Posted on March 15, 2023
T:he Pac-12 NCAA Tournament begins today with Arizona State vs. Nevada.
Like UCLA’s birth into the First Four in 2021, Dayton’s outcome could be a harbinger of conference success.
A strong showing by the Sun Devils will set the stage for an upset of USC over Michigan State on Friday, along with deep runs from UCLA and Arizona.
I’m previewing the game here, and my picks, along with Steven Vilardo’s pick, appear below.
11-seed Nevada v. 11-seed Arizona State
Wednesday, March 15
6:10 p.m. PT, TruTV
T:he Sun Devils secured their third NCAA Tournament berth under Bobby Hurley and faced a struggling Nevada team in the first four.
The Wolfpack have lost three straight and four of their last six. Led by former Oregon State guard Jarrod Lucas, Nevada enters the game with the No. 61 offense and No. 43 defense according to KenPom.
But the Wolfpack is 245th in rushing and could struggle to score against Arizona State’s defense. Hurley’s group comes in at 29th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating, setting the table for potential low points.
The combination of Nevada’s slow pace and ASU’s stout defense is unfavorable for the Mountain West program. Steve Alford’s offense must evaluate every possession and turn its limited opportunities into points.
In that regard, the number of turnovers the Sun Devils create could decide the game.
The Wolfpack are 19th in the nation in turnovers per game, limiting their turnovers to just 10.2 a night. By comparison, Nevada would rank as the No. 1 team in the Pac-12 in TO per game, taking better care of the ball than even UCLA.
Arizona State’s defense in center Will Baker is the key to watch. Hurley’s defensive scheme collapses on opposing bigs as offenses try to move the ball inside, attacking forwards and centers with multiple defenders.
Increased pressure on ball carriers is error-prone, while a focus on clogging the interior results in a strong defensive rotation group. Hurley’s scheme is the epitome of team defense, and his roster chemistry doubles its effectiveness.
In other words, the Sun Devils will have plenty of defenders collapsing on Baker, and Nevada’s top big could struggle on offense.
Baker is averaging 13.5 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting, potentially creating a gaping hole in Nevada’s offense if Arizona State can render him ineffective in its scheme.
Assuming Hurley’s group can pull it off, the scoring burden will fall on Lucas and Kenan Blackshear. Protecting two guards is a more favorable personnel matchup for the Sun Devils.
Hurley’s team generally plays a three-guard formation, and if Nevada’s primary bigs become ineffective, ASU has the horses to match up with Lucas and Blackshear appropriately.
On the other side of the court, as long as Desmond Cambridge Jr. and DJ Horne don’t freeze, the Sun Devils will need to put up enough points to get the win.