After losing to Washington State on the road Thursday, Arizona State, at 8-9, has fallen to below .500% on the season and a mere 2-6 in conference play. With three more road games to be played before the team returns to Tempe, the Sun Devils are putting themselves in a dangerous hole as it relates to making the Tournament.
The Pac-10 Tournament, to be more precise.
If it's not exactly the situation you envisioned for a team returning arguably the league's best offensive player in Ike Diogu and a surrounding cast of naturally talented -- albeit inexperienced -- athletes, join the club. From Rob Evans to his assistant coaches and even current and former players, everyone associated with the basketball program that we spoke with prior to the season had high hopes for this team.
Some even privately commented that Arizona State would actually be better this season. The new additions were considered to be bigger, stronger, and just plain more capable than the player they replaced. So far at least, that hasn't proven to be the case, at least not on the court where it actually counts.
So for now, those initial hopes appear to be just that – hopes.
Arizona State will now attempt to get on track, or more appropriately on some track against Washington, a team that received a much-needed boost of its own in a home victory over Arizona on Thursday. As a result, the Huskies should come into Saturday's contest with more confidence than at any time in recent weeks, a fact that should be not be lost on the Sun Devils.
Washington is led by Nate Robinson, a 5-9 fireplug of an a player not too dissimilar from USC's Desmon Farmer in terms of his temperament and ability to spark a team with his streaky play, which occasionally reaches white-hot proportions. Robinson struggled mightily early in the season, at one point even being relegated by coach Lorenzo Romar to a spot on the bench. Recently however, he has rounded into form and played tremendously inspired basketball.
A guard-oriented ball club, Washington surrounds Robinson with a number of high quality players at the position and on the wing. 6-2 junior Will Conroy led the team in scoring last year he's one of the most well rounded players on the roster, capable of scoring, shooting, finding open teammates and defending. 6-5 sophomore Brandon Roy and 6-5 Tre Simmons play the bulk of the minutes at the third guard spot. Both are athletic scorers; Roy has a well-developed mid-range game and Simmons is more of a long-range threat.
Where the team has struggled is along its front line. Last year's starters, Mike Jensen and Anthony Washington, have largely under-performed this season and as a result, Romar has often started 6-8 junior college transfer Hakeem Rollins and undersized 6-7 sophomore Bobby Jones in longer-than-anticipated stretches and with mixed results. Washington has actually been only a fringe member of the rotation of late, with Jones and Jensen consistently starting in a three player rotation with Washington coming off the bench.
The Huskies are a difficult, if not impossible team to accurately forecast and the Sun Devils aren't much easier to get a handle on, other than knowing that they won't play a full 40 minutes -- or anywhere close to it -- most nights out.
Looking purely at the match-ups, it should be an opportunity for Arizona State to steal a road win. They clearly have the most dominate interior presence and the Devils can counter Washington's athleticism on the wing with Steve Moore, Jamal Hill and now Tron Smith, who is back from injury. Unfortunately, they also have shown no semblance of on offensive scheme against zone defenses and the Huskies do have a zone look at their disposal that has been effective in mind.
Washington is also coming off its biggest win of the season, and perhaps longer than that. And with that in mind it seems that the youth and inexperience of Arizona State will loom large, but not as large as the likelihood that it won't come to play as focused and intent as the Huskies.
Prediction: Washington 82 Arizona State 68
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