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ASU’s matchup vs. Colorado a strong ‘litmus test’ ahead of Pac-12 tourney

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The Arizona State Sun Devils return to the court Thursday night looking to make a statement against the No. 24 Colorado Buffaloes.

After Monday’s matchup with Washington State was called off due to COVID-19 concerns, the Sun Devils have just two contests left before the Pac-12 tournament tips off.

As it stands Wednesday, the Sun Devils can still secure the fifth seed, which comes with a first-round bye, in the conference tournament with consecutive wins over the Buffaloes and Utah Utes. They’ll need some help, however, needing losses from Stanford and Oregon State.

The scenario may not be what ASU had in mind when it entered the season picked to finish second in the Pac-12, but it does give head coach Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils a good look at where they measure up as a squad.

“This is going to be a litmus test for us where we are because if we have any designs on trying to win a tournament next week, then you’re playing a team like Colorado in Colorado and they’re one of the top teams in the conference this year,” Hurley told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Wednesday. “They’re the No. 1 free throw shooting team in the country. They’re deep, they can rebound. I think they’re No. 2 in defense in the Pac-12 and they’re very experienced.

“They have a lot of returning players that have won a lot of games there. We have to see where we truly stand. Are we ready for next week? That’s why this game on Thursday is such an important game for us to again seeing where we are heading into Vegas next week.”

Colorado brings great size, averaging 34.7 rebounds per game, and efficiency from the charity stripe, draining 83.1% of its looks. For a Sun Devils team that likes to force the issue on opposing offenses through intensity and pressure, ASU will need to pick its battles wisely. Especially when Thursday marks the first meeting between the two programs this season after the pair’s Feb. 4 game was postponed due to COVID-19 developments.

“We’re very aggressive on defense and we create turnovers and we use our speed and our quickness, but we need to strike a balance in this game where we’re not being over aggressive and committing bad fouls that’s going to get them in the bonus,” Hurley said. “And also they’re very big … so we’ve got to rebound the basketball and deal with the altitude and everything else.

“It’s just fun to play in a game that has great meaning, because there are a couple of things that could happen potentially that could put us in the position to get to the five seed if we’re able to win both games here to close the season. That’s something that we’re looking at as well heading into the game tomorrow night.”

FREE THROWS

– Hurley regarding the futures of projected first-round picks and freshmen Josh Christopher and Bagley:

“That’s going to depend on the situation and what the plan was for the whole way through. With a kid like Josh Christopher, I think the plan was he was going to play this year and he’s in a good position on draft boards and he’s most likely going to turn pro as the season ends.

“Haven’t had that conversation directly yet with Marcus Bagley. I know that he has great love for the program, his grandfather was a key player here and we’ll sit down once everything finishes up and have a conversation on where he’s at right now.”

Bagley has missed 10 games this season due to an ankle injury, while Christopher has missed six from a back injury.

– While Monday’s postponement marked the ninth contest to be called off this season for ASU, it did provide some extra time for the Sun Devils to get closer to full strength.

“We got back (center) John Olmsted, that was great, our walk-on. He’s back at practice with us. (Forward) Pavlo Dziuba’s back, he’s out of his COVID protocols. We’re getting bigger, the team looked bigger than it looked in awhile and there were more bodies out on the court yesterday at practice, so that was a real plus.

“Jaelen House is back, doing very well. … Marcus Bagley was a full participant yesterday, was moving great so unless there’s something that happens today I would expect he would be available Thursday night.”

House had been dealing with a back issue as of late.

The Sun Devils will look to make it four straight victories Thursday when they take on the Buffaloes at 7 p.m. Tune to ESPN 620 AM for all the action.


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