(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
After a disappointing loss in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament to USC, the Arizona State Sun Devils will try to end the season on a positive note in the NIT. Their first round matchup will be against the Connecticut Huskies of the American Athletic Conference.
USC’s freshman guard Elijah Stewart was red hot in their 67-64 come from behind win over ASU, scoring 27 points and hitting six three-pointers. The leading scorer for the Sun Devils was senior forward Shaquielle McKissic with 16 points.
UConn’s run for its conference title was stopped just short by the number first-seeded SMU in the championship game, which was UConn’s only shot at making the Big Dance. In the 62-54 loss, sophomore guard Rodney Purvis scored 29 points and was the only Husky in double figures. Their typical leading scorer, senior guard Ryan Boatright, only made one field goal and totaled seven points.
The NIT will feature a handful of rule changes as well. The normal 35-second shot clock will be shortened to 30 seconds, and the restricted area under the basket will increase to four feet instead of three.
Keys to the Game
The easiest way to do this is to force him into difficult shots, but don’t be surprised if some of them fall. Just like those point guards that played at UConn before him like Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier, Boatright brings a certain type of playmaking ability that can swing the momentum of a game in a hurry. Having played so well against the impressive, experienced guards the Pac-12 has to offer, ASU’s freshman guard Tra Holder should be familiar with this type of challenge.
Let Holder Create
Holder has played some of his best games against the best competition. For instance, his best game this season statistically came against Arizona and T.J. McConnell, when Holder had 15 points and 8 assists. His career-high in scoring came against Joseph Young and Oregon. There is no doubt Holder can handle the challenge, but whether or not he can execute will be a big factor in ASU’s offense.
Make it a High-Scoring Affair
UConn only averages 64 points per game, but it only allows 60, and it also average five blocks per game. If the Sun Devils can reach the 75-point mark and play a good defensive game, there shouldn’t be much to worry about other than Boatright or Purvis getting hot.
ASU has played well with its backs against the wall before when they started conference play 0-4 but managed to finish the season with the fifth overall seed in the Pac-12 tournament. With the way McKissic has been playing on both ends of the floor, his game will elevate along with fellow seniors Bo Barnes and Jonathan Gilling. The Sun Devils have a very good shot to win this game on paper, but they will have to get over the hump of their road struggles.