By Manny Nunez
Lets face it, if this really is a down year for the Pac-12 as many of the pundits acquiesce and with conference play looming, the usual upsets from within the league are certain to happen. That could arguably make things very challenging to have a number of teams make the NCAA Tournament as at large bids.
If you were to ask someone in the beginning of the year, however, who the top teams would be, could anyone have predicted that school North of the 17 would have a much better record than their counterparts in Tucson thus far?
At 9-0, the Arizona State Sun Devils are one win away from having their best start in school history as they take on Vanderbilt at home on Sunday. The 1974-75 team that featured Lionel Hollins started 9-0 as well. It’s certainly a monumental start for a team with three senior starters and six newcomers which highlight the chemistry and make up of the team.
ASU is a solid favorite and should net the ‘W’ if they play their usual up-tempo guard oriented game which has been so dominant with non-conference wins over Kansas, Kansas State, and Xavier thus far.
Seniors Shannon Evans and Tra Holder are two of the top players in the Pac-12 as both average around 36 minutes per game and score the basketball at will, it seems. These two players are 1-2 in scoring which pushes them into an all-too-early Pac-12 Player of the Year discussion. Holder was just named the National Player of the Week and leads ASU with 21.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists over the 9-0 start.
Freshman guard Remy Martin has also changed the dynamic of playing guard with his quickness and agility which are a menace to his opponents as he already has 22 steals using those attributes on defense. Just ask Kansas, where coming off the bench he dropped 21 points and picked up five steals as he played confident basketball and helped to thwart and Jayhawks comeback attempts.
Kodi Justice also has gotten help from Romelllo White in the middle and it took him away from the forward position as he can operate at a swingman position and create mismatches with his shooting and ability to isolate his man in the paint.
White, another freshman, has asserted dominance in the paint over nine games as he has shot 68 percent from the floor while averaging 16.1 points and nine rebounds per game.
Defensively the Sun Devils can run their game with ease, part of the reason why they have held their ground much better with a much more formidable front court.
Perhaps though most importantly, Coach Bobby Hurley is a players coach who allows players to play to their strength inside of the system. Against Kansas, ASU played much more aggressive basketball, especially driving to the hoop picking up fouls and netting 15 triples. It was the same story line against Kansas State and Xavier.
Currently they are just one of six remaining undefeated teams in college basketball. To say they are a national title contender still might be bit of a stretch, but the Sun Devils have already staked a claim that they can be a player on the national stage as they rose to No. 5 in the nation this week with that eye-popping win at Kansas.