The Devils haven't been to the Big Dance since 2003 and what was once a promising chance with a 14-2 record, ASU has lost 8 of 11 and needs to finish the season on a strong note to get serious consideration.
The Sun Devils were beaten soundly when it visited the Trojans a month ago, 67-53. That contest was marred by foul trouble for James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph as ASU let the game slip away in the second half. O.J. Mayo scored 20 while Davon Jefferson and Taj Gibson were dominant inside in victory, while Harden let an unconscious shooting night go to waste as he scored 26 points on 8 of 9 shooting.
Before I get to the rest of the preview, I wanted to mention that it will be Senior Day at Wells Fargo Arena and the lone honoree will be Antwi Atuahene. The junior college transfer hailing from Toronto has played sparingly this season but he is hard worker, a good team player and a leader that will be missed by the Sun Devil faithful. Thank you for three great years Antwi and good luck in your future endeavors.
Head Coach – Tim Floyd
PG – Daniel Hackett – (9.2 PPG, 44% 3PT)
SG – Dwight Lewis – (11.1 PPG, 34% 3PT)
SF – O.J. Mayo – (20.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG)
PF – Davon Jefferson – (12.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG)
C – Taj Gibson – (10.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG)
G – Angelo Johnson
F – Keith Wilkerson
C – RouSean Cromwell
This game will depend heavily on Daniel Hackett. The USC point guard is expected back in the lineup after missing almost a month with a back injury. If Hackett plays well, the USC offense is that much more dangerous. Nonetheless, ASU must keep their fouls in check and do their best to compete on the boards against the much larger opponent. Gibson and Jefferson had their way with Pendergraph in the first meeting and that proved to be the difference.
Hackett and Lewis are both underrated and get the least glory on the team. Yet they form a very talented backcourt and can beat teams single-handedly if they get ignored. If Hackett cannot go, Angelo Jefferson will take over his duties and although a bit erratic, he is an energetic player that can create some offense. ASU will counter with the point guard tandem of Derek Glasser and Jamelle McMillan with Ty Abbott on the wing. Glasser and McMillan will look to exploit the lack of depth in the backcourt for USC and play a bit more aggressively and try to create fouls. If Abbott finds his shot early and often, the Sun Devils will be in good shape.
Slight Edge – ASU
In game one, Mayo vs. Harden was worth the price of admission as of two the nation's elite freshmen squared off. The real mismatch is down low with Jefferson taking up real estate on both ends of the floor. In the first meeting, Rihards Kuksiks began seeing more playing time and this time around he is a staple of the Sun Devil offense. Kuksiks can be problematic for Floyd and Co. if he can start knocking down his shots and getting Jefferson out of his element.
Slight Edge – USC
Taj Gibson is an elite center and against Pendergraph in the first meeting, he put up 19 points and 7 rebounds while Pendergraph mustered only 10 and 5. However, two things have happened since that meeting: first, Pendergraph has played better straight-up defense to avoid early foul trouble and second, backup center Eric Boateng has picked up his play to provide solid minutes in relief of Pendergraph. Gibson likely won't dominate the same way again and if ASU can hit their outside shots and take some pressure of Pendergraph, they will be sitting pretty. However, it's easier said than done.
Edge – Even
Final Score – ASU 70 USC 67
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