Jahii Carson will have his hands full.
The Titans were 2-7 against NCAA Tournament-bound opponents with wins over Akron and Valparaiso. Among those seven losses was a tight 4-point loss to Syracuse as well as a 15-point loss at the hands to Miami that was closer than the score indicated. This is a very thin team, going only six-deep in their rotation and will rely heavily on the inside-out combo of McCallum and Nick Minnerath, the team's second leading scorer and leading rebounder. Exciting news is that this team is the nation's ninth highest scoring team with over 78 points per game and features four starters averaging more than 12 points.
If you told me that I'd be writing an NIT preview in February, I would have said the Sun Devils had to have fallen apart down the stretch and that is precisely what they did. The road to the NIT was not a scenic one as ASU was just 4-8 in their final 12 games capped off by blowing a late 15-point lead against UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals. The negative aside, Jahii Carson was sensational in the conference tournament and was named to the Pac-12 All-Tournament Team.
The way the season ended did not help Herb Sendek's cause as the seventh year head coach has not been able to lead his teams to the Big Dance except for one brief yet magical run in 2009. Even the NIT hasn't been terribly kind to ASU with losses at home to Florida in 2008 and an embarrassing loss to lowly Jacksonville in 2010. The Sun Devils postseason record under Sendek is 2-3 with those wins coming against Alabama State in the 2008 NIT and a win over Temple in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Not exactly seven years in heaven but hey, there is always next year.
Ray McCallum: 5th season at Detroit – 97-79; 238-215 career
Herb Sendek: 7th season at ASU – 119-107; 373-265 career
Projected Starters: :
G – Ray McCallum (18.8 PPG, 4.5 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (18.3 PPG, 5.0 APG)
F – Evan Bruinsma (5.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG)
C – Nick Minnerath (14.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (9.8 PPG, 3.5 BPG)
Why Detroit Can Win: :
When the Jacksonville Dolphins come into your house and beat you, that tells you everything you need to know about the NIT and how players can react to their postseason situation so that means it is anyone's game if ASU comes out flat. Ray McCallum is a special talent and leads an explosive attack that pours in close to 80 points and keeps opponents on their toes. What makes Detroit so dangerous is that everyone can shoot and they do not hesitate to pull the trigger. The Titans hoist up more than 20 three-pointers per game while keeping their turnovers to a minimum. McCallum is the igniter but Nick Minnerath and Jason Calliste are lethal in their own right.
Why ASU Can Win: :
This team has protected their home court very well all season with 15 of their 21 wins coming in front of the Sun Devil faithful and that should continues against Detroit, a quality opponent but an opponent that had zero victories against a high-major school all season. In a game that will feature a lot of speed and tempo, the Sun Devils may go smaller and push the pace. If that is the case, Jordan Bachynski and his new haircut will see more time on the bench but Herb Sendek could also exploit a small Detroit team and feed the beast. Jahii just needs to do what Jahii does and things will probably go ASU's way. In what could be Carrick Felix's last home game, the senior from Goodyear will look to go out in style. Arizona State should roll in this contest and pray that Baylor falls to Long Beach State to ensure one more home game.
Key Stat: Carrick Felix's 13 double-doubles leads the Pac-12 this year. Not bad considering he entered his senior season with zero career double-doubles.
X-Factor: On sheer talent alone, the other eight players can leave the floor and just let Carson and McCallum go at it. This is a rare NIT game in which NBA scouts pay a lot of attention to. Jahii Carson will have a decision to make after the season on his future and his performance against a much more physical foe in McCallum will be a good look for NBA scouts. Fans should pay close attention to this matchup as they will undoubtedly see these guys playing with the big boys before too long.
Final Score: ASU 83 Detroit 75