Posted on March 15, 2023
The Pac-12’s NCAA Tournament run begins today with Arizona State’s matchup against Nevada.
Similar to UCLA’s birth in the First Four in 2021, the result in Dayton could be a bellwether for the Conference’s success.
A strong showing from the Sun Devils would set the stage for a USC upset over Michigan State on Friday along with a deep run from UCLA and Arizona.
I preview the game here and my pick, along with that of Stephen Vilardo, appears at the bottom.
11-seed Nevada v. 11-seed Arizona State
Wednesday, March 15
6:10pm PT, TruTV
The Wolfpack have lost three straight games and four of their last six. Led by former Oregon State guard Jarod Lucas, Nevada enters the game with the No. 61 offense and No. 43 defense per KenPom’s metrics.
But, the Wolfpack are 245th in tempo and could struggle to score against Arizona State’s defense. Hurley’s group enters the matchup 29th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating, setting the table for a potentially low-scoring affair.
The combination of Nevada’s slow tempo and ASU’s strong defense is unfavorable to the Mountain West program. Steve Alford’s offense must value each possession and convert its reduced opportunities into points.
In that sense, the number of turnovers the Sun Devils create could determine the game.
The Wolfpack are No. 19 in the nation in turnovers committed per game, limiting their mistakes to just 10.2 per night. As a comparison, Nevada would slot in as the No. 1 team in the Pac-12 in TO’s per game, taking care of the ball better than even UCLA does.
Arizona State’s defense on center Will Baker is the key to watch. Hurley’s defensive scheme collapses on opposing bigs when offenses attempt to get the ball inside, swarming power forwards and centers with multiple defenders.
The increased pressure on the poor ball handlers tends to cause mistakes while the focus on clogging the interior results in a strong defensive rebounding group. Hurley’s scheme is the epitome of team defense and his roster’s chemistry doubles its effectiveness.
In other words, the Sun Devils will have multiple defenders collapse on Baker and Nevada’s primary big could struggle on offense.
Baker averages 13.5 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting, potentially creating a gaping hole in Nevada’s offense if Arizona State is able to make him inefficient with its scheme.
Assuming Hurley’s group is able to do so, the burden to score will fall to Lucas and Kenan Blackshear. Defending the two guards is a more favorable personnel matchup for the Sun Devils.
Hurley’s team generally plays a three-guard lineup and if Nevada’s main big is rendered ineffective, ASU has the horses to adequately matchup with Lucas and Blackshear.
On the other side of the court, as long as Desmond Cambridge Jr. and DJ Horne aren’t cold from the field, the Sun Devils should score enough points to get the win.
Our Senior Writers’ Game Picks
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