You may not have noticed it Saturday night, lost amid college football and everything else that is a late fall Saturday night, but Arizona State’s hoops team put the finishing touches on a very successful week by handing it to Texas A&M (#18 in the latest RTC Top 25) in a 67-54 home win. Coming on the heels of a mid-week win at Creighton, this is just the latest of a series of peaks in Bobby Hurley’s wild first season in the desert. An opening night loss to Sacramento State and a late-game collapse in Brooklyn against Marquette aside, Hurley’s club also has solid wins over Belmont, North Carolina State and UC Santa Barbara on its resume, with road tests at Kentucky and UNLV the next two games on the schedule. So, what exactly is Hurley up to in the desert? And does is this team more like the team that took care of a Top 25 team or the one that lost to a middle-of-the-pack Big Sky team?
When things are going well on offense for the Sun Devils, it all starts with sophomore point guard Tra Holder, who is, at times, seemingly impossible for opponents to keep out of the lane. Add in the fact that he’s dangerous when he gets there, with an array of floaters, pull-up jumpers and the ability to earn his way to the line, where he shoots 82.5 percent, and goal one for the opposition’s defense is to put a wrap on Holder’s penetration. That sometimes, such as on Wednesday night against Creighton, necessitates pulling secondary defenders away from their assignments to stop penetration, allowing Holder to do one of two things. First, there’s the old drive-and-dish, sucking in a secondary defender, kicking the ball out to an open teammate on a wing, maybe an additional pass and then a three. With guys like Gerry Blakes, Andre Spight, Kodi Justice and Willie Atwood all capable three-point shooters, that alone is the start for some good offense. The other option for Holder is that midrange game of his, unleashing a floater or a pull-up. If it goes, great; if it doesn’t, the Devils have four guys who are grabbing at least 10% of teammates’ missed shots when they’re on the floor – Savon Goodman, Obinna Oleka, Willie Atwood and Eric Jacobsen. Between those four, 29% of their two-point field goals have come off of putbacks on offensive boards.