January 3, 2008

Oregon: Keys to ASU win

Arizona State (10-2) begins its second Pac-10 slate under coach Herb Sendek tonight with a 7 p.m. game against Oregon (9-3) (no television). The Sun Devils have a six-game win streak for the first time since 2004, and have beaten four teams by 30-plus points, something that is unprecedented in recent years, even against traditionally soft non-conference schedules.

The Ducks project as a mid-tier type of Pac-10 opponent. To learn more about the specifics of their team and roster composition, including which players to watch closely, read our preview of the Oregon Ducks from last week.

In terms of this matchup against the Sun Devils, it's a very good one for ASU. A lack of size up front makes Oregon the type of team that ASU should do well against, and must do well against in order to get an all-important successful start to the season. The Ducks are probably the best matchup for the Sun Devils among all teams in the Pac-10 with a legitimate chance to finish Top-5 in the league.

Here are some keys to an ASU win in this game:

1. Successful transition defense is imperative:

Oregon is a high-scoring team (85.8 points per game, leading the Pac-10) that flourishes in transition. Against ASU's matchup zone defense this is an area that should be of particular concern. The Sun Devils have to do a great job of getting back defensively and finding a player to defend before getting the zone set. They have to stop ball penetration of Tajuan Porter, who is exceptionally quick, and guard against transition 3-pointers. Part of being able to be good with transition defense is making sure you're taking high quality shots within the concept of our offense on the other end of the floor. It ensures people are in position to properly retreat on missed attempts. It's a very difficult assignment and will be a major test.

2. Extending defense to combat 3-point shooting while simultaneously limiting penetration:

This is usually the toughest part of stopping Oregon in its half-court offense. It spaces the floor well and has athletes can collapse defenses, while yields open 3-pointers. Four players on the team (Malik Hairston, Maarty Leunen, Bryce Taylor, Joevan Catron) all shoot better than 40% from behind the 3-point arc, though Catron is likely to miss this game due to injury. Then there is Porter, who shoots seven 3-pointers per game and converts at a rate of .341. In the zone, it will come down to on-ball defense and understanding how to combat ball rotation, as well as being active in passing lanes. Again, tough task. If ASU lets Oregon shoot anywhere near its season average of .405 from the distance, winning will be difficult at best.

3. Limiting runs with coaching and style of play:

Oregon is a team that, above all else, wins with explosive double-digit type runs, which come from turnover generation and it's often apparent -- but with a purpose -- wild, up and down approach on offense. There are a number of ways to limit runs, including but not limited to: A) making sure you are deliberate on offense and taking high percentage shots consistently, even when in the face of pressure and/or a scoring deficit. A) using timeouts to breakup/contain energy and momentum generated by runs. With the game at ASU, this is mitigated, but still an issue. C) precise passing and limiting turnovers to 10 or fewer ideally. This is necessary to transition defense as well, obviously.

4. Poised play despite youth/inexperience:

Herb Sendek says he doesn't want to make excuses for having a young team, but the simple fact of the matter is that even though ASU's freshmen class is good, it has faltered in two of its three biggest games of the preseason due in large part to breakdowns caused by inexperience and the resulting lack of poise. ASU absolutely can't allow a discouraging trend within the game affect overall play, decision making, shot selection, etc. This is true in any game, but it's especially the case against a team like Oregon.

If ASU does well in these four key areas, it will likely win this game, particularly if it is shooting the ball relatively well on offense. The Ducks are balanced with all five starters averaging in double figures. The 6-foot-6 Catron, who plays the role of power forward even though he's more of a wing, is one of those players, but he'll be replaced in the starting lineup. Oregon isn't deep. It only has seven guys averaging more than eight minutes per game. But all can do damage from anywhere on the court offensively. Conversely, Oregon is 9th in field goal percentage defense, and it will give up a lot of good scoring opportunities, if its opponent is patient. It's also last in turnover margin, which means ASU needs to take advantage with its improved mid-tempo game, in which it looks to generate easy offense in transition with Jeff Pendergraph in the low post and its shooting spotting up in the corners.

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