The Arizona State Sun Devils are now past the midway point of a hellacious seven game stretch in which they are facing six quality opponents. The first four contests of that period have come with their share of ups and downs.
Bobby Hurley's team looked impressive in wins against NC State and Creighton, while some shooting woes contributed to a loss against Marquette and an ugly victory against UC Santa Barbara.
The Sun Devils are back in action tonight against the Texas A&M Aggies, and they will need to bring their A-game if they want to beat the 18th-ranked team in the country.
Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. MT
Arizona State Update (5-2):
Playing perhaps its most complete game of the young season, Arizona State was firing on all cylinders on Wednesday night in Omaha. The good play was rewarded with a heart-stopping 79-77 win against Creighton, marking the first regular season win for the Pac-12 in the home of the Bluejays since 1972.
The coaching staff's continued faith in forward Willie Atwood is starting to pay off in a major way. The senior had 14 points and five rebounds in Wednesday's victory and was a perfect 3-of-3 from three-point range.
Also beginning to shine is JC transfer Obinna Oleka. He has played an average of 21 minutes per game coming off the bench over the past three contests and is starting to become a legitimate scoring threat from anywhere on the floor.
With him and Atwood performing at this high of a level, a lot of pressure is being taken off of the usual playmakers like Savon Goodman and Gerry Blakes.
Texas A&M Update (7-1):
After starting out the season with four cupcakes, Texas A&M has responded well to the uptick in its schedule. The Aggies went to the Bahamas and posted a 2-1 record against the likes of Texas, Gonzaga, and Syracuse before returning home to defeat Florida Gulf Coast.
The team is as good as they have been for a long time, sitting at No. 18 in the AP poll with a 7-1 record. Head coach Billy Kennedy has done an excellent job recruiting and has one of the most balanced attacks in the SEC, boasting four players averaging more than 10 points per game.
While NC State, Marquette, and Creighton were all solid teams, Texas A&M possesses more talent and potential than all of them.
Keys to victory:
1. Take Danuel House out of his game
The Aggies undisputed leader and best player is shooting guard Danuel House. He has the potential to take over at any given moment and is averaging 16 points per game. The Sun Devils need to limit his touches and force someone else to beat them.
2. Pack the inside on defense
While Texas A&M is a very good team, outside shooting is not one of its strong suits. The Aggies were 4 of 17 from three-point range against Florida Gulf Coast and House himself was 0-for-5. The more the maroon and gold take away their driving lanes and force outside shots, the better.
3. Stay close
Save for the game against Marquette, Hurley's team has done an excellent job of pulling out victories late in games. As long as they are able to stay within striking distance tonight, they will have a good chance at a win. Texas A&M will surely go on a couple of big runs throughout the game, but ASU should be alright if they don't panic and are able to answer back.
Prediction: Arizona State - 75, Texas A&M - 73