Preview: Oregon State at ASU

Arizona State returns home after a split on last week’s road trip. The enigmatic Sun Devils continued their inconsistent play on the recent Bay Area road swing, with perhaps their best and worst defensive performances in back-to-back games. Now ASU must prepare for a surging Oregon State team, which has been one of college basketball’s biggest surprises this season.

Two days after limiting California to only 44 points in a blowout win, Arizona State (10-10, 2-5) gave up a season-high 89 points to Stanford in Saturday’s 89-70 loss. ASU’s defense had issues from the opening tip, and appeared to be a step behind the entire game. The Sun Devils looked uninspired and sluggish – a bad combination against a hot-shooting Stanford team. The Cardinal were on target from the outset, shooting 59 percent from the field, while connecting on 8 of 14 from beyond the arc. Stanford also played the role of aggressor, getting to the line 27 times – nearly twice as much as ASU.

The silver lining? For a third consecutive game, ASU’s offense was productive, scoring 41 points and hitting eight 3-pointers in the first half. As a team, the Sun Devils played unselfish and found the open shooters, including Bo Barnes and Jon Gilling, who both hit three treys in the first stanza. The hot shooting cooled off in the second half, but Savon Goodman picked up the slack for the Sun Devils. Goodman, who came off the bench for the first time in nine games, turned in his best performance in Pac-12 play with 18 points and four rebounds in only 19 minutes.

Although ASU lost convincingly to Stanford, the big picture is encouraging. The Sun Devil offense is back on track – and they are taking better care of the ball. ASU committed only nine turnovers on Saturday, which is well below their season average. Freshman point guard Tra Holder had a nice floor game, registering eight points and six assists, while committing only one turnover. Holder’s recent improvement is well-timed considering yesterday’s news that backup point guard, Kodi Justice, is out for the rest of the season with a fractured foot.

To say Oregon State (14-5, 5-2) has exceeded preseason expectations would be a gross understatement. Even the staunchest Beaver fan would not have expected Oregon State to be in the conversation for an NCAA tournament bid. And yet two months into the season, Oregon State is quietly building a solid tournament résumé, with an RPI of 66, which includes wins over Arizona and UCLA. The Beavers’ calling card has been their defense. They hold opponents to 56.1 points per game on 36 percent shooting from the field, which both rank in the top-10 nationally.

First-year coach Wayne Tinkle has guided a roster of relative unknowns toward the top of the Pac-12. Luckily for Tinkle, JUCO newcomer Gary Payton II is better than anyone expected. The shooting guard is a stat sheet stuffer and ranks among the conference’s top-20 in nearly every category. The versatile guard has gotten plenty of help from junior forwards Olaf Schaftenaar and Langston Morris-Walker, who both average nearly 10 points per contest. Sophomore Malcolm Duvivier has settled into his new role as starting point guard and has steadily improved throughout the season.

The one area of concern for the Beavers is their lack of depth, which recently took a hit when sixth man Victor Robbins was suspended 10 games for violating an athletic department policy. With Robbins’ suspension, Oregon State is down to seven scholarship players. To compensate for his thin bench, Tinkle has even used walk-on players in spot duty. Surprisingly, the short-handed Beavers have responded by winning three of the last four games without their super sub.

Probable Starters:

G – Tra Holder (4.8 PPG, 2.8 APG) vs. Malcolm Duvivier (9.4 PPG, 3.6 APG)

G – Gerry Blakes (10.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG) vs. Gary Payton II (12.6 PPG, 8.5 RPG)

F – Shaq McKissic (10.4 PPG, 1.5 SPG) vs. Langston Morris-Walker (10.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG)

F – Savon Goodman (10.7 PPG, 6 RPG) vs. Olaf Schaftenaar (9.9 PPG, 44% 3PT)

C – Eric Jacobsen (9.9 PPG, 65% FG) vs. Daniel Gomis (4.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG)

Why ASU Can Win: The Sun Devils have rediscovered their offense and are playing as a more cohesive unit. ASU players seem to be more comfortable in their roles, which has resulted in a free-flowing attack. But perhaps the most encouraging takeaway from last week’s road trip is the Sun Devils’ improved ball handling. ASU, which has struggled with ball control most of the season, committed only 20 turnovers in the last two games. Another reason to feel good about ASU’s chances is their effectiveness at home – the Sun Devils have a 9-2 record at Wells Fargo Arena. Conversely Oregon State has struggled away from Gill Coliseum. All five of the Beavers’ losses have been away from Corvallis.

Why Oregon State Can Win: Oregon State employs a suffocating defense and is no stranger to creating havoc. The Beavers lead the Pac-12 with 7.6 steals per game and force opponents to commit turnovers on 19.8 percent of their possessions, which ranks second best in the conference. On the offensive end, Oregon State does not have a go-to scorer in the true sense of the word, but instead use a scoring-by-committee approach. They have well-balanced attack with six players averaging over seven points per contest. And if Wednesday’s game comes down to a free-throw shooting contest, Oregon State should have an advantage. They shoot 73 percent from the line, which ranks second in the Pac-12. The Beavers don’t play pretty basketball, but they have continually found ways to win.

Key Stat: Much has been written about the rebounding ability of Gary Payton II, who at 6-foot-3, ranks third in the Pac-12 with 8.5 boards per game. In fact, only one other guard in the nation, Javonte Green of Radford, averages more rebounds than Payton.

X-Factor: Bench play. The Sun Devils' bench players are averaging 26.8 points per game and have outscored their opponent's bench in 16 of the first 20 games. They should have a distinct advantage over Oregon State’s incredibly thin bench.

Final Score Prediction: ASU 58, Oregon State 55

Game Info:

When: 6:00 p.m. MT

Where: Wells Fargo Arena

TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network/620 AM

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