After securing their eighth win to begin the season Friday night over St. John’s, the Arizona State Sun Devils remain one of the hottest teams in the nation.
Sunday, they put that to the test in Lawrence, Kansas against the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (7-1), who are coming off their first loss of the season to the Washington Huskies in Kansas City.
While ASU is undefeated, no one is confusing the Sun Devils for favorites entering the matchup. In fact, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the visitors just an 11.2 percent chance at winning. But what did Han Solo say?
The Jayhawks haven’t lost an out-of-conference home game since Jan. 4, 2014, but that was to another western team: then-No. 21 San Diego State. This game figures to be played a little differently than that one, but there are a few ways the Sun Devils can find an edge and notch an upset win.
Get up early
The best way to secure a road win against what appears to be a superior opponent is taking the crowd out of the game from the start. This is especially true in an atmosphere like Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas is the best first half scoring team in the nation, averaging 49.5 points per game in the first 20 minutes. Those factors together mean senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II need to get into a rhythm early and make sure the Sun Devils don’t get in a hole.
Despite setting the world on fire offensively, ASU sits a slot behind Kansas in effective field goal percentage, meaning this could be a high-scoring affair. However, the defense is a different story. Teams have a 50.1 eFG% against the Sun Devils this season, good for 145th in the nation. The Jayhawks, on the other hand, are suffocating. Against Kansas, teams have an eFG% of 43.4, making the Jayhawks the 18th best team in the country in that regard. No team has scored over 71 points against Kansas this season, while ASU has scored under 80 points just once, in a win over San Francisco. It will be strength on strength, but if the Sun Devils can stay close to their regular pace, things should work out.
Win the rebounding battle
This one is easier said than done, but ASU has the pieces in place to accomplish it. Sophomore center Udoka Azubuike leads the Jayhawks with 7.3 rebounds per game in fewer than 26 minutes, making him the most dynamic rebounder at 7-feet tall. His height advantage gives him an immediate edge over any Sun Devil forward. That, coupled with the ability of KU’s guards to spread the floor, means it’s imperative for redshirt freshman forward Romello White and junior forward De’Quon Lake to at least neutralize the threat of offensive rebounds and second-chance scoring in order for ASU to win.