Without famed San Diego State Aztecs head coach Steve Fischer for the first year in nearly two decades, the Arizona State Sun Devils (1-0) clash with SDSU (1-0) in Tempe on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Fischer, 72, who retired in April 2017, came to San Diego State from Michigan in 1999 where he revolutionized the program, coaching the Aztecs to two 30-win seasons and an elite eight appearance.
Brian Dutcher, who served as Fischer’s assistant for nearly three decades, now finally leads an Aztec squad who boasts major potential compared to last season. At 19-14, SDSU had its worst record season since 2005, but returns its top three scorers to the hardwood.
Senior guard Trey Kell (13.2 points per game), junior guard Jordan Hemsley (12.9 PPG) and Senior forward Malik Pope (11.0 PPG) all put up big numbers last season, and led the Aztecs in SDSU’s season-opening 91-52 win over San Diego Christian, scoring 9, 10 and 20 points respectively.
Pope, who added six rebounds to his 20-point night is poised to have a monstrous season. The 6-foot-10, 220-pound Sacramento, California native could have fled to the NBA draft after his junior season, but returns to SDSU where he appears to be a first-round prospect.
Pope, Hemsley and Kell will play with vengeance, as the Arizona State defeated SDSU on its own court, 74-63, 11 games into last season. Now-senior guards Shannon Evans and Tra Holder led the Sun Devils combining for 33 points and seven of ASU’s 12 assists in that contest.
Evans led the Sun Devils with 25 points in Arizona State’s season-opener win over Idaho State, as Holder dropped 18, but the big surprise was junior forward De’Quon Lake who put up 24 points and eight rebounds in his debut.
Coming into the Tuesday’s matchup with a depleted roster of just seven scholarship players, the Sun Devils will need Lake to perform not only Tuesday, but for weeks to come.
Freshman forward Kimani Lawrence is out possibly until Christmas after undergoing surgery on his left foot, and freshman forward Romello White, who has dealt with a violation of team rules suspension since the start of preseason, stands “day-to-day,” according to ASU head coach Bobby Hurley on whether he’ll play or not.