The Colorado Buffaloes roll into the desert hoping to sweep Arizona State and Arizona. The Wildcats have the more anticipated matchup, but the Sun Devils are tricky in very different ways and could cause serious issues. Colorado did beat ASU in Shanghai in the season opener, but things are a bit different.
1. The Sun Devils are extremely volatile
We talked last week about how high-variance Utah is, but ASU is much more volatile. They’re just as likely to score 98 as they are to score 48. They’re 10-6 this season and have four of their last six, with those losses against Saint Mary’s, Creighton, Arizona and Oregon. Those are all good teams, but their performances have been all over the place. Against SMC, for example, they lost 96-56; of those 56 points, Alonzo Verge scored 43 off the bench, which is one of the strangest box score things you’ll ever see.
Remy Martin is the center of everything they do, but he’s famously streaky and hasn’t gotten hot yet. Rob Edwards is a gifted shooter who hasn’t hit shots. The team as a whole shoots just 30% (compared to % for CU), which is really bad for a team that plays fast and spreads the floor. They chuck a lot and they’re still capable of getting hot. That’s dangerous for anyone.
2. Romello White and Taeshon Cherry have returned
In that game in China, the Sun Devils were missing two of their three best big men. Romello White and Taeshon Cherry were suspended that game and ASU badly missed them as Evan Battey and Tyler Bey beat them up inside. Arizona State hasn’t gotten any better at basketball with those guys in — they’re a pretty mediocre team, to be honest — but White in particular causes some matchup issues.
Against Utah, we saw (again) that Evan Battey will beat up any team that can’t match his size and physicality. Romello White is one of those rare players who can. Battey will still win the boards — he and Bey would win rebounds against anyone in the country — but there’s a chance that those two fighting in the post gets Battey in foul trouble. Battey isn’t foul prone so much as officials see a large man in physical action, so they whistle because they’re cowards. CU could survive defensively with Lucas Siewert, but Battey is essential for the Buffs to break the ASU press.
3. Arizona State will try to cause turnovers
Straight up, Colorado shouldn’t have a problem scoring against the Sun Devils. McKinley Wright diced up ASU in the season-opener, Tyler Bey scored everything inside, and all the role players moved the ball and hit shots. That should happen here too, although traveling could limit their effectiveness. Insofar as this is a normal game, Colorado should win with room to spare.
But where ASU had success against CU was in the second half when they ramped up the defensive pressure. Jaelen House is a freaky defender on the perimeter and he was basically a one-man pressing machine in that game. They caused a ton of problems and nearly staged a comeback before CU settled down. Tad Boyle’s solution was to use Evan Battey’s unique passing and handling skills to break the press. Colorado only has one ball handler in Wright, so Battey is really their only option with that ability. If he has to sit with foul trouble (as discussed above), that could spell trouble for CU.
Colorado 73, Arizona State 66
I think it’s a win for CU, but there is a clear blueprint for ASU to win: They finally get hot and force CU into halfcourt offense, Evan Battey gets in foul trouble, and ASU causes issues with that full-court press. I don’t think this will happen and CU could (and maybe should) win even if it does happen, but things can get weird in the desert.