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ASU basketball depth provides options for versatile, pressure-heavy defense

Arizona State's Zylan Cheatham, left, and Remy Martin, right, answer questions during the Pac-12 NCAA college basketball media day Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Quick play, scoring in transition and tough defense up and down the court were keys to Arizona State basketball’s 12-0 start last season.

Head coach Bobby Hurley thinks their poor Pac-12 showing was because opposing teams slowed down the game to take these strengths away.

“I think teams didn’t want to run with us, with our guards, and they milked the shot clock and shot late and crashed the board and kind of shortened the game on us,” Hurley said at Pac-12 media day.

If ASU can get back press opponents and not allow them to get the offense set up, perhaps they can find success like they had in non-conference play.

“We would like to create more turnovers and maybe not be in such a five-on-five half-court game,” Hurley said.

While the Sun Devils lost its three top guards, they retained one that was at the center of the defense and transition game: Remy Martin.

Martin would often guard players up and down the floor, creating pressure that would lead to poor possessions or turnovers.

It looks like he’ll have more help this year.

Take Luguentz Dort, for instance, who Hurley said has been having “epic” battles with Martin. The coach said the 6-foot-4 freshman guard has a 7-foot wingspan and similar traits to former Arizona guard Rawle Alkins, who’s now in the Chicago Bulls organization.

“Dort is just a shutdown defender,” Hurley said. “With his strength and his athletic ability, even for an incoming freshman, and his mindset and approach to defending, he just wants to lock you up.”

Forward Zylan Cheatham, a transfer student with more experience than Dort, can guard multiple positions.

“When you could put a guy like Zylan Cheatham on the point of the zone or the three-quarter court, just with his athleticism, his activity, his motor, it’s something that we’re putting into our plan this year defensively,” Hurley said.

That’s not even mentioning players like guard Taeshon Cherry, the gem of ASU’s recruiting class, forward Kimani Lawrence, who Hurley said has moved past his injury and adjusted parts of his offensive game, or Romello White, who Hurley thinks is ready to take a step forward after averaging 11.6 points and 7.4 rebounds as a redshirt freshman.

Hurley said that if he can use the depth correctly, the team could contend again.

The Sun Devils have come a long way since 2016-17 conference play, when every starter averaged at least 33 minutes and only one bench player averaged double-digit minutes.

“I’ve had guys that play 30, 35 minutes, and we’re deeper, and I’m going to have to figure out lineups and combinations that work,” Hurley said. “Distributing playing time is going to be more of an emphasis for me.

“If I do all those things well and our team plays together, I think we’re talented and we could really compete with anybody.”

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