Coming into Saturday’s game against Sacramento State, Arizona State’s new up-tempo offense was developing nicely. After posting a 5-1 record to start the season, the Sun Devils looked ready to challenge any opponent with a mixture of speed from Jahii Carson, shooting from Jonathan Gilling, athleticism from Carrick Felix, and post play from Jordan Bachynski.
The four elements the Sun Devils displayed in the early going this season looked potent, but there was still one missing link. Evan Gordon, the highly touted transfer from Liberty and starting shooting guard, had yet to break out and become a fifth offensive weapon for Arizona State. Skeptics wondered if Gordon had a place on the team if he was not the primary weapon. On Saturday, Gordon answered any doubts.
The Sun Devil shooting guard exploded for 29 points on 8-16 shooting and led Arizona State to a resounding 90-70 victory over the Hornets. Even though the Hornets already owned a win over Utah, the Sun Devils took control of the game early on behind Gordon’s sharp shooting. Carrick Felix added a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds and continued his hot streak as well.
On Wednesday evening, Arizona State looks to continue its winning ways in Tempe against a Hartford Hawks squad that has not played west of their home court in Connecticut this year. The Hawks sport a 4-3 record, but lost their only contest outside of their home state to Mount St. Mary’s.
The Hawks do present an interesting matchup for the Sun Devils because of their desire to slow the pace of play. While Arizona State likes to light up the scoreboard, Hartford has scored more than 63 points just once this year. If Arizona State wants to keep their hot start rolling, look for the Sun Devils to turn this game into a track meet.
Keys to Victory:
1. Find the Hot Hand
Five different Sun Devil players have scored 15 points in at least one game this season. Carrick Felix has scored 20 points in three of his last four games and figures to get a lot of touches in the early going against the Hawks. If Felix can’t replicate his recent success, the Sun Devils need to find a go-to scorer.
2. Deny Second Chance Points
Defensive rebounding has been an Achilles heel for Arizona State in a few of their games this season, and Coach Herb Sendek knows this cannot continue. A Sacramento State team that often played with four guards on the court collected 10 offensive boards, so the emphasis will be on the glass against Hartford.
3. Home Court Advantage
Hartford does not travel often, and the Sun Devils have a chance to make Tempe an unwelcoming environment. A consistent 40 minutes of basketball should be more than enough for the Sun Devils to improve to 6-0 at home this season, and that record sends a message to all the future visitors at Wells Fargo Arena.
Matchup to Watch: Mark Nwakamma (F) vs. Carrick Felix (F)
Each of these players has been critical to their team’s early season success. Nwakamma has taken at least 12 field goal attempts in each of the Hawks seven games and averages 15 points per game. The Hawk forward went for 24 against Central Connecticut, and has double-digit points in all but one of his games.
Meanwhile, Carrick Felix has put together an impressive campaign of his own. Felix is averaging 16.1 points per game, but that total has skyrocketed after two consecutive 20-point outings. Both of these players rebound the ball well, and their respective teams depend on them for providing an extra spark when the game hangs in the balance.
The Sun Devils have played solid team defense throughout the young season, but one player usually breaks through for a career day. Doug McDermott of Creighton had 30 points, BJ Young of Arkansas posted 29 points, and Jamie Adams of Florida A&M went off for 24 points. Against the Hawks, Coach Herb Sendek will ask for another stellar performance from Felix on both ends of the floor.
WCSN Staff Predictions:
Mauricio Casillas: ASU 78, Hart 64 MVP: Jahii Carson
Kerry Crowley: ASU 84, Hart 61 MVP: Carrick Felix
Alex Gallant: ASU 69, Hart 56 MVP: Jahii Carson
Nick Krueger: ASU 88, Hart 65 MVP: Jahii Carson
Trey Lanthier: ASU 76, Hart 65 MVP: Jahii Carson
Cuyler Meade: ASU 77, Hart 59 MVP: Evan Gordon
Cammeron Neely: ASU 85, Hart 67 MVP: Carrick Felix
Evan Webeck: ASU 93, Hart 72 MVP: Carrick Felix