December 10, 2017. It’s a day that will forever live in Sun Devil basketball lore. The then No. 17 ranked Arizona State basketball team stormed into Lawrence, Kansas and knocked off the Jayhawks in their own building.
ASU took the college basketball world by storm, and were the country’s last unbeaten team. We are all aware that last year didn’t end on the highest of notes, but there was no doubt what remained the highlight.
Now, a little more than a year later, the Sun Devils once again face Kansas, but this time at Wells Fargo Arena Saturday night. The Jayhawks enter the matchup undefeated, and the number one team in the country.
Of KU’s 10 victories, three of them have come against powerhouse ranked programs, including Michigan State, Tennessee and Villanova. Expect a hungry, and fired up opponent to walk into “The Bank” on Saturday night looking to return the favor.
How the Sun Devils answer the bell will be telling as well. Following a disappointing loss at Vanderbilt, ASU will have to rediscover its offense after it was mostly shut down over the previous two-and-a-half games.
Stopping the Jayhawks will be no small task, and the dynamic duo of redshirt junior forward Dedric Lawson and senior guard Lagerald Vick is potent. Lawson leads KU in scoring, averaging 19.7 points per game, and Vick is a threat from three-point range, shooting over 50 percent behind the arc through the season’s first 10 games.
ASU however, is likely to catch a break in that Kansas will most likely be missing junior center Udoka Azubuike. The 7-foot rebounding machine has missed the previous three games due to an ankle injury suffered against Wofford. KU’s head coach Bill Self, described Azubuike as ‘doubtful’ for Saturday’s contest.
His absence provides a great advantage for ASU, a team that has been among the nation’s best in rebounding. Senior forward Zylan Cheatham and redshirt sophomore forward Romello White would be unable to match Azubuike’s size, and could have possibly struggled to win 50-50 balls.
For the success Kansas has experienced early in the season, they rely heavily upon isolation offense. Both Lawson and Vick are looking to make plays for themselves when they have the ball in their hands, and the Sun Devils could try to be aggressive and force the duo into difficult situations.
Between the use of double teams and its length, expect ASU to attempt to make the Jayhawks turn the ball over through full-court pressure and aggressive defensive switching.
On the offensive end, sophomore guard Remy Martin was a key performer last year off the bench in Lawrence. Martin scored 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting, and perhaps more importantly, he had five steals in the game.
Redshirt junior guard Rob Edwards’ big game against Vanderbilt on Monday helped ASU avoid a blowout, but none of the other key contributors factored much into the outcome. Arizona State would like to see more of the same from Edwards as conference plays nears in January.
Freshman guard Luguentz Dort was inefficient, and at times played like someone experiencing their first road contest. Sophomore forward Kimani Lawrence also had trouble finding his role within the offense, mainly drifting around the perimeter.
All three players in the backcourt will look to make a big impact come Saturday. Perhaps their first home game in 21 days will be the spark that gets the offense going.
With their biggest non-conference meeting in many years looming, the excitement for Sun Devil basketball is palpable. How the home crowd responds for ASU could lead them into another program altering victory.