(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
The Arizona State Sun Devils received a lot of praise this offseason for loading their nonconference schedule up with elite opponents. Unfortunately, Sacramento State was one of the few teams that didn’t fall in this category, and the Sun Devils still fell in their opener.
Now, ASU head coach Bobby Hurley’s team already faces its first challenge in bouncing back against a team that has had a lot of success in recent years in the Belmont Bruins. They have made the tournament four of the last five seasons, and the one where they failed to make the big dance, they lost in their conference tournament championship as the one seed.
This will also be Belmont’s second game of the season, following a season opener in which they pulled off an impressive 83-80 victory over Marquette. Junior forward Evan Bradds led the way for the Bruins with 24 points and nine rebounds on 10-for-13 shooting.
Belmont returns its top three scorers from last season, all of which averaged double-digits. Bradds as well as senior guard Craig Bradshaw combined to average 32 points per game a season ago, and things are looking to be much of the same as they totaled 42 of Belmonts’ 83 points in the Marquette victory.
This is the first of seven opponents ASU plays this nonconference season that have made the tournament in recent years. Having to face their first major opponent with a tally already in the loss column, the Sun Devils could find themselves in a bigger hole than expected this early in the season.
Keys to the Game
Make Bradshaw Attack
Belmont’s returning leading scorer shot 42.3 percent from three last season, and in the win over Marquette, he made five of his 10 attempts from distance. He only made one shot in the season opener inside the three-point line.
Sacramento State’s guards had little trouble getting to the rim, but in this instance that would be preferred in defending Bradshaw, especially considering he only made one of his three free throw attempts.
Bradshaw also turned the ball over six times against Marquette, so applying pressure off the dribble is almost guaranteed to turn out better than letting him find an opening on the perimeter. He led the team in turnovers per game a season ago with a little over three per contest.
Win the rebounding battle
The Sun Devils were outrebounded by Sacramento State 41 to 34 on Friday, and forwards Savon Goodman and Willie Atwood combined for 20 of them. Other than those two, the next leading rebounder was senior center Eric Jacobsen who had four.
Jacobsen has no excuse not to be more of a presence on the glass, and senior guard Gerry Blakes proved last season that he has the ability to be an exceptional rebounder for his position. If the Sun Devils want to play at the high pace they have been advertising, rebounding is the most crucial element of quick transition.
Belmont has a tall roster with seven players 6-foot-7 and taller as opposed to ASU’s four, so this presents a challenge on the glass for the Sun Devil frontcourt. If they are going to take the next step in acclimating to Hurley’s new system, they will need consistent rebounding from every position.
Defending the three is going to be one of ASU’s biggest priorities with Belmont’s top three scorers shooting better than 38 percent from three last season, but the Sun Devils need to make threes of their own.
Last game, they shot 2-for-17 from distance, and junior guard transfer Andre Spight, who was supposed to be ASU’s marksman addition, didn’t make one. Hurley said at times he felt ASU settled for contested threes in the first half of its season opener, so shot selection may be the problem, but Hurley also mentioned that he thought his players may have been nervous.
Hopefully, with their season-opening jitters out of the way, ASU will shoot better than 11.8 percent from three, and it is going to need to given Belmont’s success from deep.