Fresh off an upset of the No. 4 Arizona Wildcats on Thursday night, the Oregon Ducks return to the hardwood on Sunday night, hosting the Arizona State Sun Devils at Matthew Knight Arena. The temptation is to believe that the hard part of the weekend is over with Arizona having been slain. However, that would be foolish, as Arizona State sits at 14-2 overall, and 3-0 in conference play after defeating Oregon State at Gill on Thursday. Make no mistake--this is a game that Oregon should win, especially at home. However, in the wake of a massive upset, a letdown game may be the biggest danger of all. The Sun Devils' undefeated record may actually serve as a guard against that mindset.
ASU is interesting to me, because, despite the record, I'm not sure we know a ton about them yet. They dispatched Colorado in Tempe in impressive fashion, and they beat up on middling Arkansas and Texas Tech squads pretty well. But, other than Colorado, they don't have any wins that wow you, and they got murdered by a pretty bad DePaul team at home. That said, for the most part, they've beaten the teams that they are supposed to beat, and have two road wins, same as Oregon.
The Sun Devils find their success on the defensive end. They rank second in the conference (behind Oregon) in defensive efficiency (89.9 points/100 possessions). They'll employ the infamous Herb Sendek match-up zone. What has made this particularly effective this season is that, in addition to the usual problems with getting the ball into the interior against the zone, the defense is anchored by the 7'2" Jordan Bachynski, who is averaging almost five! blocked shots per game. That's a pretty unreal number. ASU has always communicated and rotated well in their defense, but having someone like that as an anchor means that even if you do get beat, its unlikely to hurt you. ASU will try to slow the game, though not to the extent of seasons passed, and one of the challenges for Oregon will be to push the tempo. In addition to putting the pace in Oregon's favor, shots in transition are also shots that Bachynski can't block.
Offensively, there are two guys that you really have to watch out for. One is freshman Jahii Carson, who is scoring 17 a game. Carson isn't the best three-point shooter (28%), but shoots 45% overall and is a great finisher at the rim. Staying in front of him will be key. Carrick Felix is a much better three-point shooter at 39%, and gets 15 a game himself, followed by Bachynski's ten. Overall, ASU shoots more three-pointers than anyone in the conference, even though they only rank 7th in percentage (34%). They also get to the line a LOT, with a free throw rate of 41.1%, second in the conference, but are dead last in percentage (62%). They also turn the ball over a lot (13 a game), while not forcing a whole lot. Oregon's turnover problems have been well known, but they've had only 12 in both conference games. The Ducks need to do three things offensively: not let Carson get to the rim consistently, not leave Felix open from downtown, and not get their bigs into foul trouble. If the Ducks can do those things, they should be in pretty good shape.
So, while ASU is really good defensively, Oregon ranks better. And ASU is middle of the pack offensively, and Oregon is better. However, the biggest advantage is rebounding. The Ducks are the best rebounding team in the Pac-12. Arizona State is the worst. They don't even challenge for offensive boards, ranking last in the conference, as they prefer just to get back and set up their defense, and are middle of the conference in defensive rebounding percentage. We know how Oregon has pounded teams on the boards this year with their frontcourt depth. Arizona State simply cannot match that.
Arizona State's path to victory is to play really good defense, slow the game down, and hit a lot of three-pointers. That has worked for ASU a lot this season. If the Ducks can take care of the basketball, command the boards, and play good defense of their own, they should be ok. But this is a very loseable game, and Oregon is going to have to play well to come out on top.
Game date and time:
Sunday, January 13 at 6 p.m. PT
Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, OR