Against what seemed like nearly insurmountable odds, SU somehow found itself as one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament when Selection Sunday wrapped up. Actually, Syracuse wasn’t one of the last teams in the tournament, it was the VERY last team into the field of 68 and as a result, the Orange has to play its way into the actual 64-team field in a matchup with the Arizona State Sun Devils in Dayton on Wednesday night.
Bobby Hurley’s squad finished the season just 20-11 and 8-10 in the Pac-12, but, at one point, the Sun Devils were ranked as high as third in the country and boast wins over teams like one seeds Xavier and Kansas. ASU has the ability to beat just about any team in the country. Do you want to know why? Or how can it use those strengths to its advantage against SU on Wednesday? Well, then you’ve come to the right place because we’ve got them for you here on Orange Fizz.
The Sun Devils can score… A LOT
We all know that SU’s biggest strength is undoubtedly the vaunted 2-3 zone and its top-20 defense. The Orange isn’t going to beat you by scoring a ton of points, but it will beat you by wearing you down into submission. However, the best way to combat a studded defense is to constantly and relentlessly attack it with a high-powered offense, which ASU definitely has at its disposal. The Sun Devils ranks 14th in the country in scoring (83.5 ppg) and it’s not just one guy that does the scoring for Bobby Hurley’s club. Sure, Tra Holder averages over 18 points a game, but just behind him are three other guys that average double digits in Shannon Evans II (16.6), Kodi Justice (12.6) and Romello White (10.7). That means the Sun Devils can stretch out the zone which is never a good sign and SU could get easily over-extended and give up a lot of open shots to a team that knows how to knock them down. If the pace of play gets too up-tempo, we could see a scenario where ASU runs away with the game and into the field of 64.
They take care of the ball and can return the favor
At the top of that stellar SU defense stand Tyus Battle and Frank Howard, both of whom are incredibly long for the guard spot which allows both of them to wreak havoc in passing lanes and cause of a lot of turnovers. Unfortunately for Syracuse fans, so can the Sun Devils. ASU averages well over six steals per game which already makes them a problem on the defensive end, but then you turn to the offensive end and the picture becomes even uglier for SU. Not only do the Sun Devils take the ball away at a high rate, they also take great care of the ball on offense. That gives ASU the 7th best turnover margin in the country which is always a great indicator of success considering turnovers can completely change the complexion of a game.
Their coach has Big Dance experience
When you think of coaches named Hurley in college basketball, the first name that probably comes to mind is Dan. And that’s a perfectly plausible conclusion to jump to. Dan has had a very successful coaching career at Rhode Island, but that’s also led to his older brother Bobby being overshadowed. At the end of Bobby’s tenure at Buffalo in the 2014-2015 season, he took the Bulls to their first-ever NCAA Tournament, but his postseason success as a coach isn’t he most impressive part about Hurley’s runs in March. As a player at Duke from 1989-1993, Hurley went to three Final Fours and won back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992. A lot of people might not think that means much considering it was so long ago, but it really does give the Sun Devils a little extra oomph that a lot of teams don’t have. Because Hurley has experienced extended runs in the tournament as a player, he can not only coach is guys into the best position to win, but can also calm their nerves and help them adjust to a situation most of them have never been in before. The experience that Hurley brings may not quite match Boeheim’s but it’s a lot more than some other coaches can boast and that may give Arizona State a bit of a leg up.