Last weekend, Arizona State split its Washington road trip. Perhaps this wasn’t exactly what the Sun Devils wanted, but a tough, come-from-behind win against Washington State and a solid effort that nearly produced another comeback against Washington has the Sun Devils feeling excited heading into their homestand this weekend against California and Stanford. ASU is certainly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and two wins this week would be a nice addition to their tournament resume.
The California Golden Bears come into Tempe riding a wave of momentum. They strung back-to-back conference wins together against Oregon State and then-Pac-12 leader Oregon team at home last week.
The good news for ASU is that the Bears’ bench is even more undermanned than the Sun Devils’ bench. Cal’s rotation consists of one man coming off of the bench for a limited array of six players while ASU works eight men into its rotation.
The tallest man in Cal’s lineup is only 6-foot-10, so ASU will regain a height advantage after Washington’s Aziz N’Diaye dominated Jordan Bachynski on Saturday. Look for the 7-foot-2 Canadian to have a bounce back game.
On paper, ASU should not have any issues winning this game. The Sun Devils lead Cal in points per game, field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage, rebounds per game, assists per game, as well as steals and blocks. However, as the Golden Bears proved against Oregon, they can sneak up on unsuspecting teams. Star guards Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs can make for a lethal backcourt tandem if ASU isn’t prepared.
Keys to victory:
Make Free Throws
This not only sounds like a broken record: it is one. ASU shot 6-12 (50 percent) against Washington on Saturday night while the Huskies knocked down 21 of 22. A host of other factors were involved, but if ASU would have made just a decent number of their free throws, they make up the four-point differential by which they lost to the Huskies. In fact, free throw percentage is one of the few statistical categories where Cal has ASU beat. The Golden Bears are shooting 70.4 percent from the charity stripe while the Sun Devils are managing just 62.3 percent.
Shut Down Crabbe and Cobbs
It will not be an easy task, but if ASU can limit the production of the junior guard duo, the Sun Devils will have success. Crabbe averages 17.4 points per game in conference while Cobbs averages 11.6. Their combined assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.94; that’s nearly two assists for every turnover. It sounds good, but it should be lower. If ASU can get steals and convert on the fast break, it will benefit them greatly.
Be One of Jahiisus’ Disciples / Feed the Hot Hand
Carson was thrust into the national spotlight during the Washington trip. He earned ESPN National Freshman of the Month honors, as he finished with 25 points against Washington State. His 21 second half points helped to complete the comeback, and then he almost accomplished the same thing days later when he dropped 32 points against Washington. It’s clear that Carson is in a groove. If the Sun Devils give Carson the eternal green light and continue to trust his raw basketball ability, they should pull out the win.
Matchup to Watch: Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon vs. Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs
Shutting down Crabbe and Cobbs will be key to victory for ASU. Height hasn’t seemed to play a factor this year, but it’s worth mentioning that Crabbe, at 6’6”, and Cobbs, at 6’3”, may be tougher to guard given Carson and Gordon measure in at 5’10” and 6’1” respectively. Cobbs will drive and dish while Crabbe is more of a score-first player. Momentum is certainly a dangerous thing and both of these players have a lot of confidence after knocking off the top team in the conference. It will be up to Carson and Gordon to keep them quiet.