CU men's basketball preview: Arizona State
MATCHUP: No. 9 Arizona State Sun Devils (20-10, 8-10 Pac-12 Conference) vs. No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes (16-14, 8-10) in first round of Pac-12 tournament.
GAME TIME: Wednesday, 1 p.m. MT, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Network; Radio — 760 AM.
COACHES: Arizona State — Bobby Hurley, 3rd season (47-41, 89-61 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th season (165-109, 221-175).
LEADERS: Arizona State — Scoring: G Tra Holder, Sr., 18.6 ppg; Rebounding: F Romello White, Fr., 7.3 rpg; Assists: G Shannon Evans, Sr., 3.6 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., 14.2 ppg; Rebounding: G/F George King, Sr., 8.0 rpg; Assists: Wright, 5.3 apg.
NOTES: A loss likely would keep CU out of the NIT and also keep the Buffs out of the postseason for the first time in Boyle's tenure...The Buffs' No. 8 seed is their second-worst in seven appearances at the Pac-12 tournament, besting only the team's No. 10 seed in 2015...CU has won all six of its previous first-round games in the league tournament. The Buffs have never faced ASU at the Pac-12 tournament...The Buffs enter the tournament with losses in four of the past five games...After Dom Collier and King combined for just six points (all by King) in a loss at Utah in the regular season finale, the Buffs need their two seniors to play well.
The majority of players who will hit the floor for the Colorado Buffaloes Wednesday in the opening game of the Pac-12 Conference tournament have never played beneath such a glaring spotlight.
Senior Dominique Collier, one of the few Buffaloes who know exactly what that pressure is like, isn't so sure all those rookies necessarily need a fiery pep talk. At this time of year, a glance at the calendar should be all it takes for any college basketball player to find an extra dose of motivation.
"I would just say there's not really pressure. We're the eighth seed and we're the early game," said Collier. "There's not really pressure. We just need to go out there and hoop. It's March. That's where we just need to come down and really play. Everyone is going to be really amped up to get out there."
The Buffs and Arizona State will play the opening act of the league tournament at T-Mobile Arena, with CU facing a peculiar situation. While the Buffs earned the No. 8 seed and own an identical 8-10 league mark as the ninth-seeded Sun Devils, ASU's undefeated nonconference schedule that included wins against Xavier and Kansas makes it a decided favorite against the youthful Buffs, despite ASU's uneven play within the Pac-12.
The high-scoring Sun Devils present a daunting challenge for a Buffs program that has never lost in the first round in six previous trips to the league tournament since joining the Pac-12.
"It's a matter of going and executing and playing with great passion and great energy," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "I'd like for this team to not be that first (to lose in the first round). This is a very formidable opponent. ASU is a good team. Obviously going into league play they were the darlings of college basketball and they're still very explosive."
While ASU's guard-heavy attack has driven an explosive offense, the Sun Devils have at times been exposed on defense and on the glass. In league games ASU did rank second in defensive 3-point percentage at .335, but the Sun Devils finished eighth in overall defensive field goal percentage (.454) and 11th in scoring defense (76.6), though that latter figure can be partially attributed to the fast pace ASU typically plays at.
Still, the Buffs split the regular-season series against ASU, winning in overtime at home when the Sun Devils were ranked fourth in the nation before losing on the road in a game that saw ASU outscore the Buffs 35-18 over the final 11-plus minutes. The areas of weakness for ASU typically have been the Buffs' strengths, with CU completing conference play ranked first in defensive field goal percentage (.422) and third in rebound margin (plus-2.3).
It is a difficult yet hardly insurmountable challenge for the youthful Buffs, who have balanced encouraging wins with head-scratching defeats all season. But the calendar has officially turned to win-or-go-home time for CU, and the fleeting chances of landing a bid to the NIT would end with a quick exit in Vegas.
"It's going to come down to just executing and playing the hardest and just getting 50-50 balls," CU senior George King said. "One thing I always say is loose balls, 50-50 balls, are for competitors only. It's going to come down to things like that.
"We're the underdog. I wouldn't want it any other way. We know what we're capable of. We beat this team before and we put up a little bit of a fight when we were in Arizona State."