November 26, 2004
Arizona State men’s basketball coach Rob Evans said his team gained confidence from wins over Jackson State and Delaware State. The Sun Devils are going to need it.
While the regular season officially started two games ago, it begins in earnest today when ASU (2-0) gets a reality check against Texas-El Paso in the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational at Vegas’ Valley High School.
The Miners return four double-figure scorers from last season’s 24-8 Western Athletic Conference champion that went to the NCAA tournament. UTEP (2-0) has played the same schedule as ASU, beating Delaware State by 33 Sunday and Jackson State by 26 Tuesday.
ASU struggled past Delaware State 67-56 Tuesday and routed Jackson State 79-48 on Sunday.
A big step up?
"Probably," said ASU guard Kevin Kruger after Tuesday’s win, "but we’ll worry about that tomorrow."
There is plenty to worry about, starting with Miners point guard Filiberto Rivera, a 6-foot-2 senior who breaks down defenses and offenses with his quickness and court vision.
UTEP also sports a trio of other scorers in Omar Thomas, Jason Williams and John Tofi. Thomas had 25 points in Tuesday’s win.
"UTEP’s a tremendous team," Evans said. "They’re a veteran ballclub. They’ve been in tough situations."
ASU has its own concerns. While Evans insists his team is making progress and gaining valuable experience, nagging questions remain about the Sun Devils’ ability to handle a quality opponent.
Ike Diogu had 32 points Tuesday, but Kruger was the only other Devil in double figures with 12. ASU still hasn’t handled opposing zone defenses well (although the Miners like to play man-toman) so the perimeter shooting is another concern, especially when starting point guard Jason Braxton lacks the shooting touch to keep defenses honest.
The Devils are counting on Steve Moore as well as Kruger, Bryson Krueger, Tyrone Jackson and Tim Pierce to step up, but Moore is streaky, Kruger has a hard time creating his own shot and Krueger, Jackson and Pierce still appear to be feeling their way.
On the flip side.
"I feel like our defense is really improving game by game," Diogu said. "We’re starting to get key stops and key rebounds so we’re definitely getting there."
The Devils will have a better read following this threegame stretch. After UTEP, ASU will face either Vanderbilt or Southern Illinois, a pair of NCAA tournament teams from last season, on Saturday. Then it’s on to Philadelphia for a meeting with Temple on Tuesday.
"It’s a tough stretch," Evans said. "We’ll grow from these ballgames."
BONUS SHOT: San Francisco, Long Beach State and UC Riverside have shown interest in former guard Tron Smith, who requested a transfer last week. Boston College also could be a possibility, since Eagles coach Al Skinner recruited Smith hard.