(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
After breezing through an easy preseason schedule, Arizona State’s men’s basketball team is ready to get their regular season started Friday.
The Sun Devils will take on the Portland State Vikings at Wells Fargo Arena, in their first official game of the year. This gives ASU fans their first chance to see their team go up against a fellow D-I opponent.
Head Coach Bobby Hurley said that the team is excited to finally kick the season off.
“The guys are really excited for Friday,” Hurley said. “There’s been a lot of work put in with five weeks of practice, competing against the same guys over and over again outside of the exhibition and scrimmage. We’re pretty healthy right now too which is a plus so just looking forward to the season starting.”
ASU senior guard Shannon Evans said he and his fellow teammates were excited to finally play in a real game.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Evans said. “Everybody’s in a good mood, and we finally get to play somebody different so that’s always a good thing. I’m just excited to be back on the floor. Just trying to be calm and get a win.”
With a fairly easy preseason schedule, the Sun Devils ran through the competition, but Hurley said that the team still has a lot to work on.
“We’re still learning, we’re still trying to improve on things,” Hurley said. “You want to be exposed some to find out what you need to get better at but I really like this group. It’s exciting what they can do particularly at the offensive end of the floor.”
Despite the excitement over the Sun Devil’s ability on offense, Hurley also said that his team faces some serious challenges on defense and in the frontcourt.
“We’re not the biggest team, not the longest team, and not the strongest team,” Hurley said. “We’re going to have to outplay people, not try and physically beat them up and out-rebound them. We do a lot of skill work so our players are ready to play that style and we’ll see what the results are.”
Portland State went 13-18 last year and they struggled mightily on the road, losing 11 out of 15 games away from home. The Vikings are lead by senior guard Calaen Robinson, who originally played for ASU before transferring to Portland State after his freshman year. Last season, Robinson averaged 10.2 points per game and was first on the team in total steals (55) and three-pointers (58).
Outside of Robinson, Portland State doesn’t have many high scoring returners from last year, but the Vikings do have a significant veteran presence on the squad, with 11 upperclassmen. However, they only have three players over six feet tall, which should allow ASU to take advantage of a less-talented team that doesn’t have the height to slow down the Sun Devil’s small-ball lineup.
Hurley is prepared to give his top players a lot of minutes and try to use the team’s speed and athleticism to run the floor.
“I think our guys are very fit right now and we have guys who can play extended minutes,” Hurley said. “Kodi and Tra are used to playing big minutes and Shannon, I barely took out in Buffalo, so I’ve got guys who can play at a good speed and a good pace.
With a lack of size and depth in the frontcourt, Hurley is also focused on developing the team’s only true center, freshman Jethro Tshisumpa.
“Jethro’s coming along,” Hurley said. “He had a better week in practice, probably his best overall. He’s just going to continue to take steps and hopefully he grows up quick. I want to try and put him in good situations to gain confidence and play well. We’ve been playing guys in some different lineups so I have some flexibility with him.”
Because of the influx of freshman and transfer players to the team, some would expect that the Sun Devils would need some time to develop chemistry. Hurley said that he feels the team is already well on its way to forming that essential chemistry, especially on the offensive end of the floor.
“I just think the thing we’ve been doing the best consistently is sharing the ball,” Hurley said. “I think the group generally likes each other and plays pretty cohesively on offense. They’re willing to make the extra pass to a teammate and that unselfishness is a great quality. I think that they trust that there are numerous guys that can score the ball and they gain confidence from [that].”
The season opener will tip off at 7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.