Preview: ASU at Oregon

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the faces on the Sun Devil bench Thursday night told a sad, sad story. For the second straight game, Arizona State’s offense was unable to crack 50 points and suffered a 55-47 loss to Oregon State. However, they have no time to reflect on their subpar play, as they head to Eugene on Saturday to battle the Ducks.

Coming off back-to-back losses and perhaps the two worst performances of the season, the Sun Devils (8-7, 0-2) are not in a good place. For a second straight game, they had issues shooting the ball – 39.5 percent from the field, including 4-21 from beyond the arc. In addition to the shooting woes, Arizona State was haunted by many of the same issues that have plagued them the entire season: turnovers, free-throw shooting, and rebounding.

Even worse, it looks like coach Herb Sendek will be forced to hit the reset button. After the win against Detroit, it appeared that Sendek had finally stumbled onto a rotation that could work. But the last two games might have him re-thinking his personnel yet again. Arizona State has looked downright dysfunctional – registering more turnovers (38) than field goals (31) in the last two contests. Sendek used four players – Gerry Blakes, Tra Holder, Chance Murray and Kodi Justice – in a desperate attempt to find someone capable of running the point, before settling on Justice late in the game.

Nearly two months into the season, and it appears Arizona State is still scrambling to find a combination that consistently works. Unfortunately, time is not on the side of the Sun Devils, who are nearly halfway through the regular-season schedule.

Oregon (11-4, 1-1) is coming off an 80-62 loss to No. 7 Arizona. On the season, the Ducks have made the most of a less-than-ideal situation. After a disastrous offseason, which decimated their roster, the Ducks returned only three players from last year’s team. Due to injuries, they began the 2014-15 campaign with only eight scholarship players (they now have ten). But somehow they have managed to stay competitive with their short-handed roster.

The Ducks have a potent offensive attack, averaging a league-best 77.7 points per game. They are led by senior guard Joseph Young, who ranks second in Pac-12 scoring (19.6 PPG). In addition to Young, the Ducks have gotten solid play from junior forward Elgin Cook, who is playing a larger role this season. However, the biggest development of the early season is the steady play of their four freshmen – Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell, Ahmaad Rorie, and Tempe-native Casey Benson.

The Ducks, who thrive in an up tempo style, will often force the action on both ends of the floor to create a frenetic pace. On the offensive end, they rely on their athleticism and quickness to create easy scoring opportunities in transition. In the half-court set, they like to spread the floor and let their perimeter players make plays off the dribble. Defensively, they tend to apply heavy ball pressure and aren’t afraid to extend their defense with situational full-court pressure. Despite their lack of size, Oregon is one of the better rebounding teams in the conference with a plus-6 rebounding margin.

Probable Starters:

G – Gerry Blakes (11.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG) vs. Casey Benson (5.4 PPG, 2.6 APG)

G – Roosevelt Scott (4.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG) vs. Joseph Young (19.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG)

F – Shaq McKissic (10.5 PPG, 39% 3PT) vs. Dillon Brooks (13.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG)

F – Savon Goodman (11.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG) vs. Elgin Cook (10.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG)

F – Eric Jacobsen (10.0 PPG, 64% FG) vs. Jordan Bell (5.8 PPG, 3.4 BPG)

Why ASU Can Win: It’s hard to imagine that the Sun Devils can play any worse than the last two games. And despite the uneven play in the recent weeks, this team has shown flashes of its potential throughout the season. They possess enough talent, athleticism and depth to be competitive in the Pac-12. It’s only a matter of time before the on-court chemistry improves and this team begins to play to their full potential.

Against Oregon, they have a distinct size advantage in the paint, which should translate to easy scoring opportunities around the basket. And despite their recent offensive struggles, the Sun Devils have continued to play solid defense.

Why Oregon Can Win: Aside from their obvious scoring prowess, the Ducks have been surprisingly effective on the boards (ranked 10th nationally). They use a gang-rebounding approach to offset their lack of size. Oregon is also adept at turning the game into a track meet, which doesn’t bode well for the Sun Devils, who average a league-worst 15.1 turnovers per game.

Defensively, Oregon has issues containing dribble penetration, but they can rely on their freshman big man Jordan Bell (and his 3 blocks per game) to protect the rim. And if it comes down to a free-throw shooting contest at the end of the game, the Ducks have a distinct advantage. They shoot a league-best 74.9 percent from the charity stripe.

Key Stat: In their first two conference games, the Sun Devils have averaged a paltry 48 points per game, while shooting only 36 percent from the field (31-86 FG).

X-Factor: Point guard play. The Sun Devils have yet to find a lead guard who can consistently run the offense error-free. If they want to re-discover the offensive efficiency that they enjoyed early in the season, they will need somebody step forward and win the position outright. Until that happens, the offense may continue to sputter.

Final Score Prediction: Oregon 68, ASU 58

The game tips off at 3p.m. MT and will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.

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