The Pac-12 is quite the far cry from non-conference play.
No team has felt that more than No. 11 Arizona State. After going 12-0 in its tough nonconference slate — beating Kansas State, Xavier and Kansas, among others — ASU (13-3, 1-3 Pac-12) has faltered, dropping three of its four Pac-12 games.
“To start Pac-12. Everyone has hope again,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “No matter what you’ve done in the non-conference. No matter if you’d had bad losses or whatever. Everyone is 0-and-0.”
After the Sun Devils fell to Oregon Thursday night 76-72 in Tempe, Hurley reflected on the Devils’ rough conference start, simplifying his team’s three falters as much as possible.
“So you start at Arizona and you’re undefeated and the emotion in that game. Then you go and play Colorado who had dropped their last two and needed that game,” Hurley said. “And then you look at this team (Oregon) who has lost two in a row and now they’re here.
“Both teams played very desperate to win this game I thought, and we just didn’t execute. And we just didn’t have enough guys playing well to win the game.”
The Devils have the national recognition, they have the ranking. In the Pac-12 right now, they are the hunted. So far, only three teams have been able to kill, but many more are coming, looking for that “signature win.”
The next team with that opportunity is Oregon State on Saturday.
A note that most ASU fans won’t want to hear is that Oregon, who beat ASU by four, fell to OSU (10-6, 2-2), 76-64. In that game, Oregon State’s leading scorer, forward Tres Tinkle grabbed a double-double (19 pts, 13 rebs), as the Beavers shot 52.8 percent from the field.
Tinkle could give ASU the fits. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound sophomore is averaging over seven rebounds a game, a figure that could increase going up against the Devils’ poor rebounding.
Against the Ducks, Arizona State lost the rebounding battle 38-31, highlighted by Oregon’s Mikyle McIntosh’s five offensive rebounds and 13 total. On Saturday, Tinkle could play that same role.
As the Devils keep chugging along in the Pac-12, teams have started employing different strategies to disrupt an ASU offense that felt unstoppable early on. Opponents have stifled the Devils by playing a zone defense and slowed down their high-powered offense by letting the shot clock tick down until they attempt a shot.
The key for ASU in both respects is too simply make shots.
ASU in the halfcourt is a much more manageable team. It can’t get out in transition and run, as a result, the Sun Devils start taking more contested threes. And as of late, those haven’t been falling.
The Devils are shooting 33.5 percent from beyond the arc in Pac-12 play. Some of their struggles can be attributed in a few cold nights, but some will also put the blame on going up against a zone defense.
An obstacle that Hurley and Co., have yet to figure out.
“I haven’t done as well at designing a scheme that will highlight what they can do or give us a better way to attack zone defenses, matchup defenses,” Hurley said. “I don’t think it’s a problem with those guys and our shot selection.”
The Beavers will likely carry on the trend of combating the Devils’ offense with the strategies mentioned above. ASU can overcome them, however, if it gets production from others besides the three seniors: Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice.
The trio scored 54 of ASU’s 72 points against Oregon and without the down low threat that ASU had early on from forward Romello White, teams have zeroed in to the perimeter.
“Everyone’s got to help him (White),” Hurley said “I’ve got to find ways to get the ball in his hands in a good position.”
White could be crucial in containing Tinkle, something Arizona did admirably on Thursday, beating the Beavers 62-53 in a defensive showdown.
Tinkle had 18 points and nine rebounds, but a defensive showdown is not something ASU wants to get into. The Devils rank 228th in the country in points allowed (74.2) and have gotten mauled down low, getting beat by the Ducks 38-16 in the paint.
ASU is holding on to tightly to its ranking, but its starting to slip, and so to are its chances to win the Pac-12. This isn’t a must-win for the Devils, but its about as close as you can get.