(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Throw everything out the door.
It’s time for Vegas.
Arizona State squares off against 6th-seeded Oregon State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
In the only matchup between the two in Tempe on January 28, ASU played one of its best games in conference play. The Sun Devils shot above 50 percent from the field for the only time in Pac-12 play and kept Oregon State’s All-Pac-12 senior guard Gary Payton II to a season-low two points.
The Sun Devils featured five players in double-figure scoring, led by junior forward Obinna Oleka’s 17 points and senior guard Gerry Blakes’ 16 points. OSU’s 17 first-half points were the lowest from an ASU opponent all season.
Since then, Oregon State went 6-4 in its final 10 games, and ASU stumbled to below .500 after going 3-7 in its final 10.
However, ASU is coming off two of its better performances in conference season, beating Stanford by 10 points and challenging No. 24 California on Senior Night. Senior center Eric Jacobsen particularly stood out, tying a career-high 20 points. That game also marked was the first time in his career in which he achieved double-digit points in three-straight games.
OSU will be without freshman forward Tres Tinkle, its second-leading scorer (13.1 points per game) due to a foot injury. Tinkle missed the last two contests for the Beavers after suffering the injury in practice, and CBS Sports reported today that he will miss their contest against the Sun Devils.
However, OSU freshman guard Stephen Thompson Jr. has come on strong in place of Tinkle in the starting lineup. Thompson is third on the team with 10.7 points per game but leads OSU with 29.8 points per 100 possessions, according to sports-reference.com. Against ASU, Thomposon racked up 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
Keys to the Game
ASU launched more threes than any other team in conference play. Part of that comes from being undersized, but ASU has also settled for outside shots on numerous occasions. With that in mind, getting the ball inside to Jacobsen, who has found quite an offensive form of late, as well as senior forward Willie Atwood and junior forward Savon Goodman will be critical.
While Atwood and Goodman aren’t particularly efficient inside, their ability to face-up and take players off the dribble is important. The offensive possession doesn’t necessarily have to end with a post-entry, but an early entry could loosen things up for ASU’s guards.
In the first matchup, sophomore guards Kodi Justice and Tra Holder were limited to 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting, so playing inside-out may relieve the pressure that Payton can implement.
Don’t let Gary Payton II do Gary Payton II things
Payton’s two point, seven rebound performance against ASU was an anomaly. It’d be hard to predict the two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year to have another quiet output with his team on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Even if he isn’t scoring, his ability to do everything else – his 7.6 rebounds per game leads OSU, and his 2.5 steals per game ranks sixth in the country – is what makes him such a handful.
The last thing ASU needs is for Payton to get a momentum-swinging steal that leads to a fastbreak or a jaw-dropping jam.
An 11th-seed has never won a game in the Pac-12 Tournament. Last season, ASU was on the receiving end of history, falling to 12th-seeded USC despite leading by double-digits late in the second half. Now, it’s ASU’s chance to burst a bubble-teams chances’ at the Big Dance.
ASU’s 3-13 conference tournament record is the worst since 1999. OSU is favored by 2.5 points. KenPom.com gives ASU a 41 percent chance to win and reach the quarterfinals and a 0.7 percent chance to win the Tournament.
Those are long odds in a city built on preying on bad bets, but it’s the task ASU must tackle.