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ASU Basketball: Sun Devils host Colorado in Pac-12 home opener

Pac-12 basketball makes its way to Tempe.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils host the Colorado Buffaloes in their Pac-12 home opener Thursday, the first of a two-game homestand.

It’s the lone matchup arranged between the two schools for the 2016-17 slate, just as it was last season due to Pac-12 scheduling, in which each program rotates four single-play opponents every two years.

This season, ASU’s single-play opponents consist of the Rocky Mountain (Colorado and Utah at home, Jan. 5 and 7) and Oregon schools (Oregon and Oregon State away, Feb. 2 and 4).

Here’s what you need to know heading into ASU’s contest with Colorado, including an update on each team, keys to the game, and a prediction of the outcome.

Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. MST

Television: Pac-12 Networks

Arizona State (8-7, 1-1 in Pac-12) Update:

The Sun Devils are coming off a two-game road trip to the Bay Area, where they split meetings with Stanford and California.

Against the Cardinal, hot and efficient shooting lifted ASU to a 98-93 win. The torrid effort carried into the Sun Devils’ matchup against the Golden Bears, however wasn’t sustainable, as ASU shot just 31 percent in the second half en route to a 81-65 defeat.

The Sun Devils will have a chance to build off momentum gained from their conference-opening road trip with a return to Wells Fargo Arena, where they’ve shot the ball more comfortably this season, hitting a combined 48.4 percent of their field goals at home (5-2 record) compared to 40.4 percent elsewhere (3-5).

The Maroon & Gold have shot 45.1 percent from the field in three true road games (2-1), including 42.3 percent from 3. During five neutral-site matchups (1-4), they’ve buried 37.5 percent of their field goals, making 30.8 from beyond the arc.

In five home victories this season, ASU has shot at a 50.3-percent clip from the field, including 41.6 percent from 3-point range.

Last season, Bobby Hurley’s squad lost its lone matchup against the Buffaloes, losing 79-69 on the road.

Colorado Buffaloes (10-4, 0-1 in Pac-12) Update:

The Buffaloes’ strong run through their non-conference schedule halted with a 16-point loss against Utah to open Pac-12 play on New Year’s Day. Prior to the defeat, Colorado was enjoying its second three-game winning streak of the season.

Tad Boyle’s unit appears bound to once again compete in the postseason after reaching the NCAA Tournament a year ago. The seventh-year coach has already notched wins over Texas and Xavier this campaign, coming up just short in losses to Notre Dame and Brigham Young.

After facing ASU, Colorado will head down to Tucson, Ariz., to battle the No. 17 Arizona Wildcats. Last year, the Buffaloes swept the Arizona schools at the Coors Events Center in Boulder, Colo.

Keys to the Game

1. Play Big

Statistically, Colorado is an average team in just about every category, and—disregarding records—on paper, ASU has a chance. However, the Buffaloes have the advantage on the glass, collecting 28.3 defensive and 11.5 offensive rebounds per game.

Colorado’s regular starting five of Wesley Gordon (6-foot-9), Xavier Johnson (6-foot-7), George King (6-foot-6), Josh Fortune (6-foot-5), and Derrick White (6-foot-5) poses a height problem for ASU, whose tallest-used starting combination averaged a height slightly over 6-foot-5.

In fact, according to Basketball Reference, only once this season has the Buffaloes’ starting unit included a player listed below 6-foot-5 — in their previous game when 6-foot-2 guard Dominique Collier broke into the lineup against Utah. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils typically start a backcourt of Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II, whom are each listed below 6-foot-2.

Presumably, it will be Hurley who caters his lineup to counter Boyle’s, considering ASU has used seven different starting-five pairings this season. This means freshmen big men Jethro Tshisumpa, Ramon Vila, and Andre Adams could play extensive minutes.

In four starts this season, Tshisumpa has averaged 1.5 rebounds, 1 block and 3.25 personal fouls in 10 minutes. Vila logged just five minutes in his lone start of the year against San Diego State. Both will need to avoid foul trouble and hold their against such sizable opposition.

The ASU guards will also have their hands full trying to slow down White, a senior guard who enters the game averaging 15 points per contest on 51.9 percent shooting.

2. Score the Rock

Colorado averages 74.1 points per game, and since scoring 83 points in its loss to Notre Dame has scored over 80 points once in its last 10 games.

Meanwhile, ASU averages 82.3 points per contest. If the Sun Devils can find their form, particularly from deep range, they should have a legitimate shot at simply outpacing their opponent.

Prediction: Arizona State - 69, Colorado - 71