After an impressive 4-0 start to the season, the Arizona State Sun Devils are headed to Las Vegas to continue their run in the 2017 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational.
The folks over at Blogging The Bracket have a great explanation of the structure of the tournament here, it’s worth a look — this thing is kind of confusing.
After a couple of on-campus games for each “host” school, the eight programs now head to Orleans Arena in Vegas for their semifinal matchups. Here are all of the schools and a textual bracket.
Arizona State vs. Kansas State
George Washington vs. Xavier
Hampton vs. Northern Arizona
Rider Broncos vs. UC Irvine
The Sun Devils take on Kansas State first, then with a win would likely play against Xavier in the title game. If ASU loses to the Wildcats they would likely play against George Washington.
So, with both the tournament structure and Arizona State’s schedule in mind, let’s break down the teams the Sun Devils may be up against this weekend.
Kansas State Wildcats
Bruce Weber’s 2016-17 squad managed to enter the NCAA tournament after a 21-13 regular season record. KSU had plenty of talent — its roster was highlighted by second-round draft pick Wesley Iwundu — but ended up getting overwhelmed by Cincinnati’s size and defensive pressure and was sent packing after the first round.
Weber’s new squad may lack the top-heavy talent that guided last year’s team to the first NCAA tourney appearance since 2014, but makes up for it in versatility and experience. Four different Wildcats, three of them juniors, are currently averaging 11 or more points.
However, one KSU player stands out — quite literally — in junior forward Dean Wade. At 6 foot 8, Wade towers three inches over the next tallest starting forward on the team and leads the Wildcats in scoring with 12.8 points per game. Look for him to challenge freshman Romello White underneath and force ASU to bring the big man out to defend the perimeter.
It’s also notable just how large the KSU bench is. The Wildcats have four players to sub in that stand at 6 foot 8 or taller, while ASU has one.
The Muskateers are the the event’s big-ticket program and for good reason. They’ve won at least 21 games in 19 of their last 24 seasons, punching their ticket to the big dance 17 times across the same span.
Last year’s team made it to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2008 behind monster seasons from Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Edmond Sumner. Bluiett and Macura have returned for their senior seasons and have picked up right where they left off, with Bluiett averaging a ridiculous 24.2 points and 6.8 rebounds coming into the tournament and Macura continuing to be a consistent source of buckets and assists.
The biggest difference for the Muskateers this season is sophomore forward Tyrique Jones. At 6 foot 9, Jones is the second-tallest of the bunch and has been putting his height and athleticism to good use while leading Xavier in rebounds.
If ASU can defeat the defensive-minded Kansas State Wildcats in the semifinals Thursday, they should have a shot against the Muskateers, who don’t possess too huge of a size advantage over the Sun Devils.
George Washington Colonials
The Colonials were able to remain five games above .500 last season after parting ways with head coach Mike Lonergan amid allegations of verbal abuse. Lonergan had the Colonials over the 20-win mark across three of his five seasons in D.C.
GWU then promoted Maurice Joseph to head coach and after finishing 20-15 last season, the Colonials are off to a 2-2 start. Do they have what it takes to knock off Xavier?
The Colonials aren’t big — aside from 6 foot 9 guard Yuta Watanabe — and they don’t shoot well from the three point line to make up for it. GWU also has just three players averaging double-digit points per game, so it’s going to be difficult for the Colonials to catch up if they fall behind early.
Both Watanabe and Patrick Steeves present interesting enough matchup issues around the perimeter for the other teams in this tournament, though, so the Colonials might be able to make some noise.