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ASU Basketball: Takeaways from exhibition win over UC Santa Cruz

The Sun Devils hope to surprise the Pac-12 on the court this year.

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils came away with a comfortable 98-53 win over the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs in a preseason exhibition match on Thursday. It was the first time ASU head coach Bobby Hurley’s squad played together in a public setting ahead of the 2016-17 campaign.

Here’s some of our early takeaways surrounding the Sun Devils’ 2016-17 roster:

The offense flows through Tra Holder

After averaging 14.2 points per game a season ago, much is expected of the junior point guard.

During the team’s first public unveiling, it was apparent Holder’s role extends beyond serving as a facilitator. He’s going to be relied on to consistently score the ball too, and didn’t fret in doing so as he dropped 15 points (5-8 field goals, 1-1 3-pointers), while attempting four free throws (4-4) in 18 minutes of play Thursday.

Unless Holder is asserting himself, the offense looks stagnant. Conversely, when he’s initiating drives to the basket or actively directing teammates along the perimeter, the ASU offense has life. This was particularly clear when ASU started the game trailing 12-4 to UCSC, before he drove through the middle of the Banana Slugs’ defense and drew a foul, cashing two points at the line. Minutes later, his three-pointer midway through the first half capped a 19-5 ASU run.

Holder’s ability to penetrate the key created opportunities for his teammates throughout the contest. The same will need to be true of him during the regular season, as this squad continues to develop chemistry across the board.

Consistency from three-point range

It’s still unknown whether or not Hurley plans on employing a starting lineup composed of Holder, Sam Cunliffe and Shannon Evans II forming a three-man backcourt, with a frontcourt including Kodi Justice and Obi Oleka in the frontcourt.

If this is a lineup the second-year head coach does use moving forward, the three-point shooting woes must be addressed. Last season, ASU was first in the Pac-12 in three-point field goals attempted (447), but finished seventh in three-point percentage (35.1 percent).

Tonight, the Sun Devils made 11 of 29 shots from beyond the arc (37.9 percent). While it’s during an exhibition fixture, the concern is warranted, considering the hope is consistent three-point shooting becomes a part of the team’s offensive identity.

Sam Cunliffe in spurts

The former four-star recruit scored 15 points on 3 of 11 shooting (2-5 three-pointers), with a majority of his points coming at the free-throw line (7-10).

Although a member of the starting lineup, Cunliffe appeared a little gun-shy early on. Then, he manufactured a sequential offensive rebound and put-back basket, followed by a block on the opposite end.

His confidence from that moment grew, as he drew more contact around the hoop, and there were flashes of what he’s capable of—something Hurley pointed out after the contest.

Assuming he’s as quick on launching from deep as he was tonight, he’ll find a role in this offense, and be a beneficiary from the aggression of Holder and Evans.

Identity in the post

Obi Oleka was asked to start in the five role tonight, and while the small lineup will pose problems for opponents trying to guard ASU, it begs questions of the Sun Devils’ interior defense just the same.

The Banana Slugs found their way near the rim and the low block by slashing through ASU’s defense in the key Thursday. Although the Sun Devils came away with a clear advantage on the boards (ASU out-rebounded UCSC 53-37, 21-13 on offensive boards). Oleka will look OK against the a Division III team, but to expect him to last come regular season play may be too much.

Freshman Jethro Tshisumpa and sophomore forward Andre Adams flashed potential. The question is whether or not they’ll be reliable forces come season.

Torian Graham a spark

The senior transfer scored 23 points while shooting 9 of 16 from the field, and 5 of 10 from three-point range while coming off the bench. He even earned a podium appearance post-game.

Can he be a key contributor during the regular season?