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Cal Basketball

The BearInsider Scout: A Defensive Clash is Upon us

February 15, 2020

It’s not that Arizona State can’t score points. Averaging over 73 points per game, the Sun Devils definitely can put the ball in the hoop. But at No. 152 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency standings, Arizona State has one of the conference’s least-efficient offenses. At No. 227, our Cal Bears (10-14, 4-7) do have the league’s least-efficient offense. Combine that with Arizona State’s No. 24 ranked defense in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency numbers and fans should expect a bit of a defensive struggle when the Sun Devils (16-8, 7-4) come to Berkeley for a Sunday matinee at Haas Pavilion.

Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils endured a brutal opening slate to Pac-12 play and now sit in striking distance, a game back from Oregon and Colorado who sit tied at 8-4. Considering Arizona State is also currently sitting directly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Sun Devils have a lot to play for on Sunday. After starting 1-3 in league play with losses at Arizona, at Oregon, and home against Colorado, the Sun Devils have won six of their last seven and are riding a four-game winning streak. Most recently, Arizona State knocked off Stanford on the Farm, 74-69.

While Arizona State is ranked its highest of the season in KenPom’s metrics and seems to be playing its best hoops of the season, Cal is no easy out at home. And a team more likely to get caught up in a defensive struggle bodes better for Cal compared to some of the conference’s more high-octane offenses like Arizona or Oregon.

Let’s take a look at how the Bears and Sun Devils matchup.

When Cal has the Ball

Stat Cal Arizona State
Adj. Eff. 99.2 (227) 91.9 (24)
Avg. Poss. Length 19.2 (332) 16.6 (31)
Eff. FG% 47.3% (270) 48.2% (119)
TO% 19.8% (228) 22.4% (31)
Off. Reb. % 24.9% (279) 27.2% (138)
FTA/FGA 33.2 (165) 34.8 (235)
3P% 34.5% (109) 32.2% (121)
2P% 45.6% (318) 48.2% (132)
FT% 71.1% (166) 66.2% (22)
Block% 9.0% (189) 9.5% (128)
Steal% 7.4% (27) 10.6% (70)
Non-Stl TO% 12.4% (330) 11.8% (35)

Arizona State’s defense has been stout. By KenPom’s metrics, on the season, it’s the third-most efficient Pac-12 defense behind Stanford (No. 10) and Colorado (No. 21). That said, it has some vulnerabilities. For one, the Sun Devils put opponents on the free-throw line. A lot. Teams are also shooting decently against Arizona State. But where the Sun Devils really excel is speeding teams up and turning them over (more on this later).

But this is a game in which Cal should attack and try to get to the foul line (and make free-throws). While I admittedly haven’t watched much ASU this season, it appears a lot of the fouls are coming around the hoop. That would explain the high FTA/FGA rate. Plus, its two starting guards (Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge have two of the lowest foul count rates in the country. Combine that with the fact the Sun Devils have an undersized frontcourt, and the pieces add up.

This also feels like a game in which Andre Kelly could get going, although Romello White is a load in the frontcourt for the Sun Devils.

When Arizona State has the Ball

Stat Arizona State Cal
Adj. Eff. 103.8 (152) 99.7 (129)
Avg. Poss. Length 16.0 (33) 17.8 (254)
Eff. FG% 48.4% (229) 49.3% (169)
TO% 18.3% (121) 17.8% (250)
Off. Reb. % 26.7% (222) 26.5% (103)
FTA/FGA 31.6 (198) 36.7 (268)
3P% 31.8% (245) 35.2% (277)
2P% 48.8% (194) 46.9% (92)
FT% 68.7% (248) 73.0% (288)
Block% 9.8% (269) 7.0% 260)
Steal% 8.8% (144) 5.9% (351)
Non-Stl TO% 9.4% (126) 11.8% (32)

Arizona State boasts the conference’s leading scorer in Remy Martin who’s averaging 19.5 points per game. The 6-0 junior point guard also leads the Sun Devils in assists (3.9 per game), steals (1.7 per game), and turnovers (3.3 per game). He’s not an incredibly efficient shooter (49.4% from two and 34.5% from three), but he’s a high volume one and leads the team in field goal attempts.

Martin is joined in the backcourt by junior Alonzo Verge (averaging 13.6 points per game) and senior Rob Edwards (10.5 points per game) to form one of the conference’s more productive group of guards. As mentioned above, Romello White is the Sun Devils’ most productive post player. The 6-8 junior is averaging 10.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

Keys to the Game

Pace. We’ve got a clash of the conference’s fastest team (Arizona State) versus the conference’s slowest team (California). Akin to what Arizona did in the first half of last Thursday’s game, look for the Sun Devils to be pushing pace and taking shots early in the shot clock while the Bears slow it down and work the clock before attempting a shot.

Turnovers. Arizona State is really good at forcing them and at times, Cal has been really bad at holding onto the ball. It’s something to monitor, especially early in the game.

Guarding the backcourt and Martin. Martin scores a lot of points and draws a lot of fouls. Being flanked by Verge and Edwards only helps. At times this season, Cal’s perimeter defenders have looked good (Stanford home game and the first half against Arizona, for example). At other times, opponents’ guards have blown past Cal’s perimeter players. 

Getting someone going besides Matt Bradley. It’s tough to see Arizona State putting up much more than 70 points on Cal. But Cal also needs some offensive production from someone besides Bradley if it wants a chance to win this one. It doesn’t matter who. It could be Paris Austin, Kareem South, Grant Anticevich, Andre Kelly, or anyone else. Cal just needs at least a couple other players besides Bradley to step up and score some points. 

KenPom says … 69-64, Arizona State, win-chance 68%

Besides the home game against Utah, this is Cal’s best chance at winning a game the rest of the season, according to KenPom. If the Bears want to make sure they stay ahead of Washington in the Pac-12 standings, it’d be a good idea to take this one from ASU.

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