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ASU Basketball: Streaking New Mexico State set to battle Sun Devils

Arizona State opens a three-game homestand tonight against a sneaky good Aggie team.

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico State at Baylor Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After a two-game road trip that saw the Arizona State Sun Devils get blown out by Purdue in New York City before surprising San Diego State in Viejas Arena, Arizona State is back in Tempe for three home games before the start of Pac-12 play begins.

And while it may have been a full week since the team last took the floor, there hasn’t been any shortage of drama surrounding the program. That’s because freshman wing Sam Cunliffe is no longer with the team, and while nothing is official yet, it appears Cunliffe has chosen to transfer out of Arizona State.

His departure leaves the team a tad shorthanded heading into Saturday’s meeting with the New Mexico State Aggies, a team that is currently riding a seven-game win streak.

Tip-off: 6:00 p.m. MST

Television: Pac-12 Networks

Arizona State Update (6-4):

Eager to get the bad taste of a 33-point loss out of their mouth, the Sun Devils responded from their blowout defeat against the Boilermakers in spectacular fashion last Saturday.

Despite trailing by seven points at the half, Arizona State eventually cruised to a 74-63 upset of the Aztecs inside the snake pit that is Viejas Arena. Point guard Tra Holder led the team with 17 points and five rebounds, while junior Shannon Evans II poured in 16 points of his own.

Two other Sun Devils, Obinna Oleka and Torian Graham, finished the game in double figures while coming off the bench.

New Mexico State Update (9-2):

One of the hottest teams in the country, New Mexico State is winners of its last seven ballgames. Granted, the Aggies aren’t exactly playing a schedule as tough as the Maroon and Gold’s has been, but this is a team that knows how to win.

It is Paul Weir’s first year at the helm of the program after his boss, Marvin Menzies, was hired away by UNLV, and Weir definitely appears to have things headed in the right direction.

His team’s latest victory came on Tuesday night at UNLV, where New Mexico State waltzed into the Don Haskins Center and emerged two hours later with a 79-68 win.

A balanced attack has been the key to the Aggies success so far this season. Four players are averaging in double figures scoring wise, while one more is just short of that mark at 9.9 points per game.

Keys to victory:

1. Contain Baker

While any of their five starters can lead the team on any given night, senior point guard Ian Baker will require the most attention from Bobby Hurley’s defense. Baker has been inside the program for four years and leads the team with 14.6 points per game.

His ability to score from anywhere on the floor should give Arizona State some fits defensively. The senior has scored 20-plus points in each of his last two games, including a season-high 26-point outburst against rival New Mexico.

2. Start quick

The Sun Devils have made a habit of coming out of the gate looking rusty and slow over the past month, and while they were able to get away with it against teams like The Citadel and San Diego State, they weren’t so fortunate against the likes of Kentucky and Purdue.

Talent-wise, Weir’s team falls right in-between those four clubs, and defintiely poses a threat to jump on the home team early if they aren’t very sharp after the week-long layoff.

Prediction: Arizona State - 80, New Mexico State - 70