It was an ugly skid to end things after losing five of their last seven games but the Sun Devils are in the NCAA Tournament with a manageable opening matchup and the opportunity to get hot and make some memories. After finishing third in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils lost in their opening game in the Pac-12 Tournament and were one of the last few teams to receive an at-large bid to the Tournament.
Rick Barnes: 15th season at Texas –358-153; 560-287 career
Herb Sendek: 8th season at ASU – 140-118; 395-275 career
G – Javan Felix (11.8 PPG, 33% 3PT) vs. Shaq McKissic (9.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
Why Texas Can Win:
The good news for ASU is that Texas is also reeling but the bad news is that the Longhorns are one of the best rebounding teams in the country and are especially punishing on the offensive glass. The Sun Devils have struggled mightily against strong frontcourt opposition and Texas is one of those teams. With Holmes and Ridley down low, the Horns will likely go after ASU early and often in hopes of exposing Eric Jacobsen's lack of strength and, more importantly, try to get Jordan Bachynski into foul trouble. Without a true go-to scorer, Texas is led by Isaiah Taylor at the point with a plethora of athletic wings at his disposal to go along with his towers in the middle. Texas wins this game if they dominate the interior game and keep Jahii Carson at bay.
Why ASU Can Win:
The good news for the Sun Devils is that it is easy to figure out how to get back on track: three-point shooting and rebounding. Of the three stars that ASU leans heaviest on, Jahii Carson has maintained a somewhat consistent level while Jermaine Marshall and Jordan Bachynski have all but disappeared in the last month. While Jon Gilling and Bo Barnes have provided a solid boost with their streaky shooting and relentless hustle, the Devils need their big three to step up in the biggest game of their lives. Carson attacking the defense is a given but Jermaine Marshall needs to shoot with confidence and Jordan Bachynski needs to play physical and not let the refs determine his fate. If ASU's big three can find a rhythm, there is no doubt they will play themselves to a game on Saturday.
Key Stats: In the last 33 years, this is just the fifth NCAA Tournament appearance and the second in Herb Sendek's eight years in the Valley and the Sun Devils have not advanced past the first weekend since 1995. In a season where many within the fan base called for Herb Sendek's head and those voices are still being heard even now that the Devils are dancing, this team had a season for the ages when you remember that the Sun Devils went 16-1 at home and beat Arizona when they were the second-ranked team in the country. Jordan Bachynski had THREE game-winning blocks, Jahii Carson became the second-fastest player in program history to reach 1,000 career points and Jermaine Marshall's tendency to hit big shots amazes everyone.
X-Factor: Jermaine Marshall; while losing five of seven games, the senior transfer from Penn State has gone cold. In those five losses, Marshall is shooting just 22% from the field, 16% from deep and getting to the free throw line just 11 times in those five games and hitting just seven of those freebies. With those abysmal shooting numbers, ASU's second leading scorer has averaged just 7.8 points per game – a far cry from his season average of 15.0 points per game. As Marshall goes, so go the Sun Devils. He won't go out like this.
Final Score: ASU 74 Texas 67