(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
After two home wins to open the season, the Arizona State Sun Devils will travel to neutral ground to compete in the Tire Pros Invitational Tournament in Orlando, Florida.
The tournament features eight teams from around the country. ASU will open competition Thursday against the Northern Iowa Panthers. The Panthers went 31-4 in 2014-15 and 23-13 last season under longtime head coach Ben Jacobson. In their season opener against Coe College, UNI came away with a blowout victory, 74-37.
After the game against the Panthers, ASU will play either Tulane or Oklahoma. So far, the Tulane Green Wave is 1-1 with a loss to UNC and a win over Southeastern Louisiana. The team is under new leadership of former NBA player and coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. after going 15-22 last season.
Oklahoma, a tournament team in the last four seasons and member of the final four last year, nearly broke 100 points in a big win over Northwestern State in its first game. The Sooners had seven blocks and seven steals in that game and shot 50 percent from three point range.
With two tournament teams potentially in tow, the Sun Devils have a big challenge ahead of them. All three teams have multiple weapons from beyond the arc and can also play pesky defense.
If ASU can clear all the way to the final round, they will play one of four teams on the other side of the bracket. One of the higher profile squads competing on the other side is the Clemson Tigers. Clemson was one of the better shot blocking teams around last year, averaging 5.23 per game. They took down Georgia by 10 points in their season opener.
The Tigers will play Davidson on Thursday. The Wildcats took their first game of the season in a big win over Appalachian State. Under the tenure of head coach Bob McKillop, they’ve made three second round NCAA tournament exits over the last five seasons.
On the other side of that half of the bracket is Xavier and Missouri. Xavier has cracked 80 points in both their wins this season over Lehigh and Buffalo, and are shooting above 50 percent from the floor. The Musketeers made the second round last NCAA tournament and made it as far as fifth in the AP poll.
The Tigers also put up a solid offensive effort in their opener, dropping 99 on Alabama A&M in a 55-point victory. Missouri has only 19 wins combined in the last two seasons, but is hungry for a rebound season.
For most of these teams, this is their first game away from home. The neutral site will be an interesting test for all of the contender. While it’s early in the season, no doubt all of these squads are looking to get some big wins and potential resume boosters in the Tire Pros Invitational.