Year two of the Bobby Hurley era begins tonight in Tempe (kind of) for the Arizona State Sun Devils, and with the start of a new season comes just as many question marks as the program had a year ago.
Will the young bigs be able to compete at a Pac-12 level? Which members of the highly-touted freshman class will earn immediate playing time? Will Hurley lead the nation in technical fouls?
None of these questions will be answered in full during tonight’s exhibtion against UC Santa Cruz, but we will start to learn a little about this Arizona State team.
The contest will mark the first time the media and general public gets to view the 2016-17 Sun Devils in action, although the team did play in (and win) a closed scrimmage against Weber State last Saturday. NCAA rules state that men’s basketball teams can play up to two preseason games, and those games can be a combination of closed scrimmages against Division I teams and/or exhibitions against non D-I teams.
What To Watch For (ASU):
There is bound to be some rust that needs to be shaken off after a long offseason, but just how long it takes remains to be seen. In a perfect world, Hurley will have his team in shape by next Friday’s regular season opener against Portland State. And playing a big part in that process will be Buffalo transfer Shannon Evans II.
Evans can play both the one and the two in Hurley’s offense, and his 21-point outburst in the scrimmage against the Wildcats showed early just how big of a factor he might be for this Arizona State team. With fellow Bull transfer Torian Graham and junior Tra Holder also in the backcourt, the Sun Devil guards should have a field day against the Banana Slugs.
What To Watch For (UCSC):
This will be the first competition of the season for Division-III UC Santa Cruz. Coached by former Sun Devil player Ron DuBois, the team is looking to rebound from a 10-15 mark suffered a year ago.
This isn’t a team that presents a real threat to pull one of the few exhibition upsets seen across the country every season, but if the Banana Slugs want to stay competitive they will need to find a way to make up for their lack of size. With no player standing 6-foot-8 or higher, a high amount of three-pointers and wins on 50/50 balls will be needed just to keep this one close.
Expect the team to rely heavily on upperclassmen guards Corey Cilia and Adam Marlow (6.5 and 6.3 points per game last season, respectively) to execute that strategy.
Keys to victory:
1. Feed the post
On paper, the Maroon and Gold don’t exactly have the most imposing frontcourt in program history. But this is one of the few games on the schedule where they will have a significant size advantage, and if the team will cruise if it takes advantage of it. Expect guys like Obinna Oleka and freshman Ramon Vila to eat against the overmatched opp.
2. Get off the bus
Guys like Evans, Oleka, and the rest of the Arizona State starting five could have terrible nights and the Sun Devils should still cruise in this one. Such is the nature of games against D-III opponents. Hurley and the rest of his coaching staff will be more focused on things like executing the offense and avoiding injury than what the wide final margin ends up being.
Prediction: Arizona State - 90, UC Santa Cruz - 40