(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
After a disastrous season-opening loss, Arizona State responded with a strong win over Belmont, the five-time Ohio Valley Conference regular season champions. ASU head coach Bobby Hurley mentioned that his team played nervously against the Hornets, but that wasn’t the case in the Sun Devils’ last game.
Now, they’ll have their chance at climbing above .500 in their third contest in Wells Fargo Arena, this time against the Kennesaw State Owls.
The Owls reign from the Atlantic Sun and are fresh off a 91-69 loss to No. 19 LSU in their first regional round matchup in the Legends Classic.
Kennesaw State is in the midst in a new era of its own as Al Skinner has taken over as head coach. Skinner is best known for his tenure at Boston College, once taking the Eagles to the Sweet Sixteen in 2005-06. He also earned Big East Coach of the Year honors twice. Skinner was most recently an assistant coach at Bryant.
With that in mind, the transitional period is similar to ASU in the sense that the team saw quite a bit of turnover from last season to now. The Owls return just two starters (albeit their two leading scorers in seniors Yonel Brown and Nigel Pruitt), but Skinner and his new staff hit the recruiting trail hard to bring in five new players.
All things considered, these are two teams in transition in the big picture, and while the Sun Devils have more talent overall, their performance against Sacramento State warrants enough of a reason for ASU to come out with the same intensity and fire on both ends of the court.
What to watch for
ASU backcourt containing Yonel Brown
Brown was the third-leading scorer in the Atlantic Sun and garnered preseason All-Conference recognition coming into his final campaign. While the Sun Devils – and particularly senior guard Gerry Blakes – did well to contain Belmont junior guard Craig Bradshaw to 3-for-9 shooting, Brown is a vastly different animal.
While Bradshaw thrives on marksman shooting from beyond the arc, Brown is a much better all-around scorer. Last season, he shot 38.2 percent from three-point land and 43.8 percent on shots within the arc. He is also a threat from the charity stripe, where he shot 90 percent a season ago.
Blakes was a pest who embraced the defensive challenge against Bradshaw, and he’ll likely see plenty of time guarding Brown. The Sun Devils have been a little shaky on the weak-side help, and when Blakes or another guard does get broken down, it’ll be interesting to see how ASU’s rotations react to the Owl’s go-to man.
Look out for Kendrick Ray
After transferring from Quinnipiac, the redshirt junior guard is geared up to provide a third perimeter option for the Owls. Against LSU, Ray racked up 25 points in 39 minutes of action.
He is an athletic game-changer on either end for Kennesaw State, and his tempo and attacking provided a small spark to his team while it was being hammered by a talented LSU team. Ray is a small, quick option, and when paired with Brown, both members of the ASU backcourt will have to be alert and attentive on defense, especially when screened. The Sun Devil big men will also be vital in pick-and-roll defense, something they struggled at as a team against Sacramento State.
Which Andre Spight shows up?
The JUCO transfer was being looked at as a potential go-to option for the SUn Devils on offense, and against Sacramento State, nerves may have gotten the best of the supposed sharpshooter as he went 0-for-5 from distance and never quite looked comfortable.
His performance against Belmont was head-and-shoulders above his debut as he poured in 15 points, shot 4-for-7 from three and dished out six assists. As sophomore guard Tra Holder battled foul trouble early in the last game, Spight’s performance buoyed the Sun Devils on offense.
Spight has the ability and the handle to play either guard position, and he is a rangy 6-foot-3 that allows the Sun Devils to tool around with some different lineup combinations when he is on the floor. Through two games, ASU has seen the worst and the better of Spight, and Hurley expects his junior guard to contribute more performances like his last one moving forward.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com