(Photo: Josh Orcutt/WCSN)
Following wins over Belmont and Kennesaw State, the Arizona State Sun Devils look to notch an impressive nonconference win against North Carolina State on Monday. ASU, who is now 2-1, has had relatively solid outings its past two games. After a close win against Belmont, the Sun Devils cruised to a 91-53 win over Kennesaw State last Friday.
Playing NC State will be the first real test that ASU will have in this early season. The Wolfpack are an ACC team who went to the Sweet Sixteen last year and return most of their rotation from last season. Already sitting at 3-1 this season, NC State is coming off a decisive 79-56 win over IUPUI last Wednesday.
This game is the first round of the Legends Classic, being played in Brooklyn.
For these two teams trying to start their seasons right, this game provides huge momentum for the early stretch of the season and the future.
Keys to the Game
Can ASU light it up from the perimeter?
The biggest storyline through the first three games for ASU has been its inconsistency from three-point range. In its season-opening loss to Sacramento State, ASU shot 2-for-19 from beyond the arc. The Sun Devils backed that up by shooting a solid 10-for-21 in their win over Belmont.
The Sun Devils are not a team that lives or dies by how they shoot, but they have to at least be manageable from deep. It will be up to senior guard Gerry Blakes, sophomore guard Kodi Justice and junior guard Andre Spight to get the ball rolling. They have been the team’s most productive shooters and will have to make open shots they are given to have any chance at winning this game.
Obinna Oleka’s performance
In the offseason, one of ASU’s biggest new additions was the JUCO transfer from Florida, Obinna Oleka. Oleka, a junior forward, was expected to produce immediately and help senior forward Eric Jacobsen down low.
His season got off to a rocky start to say the least.
Oleka looked nervous at times and seemed to have trouble adjusting to the speed of play. He was late on to rotate to help on opposing players driving to the basket and did not secure rebounds off of missed shots. Through the first two games, he didn’t score a point and had just one rebound.
Thursday night against Kennesaw State was a different story. Oleka produced big by scoring a game-high 19 points and grabbing six boards. He was efficient, going 7-for-9 from the field and looked like a brand new player. A calmer, more controlled Oleka will make it a lot easier for the Sun Devils to get a win against a stout NC State team.
Will the defensive intensity continue?
ASU allowed Kennesaw State to only score 53 points and held them to only 33 percent shooting from the field. The Sun Devil defense forced 13 turnovers as well. Their defense has been serviceable in the games that they have won.
NC State has generally shot well but have trouble finding the offensive touch from the field at times. In its 86-65 loss to William and Mary, the NC State starters shot an abysmal 20-for-52 from the field. There have been stretches where the Wolfpack have been unable to score due to their lack of a go-to guy on offense.
If ASU can exploit their offensive weakness by playing solid defense like they did against Kennesaw State, it will be a long night for the Wolfpack in Brooklyn.