This week Arizona State rose to number 3 in the AP rankings with five votes for the first spot. This after a 10-0 start in a season where they were picked to finish just sixth in the Pac 12, a conference expected to have only three NCAA tournament teams.
Their resume is as good as anyone’s in the country with a win against Xavier on a neutral court and a win at Kansas, but how did this happen?
They are one of the best offenses in the country, scoring 90.2 points per game, and are led by two senior guards, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II, who are averaging 21.6 and 18.6 points respectively.
They also have a pair of Freshman who have come in and made the team better in areas where they are otherwise lacking. Romello White is the team’s leading rebounder (9 per game) and Remy Martin is the team’s best, and really only significant scorer off the bench (9.5 ppg).
So far Arizona State has passed the eye test and has the wins to prove they are elite, but I worry about a potential collapse. They are a little bit undersized with a starting backcourt of two guards who are 6 foot 1, and tend to rely on the three.
I think Arizona State is eerily reminiscent of Florida a few weeks ago. Florida started the season 5-0 and was statistically the best offense in the country, but has since gone 1-4. Florida showed the rest of college basketball the dangers of relying on the three.
The Gators shoot 23.3 threes per game and have good shooters, but struggled to score when the three wasn’t falling. They shot 24% from three in their loss to Florida State and then just 10.4% against Loyola-Chicago.
Arizona State shoots the three very efficiently at 40.7 percent, but shoot even more per game than Florida (23.6).
I know these two teams aren’t the same and I think Arizona State would be much better equipped to deal with a cold shooting night from three considering they have two front court players they can rely on for scoring, but if there’s a lesson to be learned from Florida, it’s that teams that like to shoot can have sudden and drastic drop-offs.
They tend to live by the three or die by the three.
Arizona State will have perhaps their toughest test of the season on December 30th when they play at in-state rivals Arizona and one of the best bigs in the country, DeAndre Ayton.
I wonder how much Arizona State will rely on the three in a game where they are so overmatched in the post and how they will respond if the shots aren’t falling.