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UCLA Basketball: Arizona State Preview -- Big Road Challenge On The Way To An NCAA Bid

The Bruins go back on the road this week. First up is ASU. The Sun Devils are on an upswing having beaten Arizona and Washington, but they lost at home to Oregon -- the team the Bruins just beat. Since a win at Arizona is virtually impossible, beating ASU on the road is an important part of the road map to third in the PAC-12 and an NCAA bid.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

ASU Basketball is somewhat non-descript. Checking the PAC-12 individual leader board, the 6"10" center Eric Jacobsen is second in FG% but he's averaging only 9.4 points per game, He's second on the team in rebounding at 6.3,  and he fouls a lot, averaging 3.56 fpg. He fouled out in the Oregon OT loss at home. Besides, Jacobsen, ASU's leading scorer Shaquielle McKissic is ninth in steals. After that, you have to dig deep into the advanced statistics to find anyone from ASU. (Savon Goodman has not played enough to qualify for the leader boards).

The immediate comparison would seem to be Oregon State: more talent but still below average, both play in a slow, deliberate style, both are surprisingly good at home (both beat Arizona at home) but can't win on the road (beating a horrible Washington team sans- Robert Upshaw notwithstanding). ASU goes deeper than Oregon State, playing 8-10 including Marquette transfer Savon Goodman who became eligible on December 16. Goodman cracked the starting lineup recently, and the Sun Devils have looked better as Goodman has gotten more minutes.

However, ASU's loss to Oregon at home is perhaps more instructive. ASU plays man defense, and the guards/wings are good defenders. Joseph Young was held in check, but 6'7" forward Elgin Cook went off for 23 points, and center Jacobsen fouled out.

ASU will likely throw McKissic at Norman Powell, and Goodman at Looney. The hope is that Tony Parker will dominate Jacobsen, and put him in foul trouble. There's not a big reason to play man defense in this game, but it will likely be 50/50. McKissic and Goodman are the two best players. McKissic is decent from three, but Goodman doesn't take the three at all.  ASU is a mid-pack from the three. Alford saves Norman and Kevon, so those matchups don't seem likely to happen. That's what makes me think zone

The comparative stats, on the surface, are about even. Once again, I ask how that can be. The Bruin conference season has had big swings: bad start including a beat down by Utah, they learn a lesson and run the offense through Tony, Tony sits out the Oregon trip, Tony's back, and the Bruins win again.

Pts FG% FT% 3P% Rebs OR DR Assists TO Stls Blk eFG% FTR OR% TO%
Arizona St. 70.5 45.6 66.4 36.9 34.5 10.2 24.4 13.5 14.3 5.7 2.1 52.6 42.4 31.1 21.2
UCLA 71.5 42.7 66.3 35.3 39.8 13.4 26.4 13.8 12 6.7 3.7 47.9 37.8 35.4 17.6
Arizona St. Def 65.3 43.8 69.7 34.8 30.8 8.2 22.6 12.1 13.1 6.1 3.7 48.8 35.7 25.2 19.5
UCLA Def 68.2 41.5 70 35 34.4 9.9 24.5 13.5 12.3 6.3 3.6 48.5 32.1 27.3 18

You have to dig deeper to understand statistically why the Bruins are 8-5 despite often not passing the eye test. Check the conference statistical rankings for UCLA and Arizona State:

UCLA Arizona St.
RPI 97 36
ORPG 1 6
TRPG 1 7
Fouls Received 1 12
Fouls Given 1 10
TO 4 12
FLR% 2 7
Off Eff 5 7
PPG 8 7
Possessions 10 8
FG% 9 4
3FG% 7 6
FT% 9 12

I've mentioned this before; the Bruins are second in floor percentage, a measure of percent of possessions that result in a score of any kind. UCLA leads the conference in offensive rebounds, they don't actually turn the ball over that much (I know, I know), they get fouled a lot, but they don't foul much. It turns out that they are a slow and efficient team. Balls don't lie, but I know this strains credulity. The other part of this is that the PAC-12 is really bad (especially on the road) -- remember that!

It's definitely not hard to imagine a road loss, but the Bruins played two close road games in the Bay Area. I am calling this a close win for the Bruins with Tony and Kevon having big games.