Arizona State returns to action to open the Bobby Hurley era against Sacramento State. The Sun Devils are riding high after throttling the Mustangs to the tune of a 102-34 win, but the Hornets figure to provide a much more formidable test.
They were in contention for a Big Sky championship for the majority of the 2014-15 season and won a game in the CIT before being bounced in the second round. This figures to be the toughest season opener for the maroon and gold since they faced Montana State back in 2011.
Tip-off: 5:30 p.m. MT
Television: Pac-12 Networks Arizona
Arizona State Update:
The Sun Devils enter the 2015-16 campaign with four of five starters returning from last year's team, but the single loss is a big one. Shaquille McKissic is gone, leaving ASU without its leading scorer and most vocal leader.
Savon Goodman and Eric Jacobsen figure to take over as the team's presence in and around the painted area, while a solid backcourt consisting of Tra Holder and Gerry Blakes makes this new, up-tempo offense very intriguing.
Hurley has brought in four junior college transfers that he plans on using immediately, and it will be interesting to see how long it takes them to get acclimated to Division I play.
One thing is for sure; the Hurley regime in Tempe is going to look a lot different than the Herb Sendek era. There will be more points, more shots, and more excitement (if you like offense). And it all starts tonight.
Sacramento State Update:
Looking to spoil Hurley's opener is Sacramento State, a team that is coming off one of their best seasons in school history. However, the top two players from that team, Mikh McKinney and Dylan Garrity, are now gone, and the Hornets will be hard pressed to match last year's 21 years without them.
Leading the way this season will be senior guard Cody Demps, who averaged 9.8 points per game last season despite playing behind McKinney and Garrity. This is his team now, but he will need a lot of help from some younger role players if Sacramento State is to pull an opening night shocker.
Keys to victory:
1. Sell out against Demps
Demps is the Hornets only established scoring threat, and the maroon and gold should make sure that he isn't the one to beat them. Upsets in these types of games usually come when a player from the underdog has an offensive explosion, so as long as Demps is limited, Arizona State should be fine. Force one of their more inexperienced and overwhelmed players to do something and see what happens.
2. Run, run, and run some more
The Sun Devils can out-athlete Sacramento State at every position, and they should be able to run this team out of Wells Fargo Arena, if they want to. The Hornets will try to slow this game down and make Hurley's team uncomfortable, so the best thing they can do is run at every available opportunity. Speed and tempo has been the focal point of Hurley's preseason practices, and they should have a lot of chances to showcase what they have been working on in this one.
3. When in doubt, defer to Holder
The sophomore point guard has shined bright in training camp, the team's secret scrimmage at Long Beach State, and in last week's exhibition game. Holder appears to be this team's "it" player, and the offense needs to be his down the stretch if this is a close game. With all the praise he has garnered throughout the past few weeks, that should not be a tough decision.
Prediction: Arizona State - 75, Sacramento State - 60