Projected Starters: Northwestern (4-3)
G: T.J. Parker, 6-2, 165 So.
G: Jitim Young, 6-2, 190 Sr.
G: Mohamed Hachad, 6-4, 185 So.
F: Vedran Vukusic, 6-8, 230 Jr.
F: Davor Duvancic, 6-8, 220 Jr.
Projected Starters: Arizona State (4-1)
G: Jason Braxton, 6-2, 190 Jr.
G: Tron Smith, 6-2, 195 Fr.
G: Steve Moore, 6-4, 205 Jr.
F: Will Fameni, 6-8, 230 Fr.
F: Ike Diogu, 6-8, 250 So.
In more ways than one, Wednesday is hump-day for Arizona State.
In the chasm between the first and second half of their non-conference slate the Sun Devils spent recent days following the completion of their final exams studying some more. True, school may technically be over for the semester, but there is still one more real test this year – a road game at Northwestern on Wednesday night.
This one is a pass/fail examination.
Make it through with a victory -- any victory -- and Arizona State stands a strong chance of sweeping through its following three home games, where it will be overwhelming favorites in each, and climbing upward, out of the void, to close the non-conference schedule with a respectable record of eight wins against one defeat.
A loss Wednesday would certainly push the Sun Devils deeper into a difficult hole to get out of as it relates to their NCAA-Tournament chances. No out of conference road wins and no strong non-conference RPI wins is certainly no way to go into league play.
So, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, this game is quite possibly more important than most realize. The hope however, at least for Sun Devil fans, is that Arizona State will come to play with a sense of urgency that has been lacking in all five first halves played by the team this year.
Northwestern uses an offense system renowned in basketball circles and yet increasingly endangered, at least in its truest form. The Princeton offense, as it is known, was created by legendary coach Pete Carril, now a special assistant with the Sacramento Kings, which incidentally is the only NBA team that uses the scheme in a pure, non-hybrid form.
The head coach at Northwestern, Bill Carmody, apprenticed under Carril at Princeton and implemented the offense now used by his Wildcats. It is a system that involves a tremendous amount of motion by all the players on the court, continuous slice cuts in space from the perimeter to the basket at all angles, and back picks designed to surprise or confuse opponents and free teammates up for open lanes to the hoop.
Executors of the Princeton offense are generally disciplined in the way they patiently wait for high percentage scoring opportunities to develop. Teams that utilize this scheme are usually intelligent, skilled teams that pass the basketball very well and play unselfishly but are not particularly athletic.
This Northwestern squad fits that definition. It isn't a particularly deep or talented team but it does have the ability to take advantage of its uniqueness and exploit younger, undisciplined teams. The Wildcats have one true standout player, senior guard Jitim Young, who leads the team in scoring (19.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg) despite being only 6-2. Young is a complete player, athletic and versatile with a nice skill set and excellent range on his jumper.
The Wildcats run a three-guard offense, though a true point guard isn't necessarily a strong feature in this offense. Assists are distributed fairly evenly with every starter on the team having at least 13 assists, but none more than 26. Interesting enough Northwestern is second nationally in assists-per-field goal at .726%. The number one team nationally in this category just happens to be Arizona State with 82 assists on 112 made baskets (.732%)
Starting next to Young in the backcourt in every game thus far this season are sophomore guards T.J. Parker and Mohamed Hachad. Both are skilled players capable of shooting the long ball.
A pair of Croatians, Vedran Vukusic and Davor Duvancic, are the starting forwards and have been from the opening game this season. Both are considered relatively typical European players. They prefer facing the basket and shooting the ball from the perimeter, but have the skills to operate well within the motion offense. Neither rebound the basketball particularly well and that's a relative weakness of the ‘Cats.
All the starters play at least 29 minutes per game, and only two players off the bench, sophomore guard Evan Seacat and 6-10 freshman center Vince Scott, average more than 10 minutes per contest off the bench. Scott, as you may recall, played his high school basketball at Greenway in Phoenix.
The Sun Devils should be able to execute relatively well against the Wildcats offensively, but this is a basketball game that will likely be won or lost on the defensive end for Arizona State. Northwestern averages 72.3 points per game in its four wins and only 54.0 points per outing in its three losses. It shoots 44.6% from the three-point line in its wins and 30.7% in its losses.
In order to win, the Sun Devils must extend the man-to-man defense out past the three-point line and yet simultaneously prevent repeated interior defensive breakdowns created by the tricky nuances of the Princeton offense.
Prediction: Arizona State 74 Northwestern 65
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