The Arizona State Sun Devils (2-0) remain at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe looking to stay undefeated after three contests to open the season as they take on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (0-2) Friday evening.
These schools are quite different, both in the level of competition they compete against and how the early narratives about their basketball programs have developed this season.
ASU has gotten off to a terrific start to begin the season, taking care of Idaho State — after a couple questionable preseason victories — and blowing out San Diego State by 22 at home. The win over the Aztecs was not only impressive in the sense that SDSU is a solid defensive team and one that averages around 25 wins per season, but also because of the incredible run the Sun Devils went on during the second half to beat them.
Midway through the second half ASU had managed a 42-12 run to completely obliterate the Aztecs and notch a statement win early on for the program.
Weak preseason performances cast some doubt on head coach Bobby Hurley’s program early on, but with the Sun Devils dominant victory over the Aztecs the narrative has shifted. ASU should be favored in seven of its nine final conference games and if it can manage ten victories before conference play opens the road to the postseason becomes well-lit.
The Lumberjacks’ outlook is far from optimistic.
After finishing just 9-23 overall (6-12 in the Big Sky) last year, NAU has not gotten off to a great start to begin their new campaign. The Lumberjacks were understandably mauled in Tucson by the Arizona Wildcats but inexplicably lost — at home — to Embry Riddle.
The results haven’t been there for the Lumberjacks to start the season, but the stats haven’t either. NAU is averaging 68.5 points per game compared to opponents 91.5, is shooting 37 percent from the field and is getting completely out-classed on the glass.
Luckily for the Lumberjacks, they do have some weapons on the offensive side of the ball that they will likely feed if they want to pull off the upset in Chris Bowling.
Bowling, a sophomore from Gilbert, Arizona, is an interesting prospect and it seems strange that he wasn’t offered by more division one schools. He’s 6 foot 7, 175 pounds and earned First-Team All-State honors last year. He’s also leading his team in points per game, three point percentage and is one steal away from being the leader for NAU.
Bowling is listed as a guard-forward, so it’ll be interesting to see who the Sun Devils decide to counter with on defense. Shannon Evans II, Tra Holder and Remy Martin are likely all too small, so Hurley might be forced to play Kodi Justice at the two or the three, depending on how NAU uses Bowling.
6 foot 3 redshirt junior guard Torry Johnson is another name that stands out for NAU, if only because of his high usage rate. Johnson is second on the team in terms of field goal attempts and thus second in scoring — it’s that kind of offense for the Lumberjacks.
Arizona State is longer, deeper and flat-out more talented than NAU. It would take a disaster for the Sun Devils to lose this one, but we have seen them play down to the level of their competition against Northern State and at times in San Diego.
After Tuesday’s 20-plus point victory against SDSU, though, that seems unlikely to happen again.