The 8-3 Sun Devils travel to Corvallis, Oregon for a Fox Sports Network nationally televised game against the 7-2 Oregon State Beavers in the midst of a 4 game win streak that has seen the ASU squad play much more focused and determined than at any point to date in this young season. It should make for a good first Pac-10 test for the Devils, with Oregon State returning its top 3 players from a season ago in forwards Phillip Ricci, Brian Jackson and shooting guard Jimmie Haywood, all seniors.
Both Jackson and Haywood had their share of problems on and off the court last year with former OSU head coach Ritchie McKay, but McKay has since moved on to coach New Mexico and former University of Arizona assistant Jay John has taken the reigns at OSU and in doing so has brought a sense of calm and stability to the program. John was familiar with both Jackson and Haywood from his Arizona days when he recruited both players for the Wildcats.
Much like Arizona State a year ago, John took his team on a basketball tour to Australia in August, and that opportunity allowed him to implement his offensive and defensive philosophies earlier than he otherwise would have for the Beavers. Under John the Beavers will often utilize the matchup zone created by Lute Olson at Arizona and this could cause problems for ASU. Ike Diogu is likely to be working in heavy traffic and Oregon State will pay special attention to the perimeter scorers of ASU like Curtis Millage and Jamal Hill.
The Beavers will attempt to play a ball control half court game with Ricci getting the ball early and often in the paint against the freshmen Diogu. It could be Diogu's biggest test to date in his young career, particularly on defense and this is the key matchup of the game with Ricci being far and away the team's best scorer and rebounder. Jackson is a versatile forward, not too dissimilar from Tommy Smith in his ability to score in the open court, rebound, pass and defend and this head to head battle could be quite telling as well. It will be important for Smith to stay out of foul trouble and that may be difficult with Jackson's level of activity in transition and within the half-court offense.
At guard, Curtis Millage will likely draw the assignment of trying to guard Jimmie Haywood who is far and away the team's most athletic player. Haywood attempts about as many three point shots as the rest of the team combined, averaging over 6 per contest but he's also quite adept at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket. The team employs a three guard lineup with true freshmen Lamar Hurd doing the bulk of the ball handling and initiating of the offense and Floyd North III playing a hybrid guard/forward on the wing, much like Jamal Hill does at times for the Sun Devils. North however is a bigger, more physical player, more apt to mix it up than shoot the deep ball.
The only player off the bench for the Beavers that gets consistently heavy minutes is combination guard J.S Nash, who ironically is from the same hometown as Sun Devil point guard Jason Braxton. If either Jackson or Ricci get in foul trouble or otherwise leave the court, center Derek Potter is the likely substitute. The Beavers are extremely thin on the front line and getting either of the team's primary interior players in foul trouble would be of enormous benefit.
Expect a game in which ASU tries to open it up, create turnovers off of defensive effort and get out and run, while OSU tries to slow it down, work the half court offense and perpetually pound the ball inside to Ricci. It will likely be a hard-fought low scoring contest that may come down to a free throw shooting contest with Pac-10 referees that tend to love the sound of their whistles. Fortunately for the Devils, over the past four game win streak they've shot the ball much better from the charity stripe, going 70 of 95 for 73.7 percent.
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