Arkansas-Little Rock Preview

Arkansas-Little Rock comes into Wells Fargo Arena, for a Saturday, 1:00 p.m. (MT) tip-off against Arizona State with a new head coach and five new starters. previews the Sun Devils season opener.

Arkansas-Little Rock is a mid-tier program in the geographically broad Sun Belt Conference, which spans across the country from Denver to Florida. Porter Moser led the school to three consecutive 18 win seasons before leaving for the head job at the University of Southern Illinois this past April.

Taking Moser's place is former ALR assistant Steve Shields, currently entering his fourth season with the program. Shields has his work cut out for him, as the Trojans lost not only a head coach in the off-season, but all five starters, including its own "Ike," all-conference shooting guard Jibrahn Ike.

Even so, ALR returns a handful of key players from last season's team, including the team's second leading scorer, Nick Zachery, who put his name into the NBA draft pool, before withdrawing it and returning to school. Zachery is a very strong, thickly build off-guard who shoots the ball extremely well from long range as well, as evidence by his .401% from three-point range last season.

The second most important returnee is Jamal Holden, a player who came off the bench for the most part last season, and actually led the team in rebounding, with 5.0 per game in conference play. Holden is the team's leading scorer through its two exhibition games.

Surrounding Holden and Zachery in the starting lineup are two players who were on the squad last year but did not play significant minutes, Kimmo Muurinen and Richard Hardman. Muurinen is a skilled, finesse player who likes to step out and shoot the ball, and Hardman is more of a bruising multi-purpose wing who likes to shoot, rebound and mix it up underneath.

The most up for grabs position on the floor for the Trojans is at the point. Zach Graber, a transfer, comes to the program from junior college powerhouse Coffevyille in Kansas. The other option here is Justin Stuckey who is likely to see significant minutes.

ALR has decent depth up front, most notably Darius Eaton, who has played particularly well in two exhibition games after an up-and-down season last year. The school has also decided to burn a planned redshirt year for 7-footer, Alexei Korolev, due to his recent strong play in practice. Michael Pridgeon may also see some time in the frontcourt for the Trojans.

The team has several legitimate options of the bench on the wing, most notably Brandon Freeman, and Wadale Williams, both of whom favor shooting the deep ball as often as possible. Josh Jacobs will be the team's primary bench replacement at small forward for Hardman.

Projected Starters

Arkansas Little Rock

PG: Zach Graber, 5-11, 165 Jr.
SG: Nick Zachery, 6-3, 205 Sr.
SF: Richard Hardman, 6-6, 225 Jr.
PF: Kimmo Muurinen, 6-8, 202 So.
C: Jamal Holden, 6-9, 215 Sr.

Arizona State

PG: Jason Braxton, 6-3, 190 Jr.
SG: Tron Smith, 6-2, 195 Fr.
SF: Steve Moore, 6-4, 190 Jr.
PF: Ike Diogu, 6-8, 250 So.
C: Keith Wooden, 6-9, 220 Fr.

Arizona State is expected to start two freshmen, Tron Smith and Keith Wooden. It would be the first time the Sun Devils have done so in 13 seasons. In 1990 the school started Stevin Smith and Jamal Faulkner.

In addition to these two, the Sun Devils will likely play no fewer than five other newcomers to the program, including three other freshmen; Wilfried Fameni, Chris Low and Kevin Kruger; sophomore Allen Morill; and junior college transfer Steve Moore, who also will start.

Expect the Devils to establish star Ike Diogu early in the post offensively and work hard at creating turnovers and easy baskets on the defensive end.

Rob Evans should continue to work on player combinations, establishing a game rotation and live implementation of select offensive sets and out-of-bounds plays. More than anything, this should be an experience for the Devils in terms of getting a "real" game under their belts, and gaining a better understanding of what is expected of them on a nightly basis.

The Sun Devils have far more talent than an Arkansas-Little Rock program that comes into Tempe with a new coach and five new starters. Expect a big Arizona State victory and a student section chant of "We want [ASU walk-on Brandon] Goldman" relatively early in the second half.

Prediction: Arizona State 90, Arkansas-Little Rock 71

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