ASU Basketball’s Season is Off and Running, with NAU and UCI on Docket Before Turkey Tourney

By Andrew Bell // Men’s Basketball Beat Writer for Blaze Sports

TEMPE, AZ  —  The ASU men’s basketball team (2-0) is coming off of a convincing 90-68 victory over the San Diego State Aztecs on Tuesday night and is looking for more.

With an early statement win over a tough opponent, the Sun Devils will now look ahead to this weekend’s home matches against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (NAU) (0-2) and the UC Irvine Anteaters (2-1) before the team takes part in the Continental Tire Invitational in Las Vegas during Thanksgiving weekend.

Friday night’s matchup features an NAU team that comes into Wells Fargo Arena without a winless. NAU has 14 wins over the last two seasons, and has gotten off to another gloomy start this year.

After falling to the No. 3 Arizona Wildcats 101-67 in its season opener, NAU returned home to Flagstaff on Monday night to take on an NAIA opponent–the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Eagles.

In one of the biggest upsets in program history, the Eagles defeated NAU 82-70. Following the loss, things won’t get much easier for the Lumberjacks. NAU will make the two hour trek from Flagstaff to Tempe to take on ASU before traveling to Manhattan, Kansas to take on the Kansas State Wildcats on Monday night.

While the season has certainly gotten off to a rocky start for the Lumberjacks, there are still a couple of players that can pose problems for the Sun Devils, including Stanford transfer and senior guard Malcolm Allen.

Allen transferred to NAU after seeing very limited minutes with the Cardinal, but he is now a team captain in just his first season with the Lumberjacks.

Overall, ASU seems to be the superior opponent heading into Friday night’s contest. However, it will be a matter of consistency and execution in order for the Sun Devils to secure a victory.

Sunday’s matchup with UC Irvine features an Anteaters team that is expected to be atop of the Big West Conference despite losing its three top scorers from last year.

UC Irvine finished in first place in the Big West with a record of 12-4 last season, but they failed to make the NCAA tournament following a loss in their conference tournament to UC Davis.

Anteaters head coach Russell Turner is entering his eighth season at the helm for UC Irvine, and he has accumulated a record of 139-105 during his tenure in southern California.

After failing to make the big dance last year, UCI will look to get this season started with a tough slate of opening games.

Prior to the team’s matchup with ASU on Sunday afternoon, UCI will play Kansas State in Kansas on Friday night, and then travel to Tempe for Sunday’s game.

The Anteaters are 2-1 in their young season thus far, with wins coming against Denver and Chapman University.

This year’s roster for the Big West powerhouse features five new players and no seniors. One of the new faces is redshirt junior forward, Elston Jones. Jones is a transfer from Utah State, where he led the team in blocks during his sophomore campaign.

Jones is a native of Goodyear, Arizona, and he attended Millennium High School.

Among other new faces for the Anteaters are freshman forward Collin Welp and freshman forward Solomon Ruddell. Well is a 6 foot 9 inch freshman while Ruddell is a 7-1 presence in the post.

UCI also features 6 foot 8 inch sophomore forward Tommy Rutherford. Rutherford averaged just over six points and five rebounds a game last year, and he has increased his total thus far by averaging 12.8 points a game in three contests.

UCI likes to rely on its post players, and one of the more intriguing match-up to watch will be in the front-court between the Anteaters big men and ASU’s frontline.

ASU redshirt freshman forward Romello White and junior forward De’Quon Lake combined for 31 points and 22 rebounds against SDSU, and White finished the game with a double-double. The two new additions to the Sun Devil lineup looked dominant playing alongside one another.

“When they were both together, it didn’t seem like there was much hope for anyone to get a rebound other than those two guys (White and Lake),” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said after the SDSU game.

As for the backcourt, UCI sophomore guard Eyassu Worku averaged 7.2 points a game last season. This year, he has been thrown into an elevated role with the loss of last season’s Big West Player of the Year, Luke Nelson.

Worku will run the point guard position, and he will have a tough matchup with ASU senior guard Tra Holder, who is coming off of a game in which he tallied 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

“I think that’s a part of why we are different and I think have a chance to be better-is the balance we have with the guards and what they can do away from the basket and getting to the rim,” Hurley said after Tuesday’s game.

“Then the presence of Romello and De’Quon around the basket now … It’s going to make us harder to defend.”

Overall, the Sunday matchup with UCI will be yet another tough non-conference test against an Anteaters team that is expected to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid this season.

However, before that clash, ASU will have to start its weekend with NAU.

Tipoff between NAU and ASU is slated for 6 p.m. MST at Wells Fargo Arena with Alexander Gaul and Will Everett on the call on the Blaze Sports Mixlr.

Andrew Bell is one of Blaze Radio’s beat writers for ASU Men’s Basketball. You can reach out to him at atbell6@gmail.com or follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewBell7 .

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