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ASU men’s basketball relying on defense amidst slow-paced offense

Anthony Totri Avatar
January 24, 2022

This year’s ASU men’s basketball team has lost five games by eight points or fewer. However, it has not been the team’s lack of clutch play down the stretch that has led to close losses; it’s been the team’s tempo.

ASU sits at No. 185 in the nation in terms of possessions per game at 70.6. Conversely, coach Bobby Hurley’s team averaged 74.5 possessions per game just a season ago. 

“In a way it’s expanding my horizons, because it’s not really an ideal way that we’ve played and we’ve had success here,” Hurley said. 

Sun Devil basketball fans are accustomed to watching guys like Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Remy Martin push the pace over the last few seasons. ASU managed to be within the top 35 teams in the nation when it came to possessions per game back in 2019. 

ASU fans were once blessed with “Guard U,” a program dependent for a handful of years on versatile guard play, ultimately breeding speed up and down the court. While Martin’s transfer to Kansas is a tough replacement for Hurley, he has thrived on coaching teams that dominate in transition. 

Nevertheless, the current version of ASU basketball doesn’t appear to be changing styles anytime soon. 

“We have to hang our hat defensively on forcing our opponents to take late, tough shots in a possession,” Hurley said.

While defense has not been ASU’s winning way over the last decade, their defense has kept them in games this season. The Sun Devils are fourth in the conference in both steals and blocks per game. 

Most recently, they clawed back from a 15-point deficit to lead the Stanford Cardinal in Saturday’s contest. Even so, a poorly-timed foul by guard Jalen Graham led to three free-throw attempts and an eventual ASU loss — the team’s third of the new year. 

While ASU’s defense cost them most recently against Stanford, it’s been a unit that has managed to hold 10 of its 16 opponents to under 70 points this year. 

If Hurley’s asspirations for this team are to contend for a conference title among several Pac-12 giants, ASU has two options. The defense will need to find a way to carry the Sun Devils even further, or the team might need to push the pace to create scoring opportunities. 

It would be one conversation if the Sun Devils used their minimal possessions in a game to create quality shots. Instead, with just 70 possessions per game for ASU, they are the worst scoring team in the Pac-12.

At just 63.6 points per game, the Sun Devils are scoring six fewer points a night than the second-lowest scoring team in the conference. 

That’s not a number Sun Devil fans are too fond of with an upcoming schedule featuring five games against USC, Arizona and UCLA, three Pac-12 foes with a combined 45-5 record.

It’s taken some time for Hurley’s squad to figure itself out this year, and while the Suns Devils coach said he expects the team to eventually move at a faster pace, defense is their current formula. 

“I’m sure we’ll eventually gravitate back to the way of playing that I’m more accustomed to, but in this moment, this is how we have to get it done,” Hurley said. 

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