For many, the dawn of a new year means a call for new resolutions and newfound purpose. But more often than not an interest in making changes stick sooner or later falls by the wayside.
When a startlingly athletic Arizona basketball team comes into Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday to play the Sun Devils, resolve will be tested, and the result could make a trip to the wayside look more like a push into a deep roadside ditch.
At 6-3 Arizona State has looked relatively mediocre throughout the early season, particularly in first halves, and with eight new players on the team the Sun Devils have as many scholarship athletes having not played a single Pac-10 game yet in their careers as Arizona has on its entire roster, period.
When you take into account the fact that Arizona is a quick, athletic team that runs the floor as well as any team in the nation and Arizona State has been downright poor in its transition defense it doesn't bode well for the home team.
Factor in the voracity with which the Wildcats consistently attack the offensive glass and the terrible job the Sun Devils have done thus far at protecting against second-chance opportunities and it makes for an even more unfavorable situation for Arizona State.
Add to the equation the way in which Arizona utilizes its zone and match-up zone defenses to pack its defensive interior around dynamic post players such as Ike Diogu and force teams to beat it by shooting from the perimeter and now you have the makings of a potentially scary situation in Tempe.
In the last several games Steve Moore, clearly Arizona State's most consistent perimeter threat on both ends of the floor, has struggled and freshman guard Tron Smith will miss the game with a broken nose. Jamal Hill has shot the ball quite well recently but his defense is hit-or-miss at best and against players like Salim Stoudamire, Hassan Adams and Andre Iguodala that is a bad sign.
Adams is arguably the most improved player in the league, Iguodala is quite possibly the most versatile and best professional prospect and Stoudamire is absolutely the best pure shooter. Add to that the best true center in the league in Channing Frye a pair of very nice point guards -- freshman Mustafa Shakur and Chris Rodgers -- and you have a very talented team. Arizona also recently added a second post player off the bench, Ivan Radenovic, which reduces some of the depth concerns following the injury to Isaiah Fox.
The zone offense implemented by the Sun Devils coaches hasn't been smoothly integrated to say the least and this team has struggled with spacing; movement off the ball and even the ability to make entry passes into the post. Against rangy, athletic wings like Arizona that becomes even more of a challenge.
Coach Rob Evans made it clear in his public commentary leading up to this game that playing Arizona was as much or more of a mental struggle than a physical one. And that is something that should not be understated.
Perhaps a product of its youth and inexperience, Arizona State has shown a susceptibility to getting taken out of its offensive game plan quite easily. Despite Diogu scoring and getting the foul line seemingly at will against Western Michigan, the Broncos prevented him from getting almost any touches in the final eight minutes of the game on Tuesday despite being in heavy foul trouble, and Arizona State seemed to accept it without much of a challenge.
In this game Arizona State has almost no chance to win unless it plays in an almost religiously methodical half-court game when it does not have clear and easy fast-break scoring opportunities.
Part and of this process involves an overly emphasized effort to get the basketball into the hands of Diogu literally every time down the floor in the early portions of the game. High percentage attempts from the field are vital and this essentially means Arizona State must take shorter-range shots as frequently as possible.
Short-range shots from the floor translate into shorter rebounds and this should hinder Arizona's ability to get out and run the floor. Rushed shots from the outside result in longer rebounds, easier outlet passes and ultimately a numbers advantage. It is in this fashion that the Wildcats are able to go on the tremendous and quick double-digit runs that usually make the difference in what are often otherwise close games.
To this point in the season Arizona State hasn't shown an ability to succeed in these areas against lesser talented and explosive teams than Arizona and so, to think that the Sun Devils will somehow just flip a switch and dramatically improve on Saturday is foolish.
Prediction: Arizona State 68 Arizona 84
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