(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
As Dorothy said, there’s no place like home, and the Arizona State Sun Devils hope home court will help them break a four-game losing streak when they face the Washington Huskies in Tempe on Wednesday.
The Devils (9-11, 2-4 in Pac-12) had to play ranked or nearly ranked opponents consistently over an 18-day road trip. Now, they’ll host a team that’s a bit more at their level. The Huskies (9-10, 2-5 in Pac-12) are 1-4 on the road and have not been able to punch through the top tier of the conference.
Wednesday’s matchup will feature the two leading scorers in the Pac-12. The Huskies have freshman superstar guard Markelle Fultz, the top scorer with 25.9 points per game in-conference. Fultz is high on several NBA draft boards and has scored 20+ points 14 times this season.
While he gets far less press and has a long way to go to catch Fultz, ASU’s Torian Graham ranks second in scoring at 20.6 points per game in Pac-12 play. How much the two will see each other up close remains to be seen, given that Graham essentially plays forward for the Devils. Still, any game with the top two scorers should make for an interesting contest.
ASU’s plan should be relatively straightforward: Shoot a lot of threes and a lot of free throws. The Devils rank third in shooting from the stripe in Pac-12 play, while Washington is dead last. ASU can leverage this by being aggressive on defense. If the Huskies cannot convert their foul shots, ASU can disrupt the offense with less risk of giving up free points.
Washington has also struggled to rebound on the defensive end since Pac-12 play began, opening the door for Obinna Oleka, Jethro Tshisumpa and Ramon Vila to rack up second-chance points, a relatively unfamiliar concept for the usually under-matched Sun Devils.
On the flip side, the Huskies may not have the best defense (ninth in Pac-12 play), but ASU is last by a wide margin and gives up around eight points per game more than the Washington. ASU’s defensive struggles combined with a few ice cold shooting stretches took them out of multiple games during the road trip.
While ASU has made impressive attempts at comebacks and probably has a much better chance of overcoming a potentially large deficit with the home crowd behind them, the Devils can’t afford to take the chance. Long dry stretches have lost them games because their defense is not good enough to carry the team.
Therefore, the big key for ASU is simply don’t go 0-10 from the floor at any particular time. The Huskies are beatable, but if the Devils have a string of bad possessions that turns a three-point gap to 14, that could once again be the killer.
Both of these teams have similar records, strengths, weaknesses and styles. That being the case, this will probably come down to who executes consistently over 40 minutes. If ASU can avoid cold streaks and convert from the arc and foul line, they’ll have a strong chance to break the skid and start the home stand off right.
The game tips off at 9 P.M. Arizona time on ESPNU.