Arizona State is looking to improve upon its performance in a 78-77 thrilling victory over the Colorado Buffaloes Thursday night and notch another Pac-12 conference victory into its resume, while the Utes will look to rebound from a 10-point loss on the road to the Arizona Wildcats on the same evening.
Here’s what you need to know heading into ASU’s contest with Utah, including an update on each team, keys to the game and a prediction of the outcome.
Tip-off: 3:00 p.m. MST
Television: Pac-12 Network
Radio: 98.7FM - Sun Devil Sports Radio Network (Tim Healey, Kyle Dodd)
Arizona State Update (9-7, 3-1 Pac-12):
The Sun Devils are coming off of an exciting victory over Colorado that included one of the best plays of senior guard Tra Holder’s career, in which the Los Angeles native grabbed the rebound from a missed Torian Graham three-point shot and threw it towards the rim with 1.6 seconds on the clock, granting him a game-winning trip to the free throw line.
Even in the absence of Buffalo forward Xavier Johnson in the post (stemming from an altercation that sent both he and freshman ASU center Jethro Tshisumpa off the floor), the Sun Devils remained adamant in revolving their offensive attack around the three point line. The Maroon and Gold were successful in this as well, as they converted 38.5% from beyond the ark.
This is how Arizona State has countered the lack of a presence in the low post, by spreading defenses out and working quickly in transition to open up looks on the perimeter. This shouldn’t change as the Sun Devils head into this matchup against Utah, a game in which once again ASU will be undersized.
The Sun Devils will also look to benefit from playing in Tempe, where they have shot at just below a 50-percent clip in six victories at home this season.
Bobby Hurley’s last matchup against the Utes was an ugly one in Salt Lake City last February, in which his team was demolished 81-46.
Utah Update (10-4, 1-1 Pac-12)
It’s been four years since the Utes have had less than 20 wins in a season, and they should cruise to another successful year in the 2016-2017 campaign.
While the Utes have lost a few big matchups against programs like No. 13 Xavier and No. 18 Butler this season, they haven’t been blown out yet and will remain competitive come the rest of conference play and well into March.
Offensively, the Utes are lead by their two starting junior forwards in Utah State transfer David Collette and Flint, Mich. native Kyle Kuzma. Both players average nearly 15 points a game, while combining for 15 total boards and a field-goal percentage upwards of 50-percent.
Unlike ASU, the Utes weakness lies within the guard position. The most talented guard on the roster sophomore SMU transfer Sedrick Bakersfield averages just over 13 points a game, but struggles to share the ball and create open looks for his teammates, averaging a measly 2.3 assists per game.
Keys to the Game
1. Keep the Ball on the Perimeter
Offensively, the Sun Devils are most effective when Evans, Graham and Holder are getting looks around the outside, and we should expect them to keep firing away from beyond the ark in this game.
Defensively, the Sun Devils have absolutely no counter, aside from the foul-machine Tshisumpa and developing Ramon Vila, to big guys down low. This will present a problem for the Sun Devils specifically in this matchup as the Runnin’ Utes rely on their forwards for production on both sides of the floor.
If ASU wants to win four out of their first five Pac-12 games, they will have to force the Utes to stay out of the paint and spread the ball around, something Utah is not comfortable doing.
2. Run the Offense through Torian Graham
Did anyone predict the senior to be the Sun Devils’ best player this season?
The 6-foot-4, 200 pound senior has been unstoppable on offense this season, averaging nearly 18 points a game, shooting at nearly 40-percent from beyond the ark and making some of the most athletic plays we’ve seen from a Sun Devil since James Harden.
ASU’s success this season has solely relied on their shooting, and when Graham is leading this offense you can bet it’ll be firing on all cylinders.
Prediction: Utah - 75, Arizona State - 66