It certainly isn't the type of late season battle Arizona State had in mind but on Thursday the Sun Devils will take on Oregon State in an effort to climb ahead of the Beavers into ninth place in the Pac-10. The loser will most likely miss the season-ending Pac-10 Conference Tournament.
As has been the case all season long the past week once again proved the Devils to be a highly unpredictable group. The team stormed back from down seven late in the game to defeat UCLA in overtime on Thursday only to follow it up by squandering a late-game lead over USC two days later. The Sun Devils were subsequently destroyed by the Trojans in overtime after Ike Diogu fouled out.
Besides Diogu, Arizona State has been utterly unpredictable and altogether frustrating. There has never been a consistent starting rotation or even the hint of a firm, established player rotation.
Coach Rob Evans has made some interesting and curious decisions of late. He's played Keith Wooden very little despite the young and talented freshman's productive showings in limited minutes. He's recently played Justin Allen quite a bit despite the fact that Allen is an outgoing senior on a team that doesn't appear to be headed to post-season play. He's paired Kevin Kruger in the backcourt with Jason Braxton in an effort to promote greater offensive output.
But no matter what Evans has tried, it has been relatively unsuccessful and the team's weaknesses have been exposed time and again, even in what has to be considered a down year for the Pac-10.
As the season winds down, the Sun Devils now have just a few remaining opportunities to build positive momentum heading into the off-season. A road game against Oregon State should be the easiest remaining opportunity for a victory away from Wells Fargo Arena.
The Beavers, led by second-year head coach Jay John, have a young core group of players performing much better than anticipated in conference play. Despite a meager record, Oregon State has been extremely competitive in a number of games only to lose at the end.
In junior David Lucas, John has a legitimate Pac-10 star. Lucas is an athletic and versatile combo forward who scores very well from mid-range and around the basket.
While Lucas is the only real frontcourt standout, the Beavers have a couple young players that should eventually become quality Pac-10 players. In particular freshman Kyle Jeffers, who has started next to Lucas, has nice size and athleticism and a developing skill package.
The Beavers play a perimeter-oriented style of basketball with a predominant three-guard lineup. Lamar Hurd starts at the point, and while he's not much of an offensive threat, Hurd is an adequate facilitator and defender. He's intelligent, relatively steady and he can run a club. Most of the offense is provide on the perimeter by J.S. Nash and Chris Stephens. Both like to shoot the deep ball and penetrate to the basket.
John brings prolific freshman sharpshooter Angelo Tsagarakis off the bench to fortify the three-guard set. He can come in for any of the three players and often the Beavers shift Nash to point guard in order to accommodate the various potential lineups.
Oregon State would rather play an aggressive man-to-man defensive scheme, but against a team like Arizona State that doesn't shoot the ball particularly well, John has shown a willingness to play a 1-3-1 zone that he brought to the club from the University of Arizona.
Much like Arizona State, the Beavers favor a mid-tempo approach offensively. They readily take scoring opportunities in transition and try to work defensively to create such opportunities. In that respect, it's possible that this game could become a high-scoring affair. Regardless, it should be a close ball-game with the losing team seemingly destined to miss the Pac-10 Tournament.
Prediction: Oregon State 83 Arizona State 81
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