Curtis Kelly #24 of the Kansas State Wildcats and Andre Roberson #21 of the Colorado Buffaloes fight for possesion of the ball during their quarterfinal game in the 2011 Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 10, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
With the Sun Devils set to take on the Buffaloes Thursday night at 6:30, here's what ASU fans can expect before the tip off in Boulder.
It has been a rocky (bad pun #2 alert) past few weeks for Arizona State Basketball. But if you were to look directly at the stats, you might think otherwise. Over the last four games the Devils are averaging 55% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. And while that has only translated into a 2-2 record over that span, for a team that started the season 4-9, that's undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Still, this team isn't out of the woods yet. With the bench shortening due to Trent Lockett's ankle injury and the altitude rising, it will be interesting to see how the Sun Devils handle this fundamentally-frustrating Colorado Buffaloes squad. The Buffs (11-6) aren't exactly a team that scares you on paper but are instead one of those rosters that maximize their talents by executing almost everything to near perfection (minus that sloppy Stanford game). They're lead by Andre Roberson, the lean, mean rebounding machine sophomore who has already put up 17, 14, and 12 board nights against Pac-12 foes.
Beyond that, it's difficult to see where the rest of Colorado's conference leading 26.6 defensive rebounds a game come from with no one else chipping in an average of more than five boards a game. But don't be fooled; while Roberson will wrangle in a majority of them, the Buffs guards (Carlon Brown and Spencer Dinwiddie) show a natural knack for anticipating missed baskets and are known to more than take advantage of some teams if they fall asleep on the glass (And if you're a regularly viewer of Sun Devil basketball, then you know that is something they a prone to do at times).
The Buffs can also drain it from three, shooting a slightly better clip than the Devils do (38.4% compared to 38.3%). One player Arizona State has to keep an eye on in this category is 6'9"Justin Dufault. Dufault, who many Colorado fans have been disappointed with over his past two years, has really turned on his scoring as of late, averaging 15.8 points over his last four games and shooting 62.5% (5 of 8) from downtown over his last two (both road losses).
Key Matchup: Kyle Cain Vs. Roberson- Coming off his best game of the year against Oregon State (16 points and eight rebounds) it seems Cain has responded well from the suspension dished out by Sendek. But here comes arguably his biggest test of the season. With ASU down its second leading rebounder due to Lockett's massively swollen ankle, Cain's toughness down low will determine if the Devils can pull out this one.
What to watch for: The Chris Colvin Show- Colvin has had ample opportunity to be the conductor of this offense but has instead fell flat on his face, piling up the turnovers (38) and suspensions (2) in the process. But just like Cain, Colvin also had an inspiring bounce back performance against Oregon State (six point and six assists in 13 minutes). Now with Lockett down, Sendek is left with only Colvin and 5'9" walk-on freshman Max Heller at the point guard position. Can Colvin grab the reins finally and give Arizona State the backup PG they've so desperately lacked or will Heller surpass him on the depth chart once and for all?
Media Coverage: Unfortunately, this one wont be on the telly but you can catch the action on KTAR Sports 620's play-by-play as always.
Final Prediction: Arizona State 59 - Colorado 69
I know it's going to sound like taking the easy way out, but I think this one could be different if Lockett was available. The offense has made notable strides with him as the new ball handler, averaging 55% shooting from the field and 50% from three over the last four games. Maybe this is just the Sun Devil in me, but I really don't think his leadership skills and selflessness are getting enough attention in the main stream media but I digress. The team has already showed excellent adversity in their win against USC missing three key players so it wouldn't be surprising to see it happen again. But when playing the Buffs you need rebounding and toughness, and the Devils will be without a good majority of their's with Lockett watching from the bench.