Arizona State kicks off Pac-12 play on Friday when they host Stanford. The 7-6 Sun Devils loaded their non-conference schedule headlined by Kentucky, Purdue, Creighton, San Diego State, Northern Iowa and Davidson. There were plenty of questions coming into Bobby Hurley’s second season in Tempe and some of them have been answered. Here are five things we learned about ASU in their non-conference schedule:
1) They shoot from behind the arc…a lot: The Devils are led by guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Torian Graham. The three are among the conference’s top-10 in scoring, and Bobby Hurley will rely on them heavily throughout the season. Add in sharpshooter Kodi Justice, and the Devils are second in the conference in 3-pointers made, hitting close to ten 3’s per contest. The team has hit at least 18 from beyond in the arc twice this year.
2) They are small, but getting bigger: The Devils consistently run out four guards at a time, and due to injuries and Sam Cunliffe’s transfer, the past roster lacked those slashing small forwards as of late. But Andre Adams is getting back into the mix after his injury and guard/forward Maurice O’Field is slated to come back as well. Center Obinna Oleka has done a nice job shouldering the load so far, leading the Pac-12 in rebounding with nearly 11 per game, but he needs help. Freshman Jethro Tshisumpa has continued to progress nicely and provides some muscle in the middle on both sides as well. Both will be crucial as the Devils head to conference play.
3) Holder and Evans: Tra Holder was THE guy returning to the Sun Devil lineup in 2016. The point guard has certainly lived up to that with 16.8 points and 3.4 assists per game. Helping shore up the consistent backcourt has been Shannon Evans II, who has been lights out from 3-point range, but also is leading the team in assists with 4.6 per game.
4) Defense, defense, defense: The good news? The Sun Devils lead the conference in turnover margin at +3.15 per game. Their guards can get steals and create buckets off of turnovers. The bad news? They are last in the conference in scoring defense at 81.7 points per game. Those numbers could be skewed a bit higher after playing a tough non-conference that included Kentucky (115 points), Purdue (97 points) and Creighton (96 points), but the lack of big man depth will be a theme throughout conference play, and the Devils will have to get creative. Point guard Tra Holder said he wanted the team to limit the mental lapses, specifically on defense, as they head into the conference schedule.
5) Torian Graham is the real deal: Graham has been a welcome addition to the Sun Devil roster. The senior followed Hurley to ASU from Buffalo and has shot the lights out. In his first year with the Devils, Graham is second in the Pac-12 in scoring (17.8 ppg) and has hit the most 3-pointers in the conference. Graham could provide a Jermaine Marshall-esque addition to the team, being a consistent scorer and option from beyond the arc for point guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans.
The Sun Devils kick off their Pac-12 schedule on Friday against Stanford.