Wearing gold uniforms in a 30-point blowout loss to Stanford on Saturday, Arizona State's performance made one question whether or not the team's traditional home uniforms had already been turned into white flags.
It was the worst loss of the Rob Evans era at Arizona State, made all the more shocking by the fact that the Stanford played without two of its best frontcourt players.
As bad as it was however, Arizona State must come back and play Cal on Saturday, an opponent that is similar in its youth, but apparently headed in a different direction following a home victory over Arizona on Thursday.
The Cal Bears feature the runaway leading candidate to win the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in Leon Powe, a power forward who actually rebounds and defends as well as he scores.
His counterpart, Sun Devil pre-season All-American Ike Diogu has been literally abused of late on the low block by the likes of Oregon freshman Mitch Platt, Stanford sidekick Rob Little, and even little used Washington State reserve Justin Bellegarde
Diogu has shown himself to be a weak position defender, someone who allows players to back him down under the hoop with easy. He then tries to block the resulting high-percentage shot. It doesn't work however because not only is he not tall enough or long enough, he doesn't explode off the floor quickly or anticipate particularly well.
He rebounds the basketball just fine if he's already in position and its coming to him, but he doesn't really have a knack for seeking it out, especially on the defensive end. Opponents have been presented with far too many second and third chance opportunities as a result of this and the inability of Arizona State to find a strong rebounder to pair with Diogu.
Evans has gone through his entire rolodex of players to find an acceptable player to pair with Diogu up front; from Justin Allen to Wilfried Fameni to Allen Morill, Keith Wooden and Serge Angounou, he's searched and as of yet not found anything he's been willing to stick with.
Meanwhile, Cal head coach Ben Braun has seemingly found a rotation that he has been apt to rely on, and one that, interestingly enough, includes several freshmen outside of Powe, most notably point guard Ayinde Ubaka and versatile wing Marquise Kately.
The Bears start three freshmen and a sophomore alongside of senior Amit Tamir and yet currently sit third in the Pac-10 at 6-4 and have won four of their last five in the conference.
They have given up an average of ten points per game less over that span that Arizona State, 1-4 in that same stretch. The Bears are more principally sound defensively as a group and they have offensive roles are more easily defined as well; this despite being equally as young as Arizona State.
Desperate to address the disparity between how the Sun Devils play against man-to-man defenses and zone defense, Evans elected to start Tron Smith at point guard instead of Jason Braxton. The possible thinking behind this was that Smith's ability to shoot the ball would open up the Cardinal defense and force them to show a man look.
Of course, with Smith being the worst shooter on the team from three-point range percentage-wise (2-21; 0.95%) and having a miserable assist-to-turnover ratio of 1:2 as opposed to Braxton's decent 2:1, it was a move that appeared desperate at the very least, and negligent at worst.
So in summation, and to put it very simply, the Bears and Sun Devils both have established themselves as heading in opposite directions of late. And that queasy feeling you have in your stomach means you're the one supporting the team headed south – in a hurry.
Prediction: Cal 77 Arizona State 65
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