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ASU’s Alonzo Verge Jr. set to return, Marcus Bagley likely out vs. SDSU

Alonzo Verge Jr., left, Marcus Bagley, right. (Getty Images)

After missing the last two games due to COVID-19 contact tracing protocols, Arizona State senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. looks poised to return to the hardwood when the No. 23 Sun Devils face the No. 24 San Diego State Aztecs on Thursday.

And from the sounds of it, the time spent off the court was beneficial to the guard’s overall health.

“Zo hasn’t really missed a beat physically. He looks great,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said via Zoom on Wednesday. “He was actually battling an upper thigh issue so the week off probably helped him with that, putting it behind him.

“He looks good and he has for the last couple of days and obviously we have to get through today’s practice, but he looks very good.”

While the Sun Devils have missed Verge’s scoring prowess — the guard is averaging 15 points per game, good enough for third on the team — his absence has allowed Hurley to experiment with a larger lineup in an effort to maximize the team’s rebounding abilities.

Filling in for Verge has been junior forward Taeshon Cherry, who stands 6-foot-8 compared to Verge at 6-foot-2. The forward, however, has struggled to clean up the glass as a starter, recording just two rebounds over the past two outings.

Verge, on the other hand, is averaging 5.5 rebounds per contest, including a team-high seven boards in the team’s loss to Villanova.

That type of production can’t be left on the bench.

“I anticipate Zo being back in the lineup. He’s earned that through what he’s done here, especially last year, second half of last year,” Hurley said. “It was something beyond his control that took him out of the lineup, so assuming we get through practice normally [Wednesday], he’s going to be back in the starting lineup.”

Verge could be potentially joined by associate head coach Rashon Burno, who missed the last week due to contract tracing. Hurley called Burno’s absence a significant loss and the head coach is hopeful he’ll be back Thursday.

It’s a big plus for a Sun Devils team that may be without one of its top scorers and leading rebound-getter in freshman forward Marcus Bagley.

After taking a look at Bagley during Tuesday’s practice, Hurley was less optimistic in the forward’s availability against the Aztecs.

“Marcus did a little more yesterday, but he’s going to have to show me more today,” Hurley said. “Not to say this is going to be a long-term thing, I don’t. I think it’s really going to be a short-term issue, but at the same time, I have a responsibility to that kid and his family to make sure he’s 100% when he gets back in the lineup.

“Especially with the future he has in front of him and just the type of injury it was and to make sure we’re checking all our boxes and making sure he’s absolutely ready to go. If I had to tell you right now, it’s not looking like he’s gonna go [Thursday], but he’s still day-to-day and we’ll still take a look and see what he looks like today.”

The head coach told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Tuesday the forward’s injury prognosis was much better than anyone initially thought and that he would be evaluated over the next few days before a final decision was made Thursday. Hurley wanted to make sure Bagley was moving freely was at full strength before giving him the nod.

It’ll be a tough hole to fill for the Sun Devils as Bagley’s averaging 13.0 points, a team-leading 5.8 rebounds and one assist per game.

Forwards Chris Osten and Cherry would be the next men up with Bagley likely out. Osten leads the pairing with 14 rebounds, five of which coming from the offensive glass, second on the team behind only Bagley.

If Hurley wants the team to continue to emphasize the importance of rebounding in the ranked affair against SDSU, Osten could be the leading candidate for upped playing time, with Cherry also getting his fair share.

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