The pressure has been on Arizona State basketball as the team slogged through Pac-12 play, but with a bid to play Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament’s ‘First Four,’ guard Shannon Evans says the pressure is off.
Doug Haller/ azcentral sports
DAYTON, Ohio — Both Arizona State and Syracuse have similar motivation entering Wednesday’s First Four NCAA Tournament contest here.
Proving people wrong.
The Sun Devils had the country’s hottest non-conference season but struggled the rest of the way. Because of roster issues, the Orange had a similar journey, going 11-2 in November and December before struggling in the ACC.
What should you expect? Let’s take a look:
How they got here
ASU (20-11) and Syracuse (20-13) were the last two at-large teams selected for the tournament. The Sun Devils tied for eighth in the Pac-12 and lost their opening game in the Pac-12 Tournament. Their trump card: A perfect non-conference schedule that included wins over No. 1 seeds Xavier and Kansas, as well as NCAA Tournament teams San Diego State and Kansas State. Syracuse tied for 10th in the 15-team ACC. The Orange lost in the conference tournament quarterfinals against North Carolina. They are 6-6 against NCAA Tournament teams with wins over Iona, Texas Southern, Buffalo, Virginia Tech, Miami and Clemson.
ASU’s Bobby Hurley (86-66, five years) is in his second NCAA Tournament as a coach, having led Buffalo to the Big Dance in 2015. A two-time NCAA Tournament champion during his playing days at Duke, he brings the same fire and intensity as a coach. In his 42nd season at his alma mater, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Over that time he totaled 923 wins*, which ranks second only to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. (*101 wins have been vacated.)
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The Sun Devils have what every coach covets this time of year – senior guards. Tra Holder (18.4 ppg), Shannon Evans (16.6) and Kodi Justice (12.6) account for 57 percent of ASU’s scoring. When all three play at a high level, they’re dangerous. Hurley also has a backcourt spark plug off the bench. Freshman Remy Martin — the Pac-12’s co-Sixth Man of the Year — isn’t a senior, but he impacts the game on both ends.
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Diana Payan/ azcentral sports
The Orange play a 2-3 zone, the foundation of Boeheim’s program. For those who don’t see it often, it can be a problem. This season, Syracuse ranks 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Orange are particularly good at defending around the rim. Behind 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu, they block 17.2 percent of 2-point field goals, which ranks second nationally. Overall, Syracuse has a 2-point defensive field-goal percentage of 44.8. No Pac-12 team posted a mark better than 46.6.
ASU-SYRACUSE: TV station, game time and streaming information
The Sun Devils haven’t played well against the zone, but perhaps more importantly, they’re giving up too many open looks defensively. ASU has struggled in ball-screen situations. The Sun Devils also have allowed their last two opponents – Stanford and Colorado – to shoot a combined 22 of 40 from 3-point range.
Because of player departures and injuries, Syracuse dresses just seven scholarship players. Also, the Orange can’t shoot. They have an effective field-goal percentage – which accounts for the extra value of a made 3-pointer – of 47.2, which ranks 321st out of 351 Div. I teams. They’re particularly bad from 3-point range, shooting just 32.2 percent.
ASU projected starters
G Tra Holder, 6-1, Sr., (18.4 ppg, 3.4 apg)
A first-team All-Pac-12 selection, Holder this season has played his best in big moments – scoring 40 points against Xavier, 29 against Kansas, 31 against Arizona, and hitting the game-winner against USC.
G Shannon Evans, 6-1, Sr., (16.6 ppg, 3.5 apg)
He’s hit some of ASU’s biggest shots, but he’s struggled with consistency, shooting just 34.4 percent over his last seven games.
G Kodi Justice, 6-5, Sr. (12.6 ppg, 38.1 3FG%)
Perhaps the soul of the team, Justice is 9 of 17 over his last two games, hitting 7 of 13 from deep.
F Mickey Mitchell, 6-7, Soph. (5.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
Perhaps the team’s best passer, Mitchell will be key to moving the ball against Syracuse’s zone.
F Romello White, 6-8, Rs-Fr. (10.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
Undersized in the post, White will have his hands full with Syracuse’s size.
Syracuse projected starters
G Tyus Battle, 6-6, Soph. (19.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
Because of depth issues, Battle, a second-team All-ACC selection, has played 95.8 percent of the team’s possible minutes, most in the country.
G Frank Howard, 6-5, Jr. (15 ppg, 5 apg).
An All-ACC Defense selection, Howard ranks fourth nationally in minutes percentage, but he’s battled strep throat this week.
F Oshae Brissett, 6-8, Fr. (14.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg)
An ACC-All Rookie selection, Brissett has posted 12 double-doubles.
F Marek Dolezaj, 6-9, Fr. (5.2 ppg, 4.8).
Role player scored a season-high 20 points against Wake Forest in ACC Tourney.
C Paschal Chukwu, 7-2, Jr. (5.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
He blocks 12.8 percent of 2-point shots when he’s on the court, a rate that ranks eighth in the country.
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(11) ASU vs. (11) Syracuse
Time: 6:10 p.m.
Place: Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio.
TV: TruTV (Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)
Radio: ArizonaSports 98.7 FM (Tim Healey, Kyle Dodd)
The winner of Wednesday’s contest travels to Detroit, where they’ll face sixth-seed Texas Christian in Friday’s Midwest region.
Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at doug.haller@arizonarepublic. Follow him at Twitter.com/DougHaller.