Another year, another chance for Villanova to grab a November title — some things never change.
Villanova will face off against the Arizona State Sun Devils for the 2K Empire Sports Classic final on Thanksgiving Day at 9:30 pm at the Mohegan Sun resort. The Sun Devils defeated Rhode Island 94-88 in a high-scoring first round game, while Villanova was able to rally late to defeat Boston College, 76-67.
This will be Jay Wright’s first ever game against Arizona State, and Villanova’s second ever. Their only other game against Arizona State came in 1993, a 73-62 loss.
Scouting the Sun Devils
The Sun Devils are led by senior guard Remy Martin, the AP Preseason All-American who averaged 19.2 points per game and 4.1 assists per game last season. He’s coming off of a solid all-around game against Rhode Island, while he tallied 26 points, six rebounds, five assists, and one steal. They also have Alonzo Verge Jr., a former JUCO transfer that shined in his first season with his new team, picking up 2020 Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year honors and averaging 16.8 points per game off the bench in only 19 games.
While they’re key returners, there’s also plenty of hype and promise for their freshmen. It was a top 10 nationally ranked recruiting class, headlined by consensus five-star forward Josh Christopher and four-star Marcus Bagley — the younger brother of former Duke standout and current Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley III.
Bagley looked solid in the first half against the Rams and ultimately finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. As for Christopher, his debut was a bit shaky with a couple of glimpses, scoring 11 points (3-of-10 overall, 0-for-4 from deep) and grabbing four rebounds.
Control the Tempo
Arizona State finished last season with a 20-11 record and were on their way to another appearance in the NCAA March Madness Tournament. They led the Pac-12 in overall games in steals (249 for 8.03 per game), turnover margin (+3.19) and turnovers forced (16.42 per game).
According to KenPom, the Sun Devils boasted the 14th fastest tempo in the nation, while ‘Nova finished the year as the 275th fastest tempo. ‘Nova will want to control the tempo and force Arizona State to slow it down — the Sun Devils lost 3 of their 4 slowest games last season.
“I would assume they will take the ball at us,” Coach Wright said after the Boston College game. “They may have noticed we struggled guarding their [Boston College] guards off the dribble, and they have really quick, exceptional guards.”
No Free Points
The Sun Devils had five players in double-digits in their victory over Rhode Island, with Martin leading the way with 26 points. As a team, ASU scored 34 of their 94 points from the free-throw line, so limiting their trips to the line will be key for a ‘Cats victory. According to KenPom, the Sun Devils lost 10 of their 12 lowest FTR (free-throw rate) games.
Villanova’s game against Boston College showed what kind of problems they can get in if someone gets in foul trouble early. The Eagles dominated down low while Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was on the bench in foul trouble, and against a fast-paced team like Arizona State, the ‘Cats may not be able to make up the deficit. With Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree out for another game, Villanova may find themselves scrambling if one of their big men get in foul trouble again. The Wildcats will have to bear down and stay disciplined and in front of their man, because there will definitely be even more one-on-one drives than what the Eagles had.
Tip-off is set for 9:30 p.m., after the conclusion of the consolation game between Boston College and Rhode Island.