Oregon State Hoops Preview

ASU takes on Oregon State Saturday at 4:00 p.m. MST in an effort to remove all doubt about its place in the NCAA Tournament's field of 65. The final home game of the season will be broadcast on Fox Sports Network. Here is the DevilsDigest.com preview of the game.

It will be the end of an era of sorts at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday. After a combined 20 years of play as Sun Devils, Kyle Dodd, Donnell Knight, Shaun Redhage, Tommy Smith, Curtis Millage and Chris Osborne will play for the final time on Ned Wulk Court. Rob Evans signed most of this group in his first recruiting class at Arizona State and it is only fitting that these players should be among Evans' first NCAA Tournament team at the University. A win against Oregon State, (13-13; 6-11) would seemingly move the odds of that happening from likely to near certainty.

The Beavers are an over-achieving team, limited by lack of depth and talent, but relatively efficient on the court and comfortable in its own skin. First year head coach Jay John has a chance to run the team's record to above .500% at the end of a regular season for the first time since 1990, as well as provide an opportunity at post-season play in the NIT. But first, the Beavers must beat the Sun Devils as a moderate underdog on senior day in Tempe.

The focal point of the Oregon State attack all season long has been senior forward, 6'7 Phillip Ricci, a likely all-conference player who is among the league leaders in both scoring and rebounds. Ricci is a wide-bodied player, with a game somewhat similar to Ike Diogu. He's the second-leading player in attempts from the free throw line to Diogu and is capable of stepping out and hitting the face-up jump shot as well as scoring on a variety of moves in the post.

Ricci's plight has been aided by the veteran leadership of two other seniors that start on the squad. In the frontcourt, Brian Jackson, a 6'9 forward is a multi-faceted player who does everything relatively well, but nothing in a standout fashion. In some respects he's a similar player to Tommy Smith, but with considerably less natural athleticism. Jimmy Haywood, a 6'2 shooting guard is the mainstay in the backcourt of Oregon State. He's relatively quick and athletic and has a decent shot out to the three-point line, a place from which he tends to put up a lot of attempts.

The team's point guard position has been headed up by freshman Lamar Hurd, a 6'3 skilled, intelligent teammate who does a good job of facilitating the offense of the Beavers. Hurd is a legitimate candidate for the all-freshmen team in the Pac-10 conference and will at some point likely be considered among the best players in the league at his position.

The rest of the team is played by a variety of role players and less talented contributors. Often the team plays a three guard lineup that features Floyd North III, a 6'4 sophomore or J.S. Nash, a 6'1 sophomore as the third component. Both are strong, active players than can penetrate and get to the basket. These players also like to shoot the ball from three point range and do so on about one third of their field goal attempts. But neither is a particularly effective shooter from long distance and that factor contributes to the Beavers being last in the conference in three-point accuracy.

More recently, David Lucas, a 6'7 sophomore as been playing quite a bit at the small forward position and rotating over to play at one of the power spots when either Ricci or Jackson leaves the floor. In fact, John decided to start Lucas as small forward on Thursday for the first time in an effort to match up with Arizona's tall frontcourt of Channing Frye, Rick Anderson and Luke Walton.

In this game against Arizona State, John may be inclined to again go with the taller frontcourt due to Shaun Redhage making the Devils taller and more active offensively than the player he replaced in the starting lineup, Donnell Knight. John may also use two players on the cusp of the rotation for the Beavers: Kevin Field, a 6'10 freshman and Derek Potter, a 6'11 sophomore that have seen limited floor minutes throughout most of the season.

Defensively, the Beavers will play a 1-3-1 defense that mirrors that of Lute Olson's at Arizona. It's only fitting considering the many years that John spent on the bench under Olson's tutelage. ASU will have to do a better job of attacking the defense than in either game against Arizona. In both of those games the Sun Devils settled for too many three point shots against the sagging zone and also seemingly forgot to make intelligent passes and cuts that resulted in better scoring opportunities.

The Sun Devils did a terrific job against the zone defense used by Oregon on Thursday, and in an earlier meeting this year at Oregon State, ASU was able to exploit the zone rather well, particularly in the second half on the way to a 20 win victory. In light of the experience the team has garnered since that game, and when factoring in the relative lack of height Oregon State has at its disposal to close out on shooters, a similar dismantling of the zone is not difficult to foresee.

ASU will also have to continue to play defensive in an inspired fashion, as the catalyst for easy opportunities is always created off of turnovers and being able to alter shots. With Rob Evans having tightened up his bench recently, a good defensive showing could spark the Devils to a big lead and allow reserves such as Jamal Hill, Kenny Crandall and Chris Osborne some much-needed playing time. That would go a long way toward building some confidence heading into the Pac-10 Tournament and post-season play. It would also allow the senior starters to be taken out of the game to a rousing and deserved standing ovation, secure in the knowledge that a NCAA Tournament selection is theirs…finally.

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