Following the Arizona State Sun Devils’ (3-0) win over Northern Arizona, redshirt senior guard Shannon Evans made the point that he and his teammates can’t overlook anyone on their schedule just because there are big games left to be played.
Ironically, he glossed over Sunday’s matchup with the UC Irvine Anteaters (2-2) at Wells Fargo Arena. Chosen as the favorite to win the Big West in the preseason media poll, the Anteaters are coming off a 71-49 loss to Kansas State in the Little Apple on Friday.
The Sun Devils have easily dispatched their first three opponents, not yet scoring fewer than 90 points or winning by less than 20, led by redshirt freshman forward Romello White and junior center De’Quon Lake.
After missing the first game of the season, White has looked like the dominant presence down low he was projected to be as a four-star recruit, but Lake has played above and beyond his early expectations.
Starting opening night in place of White, Lake dominated Idaho State to the tune of 24 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, making his arrival known. He’s missed just three shots from the field in three games, making him the most reliable scoring option so far.
But the Anteaters present a different challenge than any Sun Devil opponent so far.
UC Irvine starts 6-8 sophomore Tommy Rutherford and 6-10 junior Jonathan Galloway in the middle, and deploys 6-10 sophomore Brad Greene and 6-9 redshirt junior Elston Jones off the bench, allowing the Anteaters to constantly have two domineering bigs on the court.
Combined, those four post presences contribute 26.9 points and 28.4 rebounds. They’ve also blocked 26 shots in four games, not allowing opposing post players to get into a consistent rhythm on the block.
With those big bodies clogging the middle, it won’t be nearly as easy for the ASU front line to get its numbers. That’s where the Sun Devils’ senior backcourt steps into play.
Despite being the most heralded part of the Sun Devils, Evans, along with fellow seniors Tra Holder and Kodi Justice, haven’t been asked to take control of a game yet, allowing the front court to set the standard.
None of ASU’s guards have been tasked with carrying the offensive load for extended periods as of yet, but they’ve all gotten involved in various ways. Evans is the second leading scorer per game, Justice has begun to find his stroke from beyond the arc and Holder has done a little bit of everything on the floor.
But those bit contributions will need to be ramped up Sunday. UCI has held opponents to 33 percent shooting from the floor, but teams make 38 percent of 3-pointers, giving the Sun Devils a clear way to attack: take what the defense gives you.
All six Sun Devils who have attempted a 3-pointer have made at least one, as the team shoots 34.6 percent overall. If ASU can deploy that weapon well enough, the paint will find its way open, but if not, things will only get tighter in the post.
The Sun Devils may be rolling, but the Anteaters won’t be getting out of their way. If ASU is as serious about not looking past teams as Evans said, then this game shouldn’t be a problem. But that’s not a small if.