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ASU Men’s Basketball: Sun Devils look to avoid four-game losing streak against USC

(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

After losing to UCLA on Thursday, the Arizona State Sun Devils may find a very slight reprieve in the next phase of their California trip, with USC on tap for Saturday night at the Galen Center.

While USC (16-4) is unranked, they received 14 votes in last week’s poll, putting them second in votes among unranked teams. However, the Trojans have been struggling through Pac-12 play. After starting 11-0 in the non-conference schedule, they’re 3-4 in the Pac-12 with two home losses.

So far USC has not taken a place among the best or worst in the conference in most statistical categories. The Trojans rank sixth in offense and seventh in defense in the conference.

Where USC excels is in steals, a category where they lead the Pac with 6.9 per game. The Devils, who play a lot of isolation but also have smart ball movement, have been able to absorb that. ASU has the best turnover margin in the Pac-12, averaging three more turnovers taken than given per outing. The team also ranks third in assist-to-tunover ratio, just above USC at No. 4.

Not being bothered by the Trojans attempts to seal off passing lanes or swipe at drives will be key for Arizona State. USC’s offense is good enough to give the Devils last-ranked defense a hard time, so ASU will have to be prepped for a shootout, as usual.

The Devils will get a small break to one area of weakness. USC is ninth in rebounding margin at plus-2.2, the lowest team in the conference with a positive rebounding edge. ASU is dead last at minus-4.2, and has already played some of the top rebounding teams like Utah and Arizona. With less to worry about on the boards, ASU will be able to move around a little more freely on both ends rather than pack the interior to compensate for a dearth of good individual rebounders.

The ultimate question for ASU will be the same one it needs to answer in every game this season: If the defense can hold up just enough, ASU can certainly come away with a win. If not, the odds are long. While the fast,volume scoring attack of ASU can decide games for them, it can also kill them if they can’t make a shot for several minutes.

When ASU goes into prolonged scoring slumps, as it did during an 0-of-11 stretch against the Bruins, it really takes the Sun Devils out of the game. USC has shown an ability to adequately control both sides of the court, and the Devils will have to find a way to do the same if they want to avoid a four-game losing streak.

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