A successful calendar year for the men's basketball program at Arizona State concludes with the final non-conference game of the 2003-04 season against a talented Western Michigan squad. It is a match-up that should go a ways toward bridging the gap between the previous two mediocre Sun Devil opponents and a veritable powerhouse program, which will come into Wells Fargo Arena later in the week.
The Broncos of Western Michigan are 6-1 thus far on the season including a dominant home victory against Southern Cal, and the team has an RPI figure that is inside of the Top-30 nationally, and its strength of schedule is in the Top-60. Both of these figures will afford Arizona State the first real opportunity of the year to win a game against a team though well of by the computers.
Unfortunately, or fortunately as it may be, Western Michigan may be without the services of one of its top players, 6-7 wide-body Anthony Kann who sprained an ankle in practice leading up to the Classic and did not play in the team's opener against Winthrop on Monday. The Broncos' leading rebounder on the season, Kann is questionable for the game against Arizona State on Tuesday.
If Kann does not play, expect Western Michigan to be even more heavily reliant on the services of its leading scorer, 6-8 Mike Williams in the offensive interior. Williams is a wispy, athletic post who rebounds well despite his lack of bulk and can really score from about 15 feet and in.
On the outside, the Broncos have one of the deadliest three-point shooters in the nation in Ben Reed, the team's second leading scorer. Going into Monday's contest, Reed was the most prolific player in the nation from the behind the arc. Currently he is shooting 19-31 on the season from three-point range, which puts him at an astounding .613%.
Broncos head coach Steve Hawkins has elected to go predominately with a three-guard lineup made all the more tolerable by the fact that his squad's best passer, sophomore Brian Snider, is a lanky 6-6. Snider's assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly 4-1, which is quite impressive indeed. The other guard is 6-0 junior Ricky Willis, who is second on the team in assists.
In Kann's absence on Monday, Hawkins turned to 6-7 junior transfer Levi Rost to fill the starting position alongside of Williams. He played 26 minutes in the contest and tallied 11 points and five rebounds.
The bench is relatively thin, particularly is Kann is unable to play. Western Michigan's one remaining player averaging more than 10 minutes per game off the bench is 6-4 swingman Reggie Berry. He allows the Broncos to mix-and-match lineups in a variety of ways particularly when combined with the versatility of Snider. Berry is also the team's second leading long-range threat, though his proficiency is not close to the level of Reed.
For Arizona State, Tron Smith suffered a broken nose in a practice mishap on Saturday and that gave Jamal Hill a chance to shine against San Diego on Monday. Hill took advantage and he'll be counted on again as Western Michigan will likely swarm Ike Diogu in an all-to-familiar ritual that Arizona State had better get used to. Come Pac-10 play, the pre-season All American selection will see a steady diet of packed in zones and double and triple teams.
A victory in this game is essential as it relates to any consecutive NCAA-Tournament appearance aspirations for Arizona State.
It is also one last chance to prepare camp before the storm. There is a deluge of energy coming into Tempe on Saturday, and it wears colors red and blue.
Prediction: Arizona State 75 Western Michigan 71
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