Though the Sun Devils finished their season on a three game skid, there is a new energy surrounding the team as they make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2009.
There is only one player on this ASU team that has any experience playing in the ‘Big Dance.’ That is senior transfer from Penn State, Jermaine Marshall.
“I told them we just need to soak up the moment,” Marshall said when asked what guidance he has provided his team since Selection Sunday. “For a lot of the young guys, I told them it’s great in their first year they get to go to the NCAA Tournament. Some people don’t get to go at all in their four years…We don’t want to go home early, so we just have to be as focused as possible.”
For Marshall in particular, he comes into Thursday’s game against Texas on his biggest shooting slump of the season. He is seven for his last 34 from the field at 20.5% and has a combined 25 points in the last three games. All of which were losses for the Sun Devils. In losses this season during Pac-12 play, Marshall is averaging 11.3 points per game. His season average is over 17 per game. He is an important piece that the Devils need to get going if they want to make a run in March.
“He has taken it upon himself to get some shooting in but he is going to be fine,” mentioned ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek who is 6-1 in his career in the NCAA Tournament. “Jermaine is a good shooter and the next shot I always think is going in.”
“I’m doing everything I need to so,” Marshall mentioned. “All I can do is keep shooting and hope the next one is going in.”
While getting Marshall going looks to be a big key, getting the whole team going off the opening tip is the biggest. In the last three losses for ASU, they have gone down 15-0 (at Oregon), 9-1 (at Oregon State) and 9-0 (vs. Stanford last week). Point Guard Jahii Carson believes the outcome of game would be a lot different if they don’t get out to those slow starts.
“It’s killing us,” Carson said. “We are spotting them points basically and at this time in March, every possession comes down to one or two possessions. So if we can eliminate those, I think we’re in pretty much every game and winning every game.”
The Texas Longhorns are what await ASU in Milwaukee on Thursday night at 6:40pm. After a great stretch in January where they won seven games in a row. Four of which were against Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and Kansas who were all ranked in the top 25 at the time. But they come into the NCAA Tournament struggling somewhat as well having lost five of their last six of their last 11 games through February and into March.
“We know they are an outstanding team, a team that is well coached,” mentioned Sendek. “I think they are especially impressive on the defensive end of the floor where their numbers are among the best in the country….Obviously coming out of the Big 12, they have played and defeated some outstanding competition throughout the season.”
While both teams have solid guard play, what might separate the other in the end will be the battle inside between Jordan Bachynski and 6-9, 285 pound Cameron Ridley. Both pride themselves on being forces in the paint, especially on the defensive end.
“He’s got tremendous size,” Sendek explained. “He’s a wide body but he does a great job of running the floor and moving. And he has tremendous hands. He catches everything, finishes around the basket, blocks shots.”
Last time the Sun Devils were still alive this team of year, they almost made it out of the first weekend but a talented Syracuse team got in the way of them doing so. It has been a little while so this year’s team is looking to take full advantage.
“We have to keep continuing to improve,” mentioned Bachynski. “By no means are we a perfect basketball team but we work hard and we are going to play together.”
“I am ready to play man,” added Marshall. “I’m ready to get out there and show everyone what we’ve got. I feel like we’ve got a lot of doubters as far as Arizona State basketball is concerned.”