Washington Hoops Preview

The Arizona State Sun Devil men's Basketball team tips off their Pac-10 home opener tonight, when they play host to the Washington Huskies. The following is the DevilsDigest.com breakdown of the game.

The Washington Huskies have had very little success on the road at ASU over much of the past two decades. Not only have they lost their last 5 games in Tempe, but since 1989 they are 1-14 in the Valley of the Sun with the lone win during that span coming in 1997. Last year's disappointing 12-18 season culminated in the firing of Bob Bender and new head coach Lorenzo Romar is in the first-year of a rebuilding effort at his alma mater. The Huskies are off to a relatively strange and unpredictable start. They began 0-2, getting beat by lowly Montana State and blown out by UNLV, but then played a solid close game in a losing effort to Gonzaga. More recently, they've beaten a good Wyoming team and just last week the USC Trojans after being down in the first half by as much as 20 points.

The most familiar name on the Huskies roster is returning all-conference performer, 6'7 junior Doug Wrenn. A dynamic, versatile athlete and tremendous scorer Wrenn had a difficult time early in the season adjusting to Romar's offensive structure and call for defensive intensity. In the last few games however he's seemingly become more comfortable with his role and is back to playing at the level he did last season when he finished second in the conference in scoring. He comes into the ASU game fresh of a big win at home against USC in which he had 24 points and 11 rebounds.

With Wrenn struggling to adapt early in the season, 6' sophomore point guard Will Conroy took advantage of the fresh opportunity and has situated himself at the top of the list of players gunning for the title of the Pac-10's most-improved player. Conroy is leading the team in points with over 14.5 a game, as well as in assists with nearly five per contest. Equally as important, the emergence of Conroy has allowed last year's starting point guard Curtis Allen to slide into the starting shooting guard position which is a much better fit for the shoot first, pass later guard. Curtis is the team's leading 3 point shooter, hoisting up more than twice as many long range shots as his next closest teammate. The first guard off the bench is often 5'9 freshmen Nate Robinson who also is a member of the Huskies football team. Robinson is a tremendous athlete who is cat quick, strong and can stroke the ball from deep. If it's not Robinson coming in than it's likely 6'3 junior C.J Massingale, a player who has started quite a few games for the Huskies in the past and is best described as a combo-guard who can score off the bench.

While the backcourt rotation is relatively solidified with legitimate depth, the frontcourt is still a work in progress. 6'8 redshirt freshmen Mike Jensen has started every game at power forward and was arguably the best player at his position on the west coast as a high school senior before an injury kept him out at UW last season. He's still in the midst of a trial-by-fire period, but he has improved as the season goes along and is averaging about 5 points and 4 rebounds a game. 6'9 sophomore Jeffrey Day started most of the games early in the year in the post, but was deemed academically ineligible following the close of the fall quarter and missed three games. He has just been reinstated however and will re-join the team in Tempe for his first conference game. Day had been the team's second best rebounder behind Wrenn, averaging five boards per game to go along with about 6.5 points. It's unclear at this point whether he will return to the staring lineup immediately or if his understudy, 6'9 freshmen Anthony Washington will again get the nod. Washington is much like Jensen in that he's just getting acclimated to major conference basketball for the first time. Nevertheless, he has nice size and the body to stand out on the defensive end in the post and as a shot-blocker. Providing a big body and five fouls off the bench is 6'10 Marlon Shelton, a player that has had several serious knee injuries and has simply never developed due to this and his issues with being somewhat overweight. When Wrenn comes out of the ballgame or when the Huskies go small, 6'6 true freshmen Bobby Jones generally gets the call off the bench. He is another talented athlete, not too dissimilar than Wrenn, though he isn't yet a score of that caliber. Jones is also a solid defender with his lateral mobility and long arms. While they do posses some young talent, the Huskies are an extremely young and untested group in the frontcourt with very little experience or leadership and it will be their Achilles Heel throughout the season.

In order to win the Devils must contain Washington's outside shooting as the Huskies are a good long-range shooting team that will rely heavily on the three point shot. Stopping Doug Wrenn is not as important as containing players like Conroy, Allen and Robinson. Those players can collapse defenses, get the big guys involved and provide open outside looks. On-ball defense will be a key as will coming over the top of screens and forcing Washington to start their offense from further out on the court. The Devils should pound the ball relentlessly into Ike Diogu in the post and force Washington's young players into early foul trouble. This will also open up the defense to the passing lanes and create open jumpers, something that is necessary in order to kick start the worst three point shooting team in the conference.

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