While the Sun Devils proved that pure talent can beat out execution in last Friday's season opening win against Montana State, they won't be able to rely on that theory for long as the competition gets stiffer. Luckily for Trent Lockett and company, Pepperdine doesn't exactly qualify under the "stiffer competition" category.
The Pepperdine Waves are in the midst of six straight losing seasons and it looks as if they're well on their way to extending that streak despite a 59-50 win against Pomona Pitzer on Saturday (And yes, I had to Google that school to confirm that Pepperdine wasn't just making it up). The Waves are looking to have another team makeover after promoting former player and longtime assistant Marty Wilson to head coach. But unfortunately, Wilson doesn't have much to work with early on.
Pepperdine's top three scorers from last season either graduated (Mychel Thompson), transferred (Keion Bell) or tore their ACL (Lorne Jackson) so this squad may have a difficult time keeping up with teams that like to rack up the points (See: Arizona State).
Left to pick up the slack are three returning starters. There are no standouts but the best player by default would be senior forward Taylor Darby, who had 14 points and six rebounds for the Waves in Saturday's season opener. Corbin Moore is also another name to watch after compiling 10 boards against Pomona Pitzer. Moore is the only true center on the roster at 6'10" which would be an advantage for the Devils if Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynksi could get their acts together.
But Tempe natives and/or Arizona high school basketball fans might be intrigued by the return of point guard Jordan Baker, who earned the Gatorade Player of the Year for Arizona while playing at Tempe High School last year. Averaging 27 points a game as a senior, it's clear that Wilson will have to rely on him early to provide the offense a boost. It will be interesting to see if Baker tries to make his homecoming a memorable one after going 0-3 with four points in 22 minutes in the first game of the year.
Projected ASU Starters- Chris Colvin (G) Keala King (G) Carrick Felix (G) Trent Lockett (F) Kyle Cain (F)
(Note: I'd be surpised if Pateev moves back into the starting lineup after Felix's impressive 13 points, three steals and three assists in 37 minutes in the opener)
Key Matchup- Can Chris Colvin rebound after his shaky, seven turnover debut against hometown hero Jordan Baker?
What to watch for: Owning the glass- After allowing 17 second-chance points and 16 offensive rebounds in the 78-72 victory against the much smaller Montana State, can they turn their act around? Or are maroon gold fans doomed to another season of being dominated in that portion of the box score?
Media Coverage: Watch at FoxSportsArizona.com or listen live at KTAR Sports 620 AM.
Final Prediction: Arizona State 81 - Pepperdine 65
Sure, this has the looks of another gimme. But no game can be considered that until this team figures its act out. Luckily, Pepperdine's biggest weakness is ASU's biggest strength: scoring. So while the Devils still may not play their best defense or box out, they still should be able to run the Waves into the ground.