When Arizona State fell to Sacramento State to open its season, it looked like Bobby Hurley’s first season in charge would be a rebuilding one.
But three weeks later, that may not necessarily be the case at all.
Arizona State is now 6-2 with a pretty solid résumé following a win over No. 18 Texas A&M late Saturday night. It was just about a wire-to-wire victory, with the Sun Devils stretching the lead out to 25 with 15 minutes left before Texas A&M closed the gap and made it respectable late. Willie Atwood led the way with 15 points, followed by Tra Holder with 13. Savon Goodman also added a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds, as he controlled the paint on the defensive end for Hurley’s team.
That’s the Sun Devils’ fourth top-100 win according to KenPom. Believe it or not, that’s actually tied for the most in the country with a host of teams, including Michigan State and North Carolina. Hurley has done a tremendous job getting his team to rebound following that opening stunner.
This time around it was the defense that did the trick, as Arizona State held the Aggies to 31 percent shooting from the field and 14 turnovers. Simply put, the Sun Devils were just more physical and tougher. They were the aggressor, pushing Texas A&M into quite a bit of foul trouble in the second half and getting sent to the line to consolidate their lead. Holder and Kodi Justice constantly probed, and created strong ball movement with their penetration and ability to send the Aggies into rotation. Overall, Arizona State assisted on 70 percent of its field goals, with no player finishing with more than three. This was a team effort on both ends of the floor.
It’s clear that this Arizona State at least has some level of talent and toughness, and will certainly be a tough out at home in the Pac-12 this year. However, we’re going to learn a lot about the Sun Devils in the coming 10 days, as they face Kentucky next Saturday followed by UNLV on the following Wednesday. If they can pick up a win in one of those games and then avoid a tough defeat at home in the final three games, they’ll have set themselves up nicely in the non-conference season for a potential NCAA Tournament bid if they can do enough in league play.