(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
The month of December is no cakewalk for the Arizona State Sun Devils, who continue their brutal non-conference schedule on Tuesday with a neutral-site contest at the historic Madison Square Garden against the #18 Purdue Boilermakers in the Jimmy V Classic.
Purdue (6-2) is coming off a big win against Morehead State. The team’s two losses this season have come against No. 3 Villanova and No. 14 Louisville, and outside of those games, the Boilermakers have a few big wins against unranked opponents.
As has been the norm for this Sun Devil team all season, the opposition’s calling card against them will be the size advantage. Junior center Isaac Haas and sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan will pose a great challenge for the Devils, who are one of the worst teams in the Power Five conferences at defending against shots inside the perimeter.
ASU’s aggressive trapping may be an answer to stopping Haas. The Devils like to bring over extra defenders to pester in the paint, and Haas is not much of a distributor. He has six assists compared to 22 turnovers on the season, as he occasionally struggles to find the open man when double-teamed. However, Swanigan is tied for second on the team with 28 dimes, so that strategy will not solve everything.
On the flip side, ASU’s path to scoring is likely outside the perimeter. Sam Cunliffe, Shannon Evans, Torian Graham and Kodi Justice are all shooting above 40 percent from deep on the season. The Devils saw what their three-point onslaught can do against UNLV, where they tied a school record for made threes with 18. As unpredictable as it may be, gunning from deep could be ASU’s best bet. They’ll let up some points inside to Haas and Swanigan, but if they can make enough triples to tip the math in their favor, they could very well come out on top.
If ASU wants that plan to work, they’ll have to do two things. First, they’ll have to shut down the three-point threats in the Boilermakers’ lineup. Swanigan in 7-11 from that distance, and Junior guard Dakota Mathias is 22-40 from three, a scorching 55 percent. If the Devils give up as many threes as they get, they’ll be in for a rough night.
Second, Obinna Oleka and Jethro Tshisumpa need to avoid getting in foul trouble early. They’ll be relied upon heavily to stop Purdue’s possessions by securing rebounds and blocking shots. ASU’s size disadvantage will only be more problematic if their bigs can’t stay in the game for extended periods of time.
The Sun Devils have a tall task ahead of them, with a tall ranked opponent staring them down. However, the Devils proved that great shooting can cure a lot of mistakes for them, even if it was against a lesser opponent like UNLV. If the gunner mentality serves them, an upset may be afoot. If not…well, off to San Diego.
The game will tip-off at 5 P.M. Arizona time on ESPN.