Defend Against Tempo
Arizona State will come out fast against the SDSU Aztecs. That is the persona of their program under Bobby Hurley. The Duke alum has coached fast teams in Tempe that push the tempo and make defenders uncomfortable with speed. He recruits guys who embody their “Guard U” motto.
“They play at a fast pace, get up and down the floor, and shoot the ball. Every game is different. This one will be a lot more fast-paced than the first two games we played,” said Dutcher in his Monday press conference.
Dutcher understands the struggle of going up against one of the fastest teams in the NCAA after playing against different styles of offense in the first two weeks.
“Now we go against Arizona State who’s going to pick up (full court), look to attack on the fast break, will take open threes if they get them, and can be very dangerous.”
Last year’s squad, who lost to SDSU, was 21st in Kenpom’s Adjusted tempo, and this season they are currently 88th. For comparison, Aztec opponents BYU sits at 250th, and UC Riverside is 295th.
San Diego State’s defense earned them the victory against ASU in Tempe in 2020. This year, if they can’t make shots, they know they can disrupt their opponent’s game enough to win.
DJ Horne Finds Opportunity
The Sun Devils added multiple transfers this season in Marreon Jackson (Toledo), Jay Heath (Boston College), Alonzo Gaffney (Northwest Florida State College), but DJ Horne stands out.
Horne, a 6-foot-1 guard from Illinois State, was the Redbirds leading scorer for the 2020-2021 season, averaging 15.1 points per game. The Redbird transfer got the opportunity to start for the Sun Devils after guard Luther Muhammad was suspended for Monday’s game because of a violation of team rules. Muhammad is averaging 10.5 pts, six rebounds, and two assists so far this season.
Horne showed out against North Florida in his place, going 4-for-7 on three-pointers and scoring 16 points. After going scoreless in their upset loss against UC Riverside, the former MVC standout recovered quickly and shot the ball lights out. Whether Muhammad will return to the starting lineup against the Aztecs is unknown. Still, Horne is making Hurley choose between a reliable starter and the hot hand against one of the nation’s most formidable defenses.
On paper, Trey Pulliam would be the Aztecs’ best match. As much as Horne is a prototypical ASU guy, Pulliam is a prototypical SDSU guy who can lock down opposing leading scorers.
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After going 3-of-22 in Provo, Dutch knows his squad will not fair well against a guard-friendly team like Arizona State if more sounds of balls bouncing off the rim fill Viejas Arena Thursday night.
“I think (it’s) a (combination of several factors); taking the right ones, taking them in rhythm, having confidence to make them,” Dutcher said. “I don’t want to start second-guessing guy’s shot attempts because then they start second-guessing themselves. I want (them) to shoot it with confidence.”
Aztec teams over the last decade have had at least one catch-and-shoot guy on their rosters each year. Players like Jordan Schakel or Matt Shrigley, or James Rahon were threats from the outside that kept opposing defenses honest. Right now, it does not look like that guy is in uniform at SDSU. The Aztecs could be a season away from once again having a true 3-point specialist. If a 3-point threat emerges this year, the team will need to make extra passes and create space to shoot the ball.
Matt Bradley has the potential to work in that created space and make clutch three-pointers but needs to step into that role. Of the starters, Bradley’s career average 3-point percentage is the highest at a 40% clip. The guards on the roster do not come close in comparison with Lamont Butler shooting 28%, Adam Seiko at 35%, and Pulliam pulling 28%.
After their dismal showing against BYU, The Aztecs should be able to correct and improve upon 3 made three-pointers in time for Thursday night’s showdown against Arizona State.
Erwin Mendoza grew up a SoCal kid, but now is raising a family in the Pacific Northwest. Besides covering San Diego State basketball, he loves lamenting the lack of sports championships from San Diego — minor league teams don’t count— while drinking the local stout on nitro.