Freshman Forward Vitaliy Shibel May Be The X-Factor For The Devils Down The Stretch

By TJ Mathewson // Men’s Basketball Beat Writer for Blaze Sports

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Sun Devils have been a pretty consistent team when it comes to starting lineups.

The senior guard trio of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice have started all 19 games, while freshman forward Romello White has started 18 of 19 games so far.

ASU freshman forward Vitaliy Shibel attempts a three-point shot against Oregon // (Photo: John Mendoza / Blaze Sports)

The X-factor for the Sun Devils? That last starting spot, occupied by both freshman forward Vitaliy Shibel and sophomore forward Mickey Mitchell throughout the season.

Against Cal Saturday, it was Shibel who got the start, his first since starting the first 11 games of the season.

After strong performances off the bench versus Vanderbilt and Longwood, Mitchell took the starting sport from Shibel for the last game of non-conference play and the first six games of conference play.

The Sun Devils are undefeated with Shibel in the lineup, a sparkling 12-0 record.

With Mitchell?

3-4.

Is Shibel starting really the better option for coach Bobby Hurley?

“For now, this is the direction we are going,” Hurley said on putting Shibel back in the starting lineup Tuesday. “He’s a threat to make the shots from three and he plays off our guards really well.”

“I thought back to (Mitchell’s) game against Vanderbilt, he has 13 rebounds and made a lot of impact plays. He just kind of energized us coming off the bench.”

A quick glance at the overall stats on the two and it’s not very close. Mitchell has the edge over Shibel in minutes, points, assists, rebounds, blocks, 3-point shooting% and overall shooting%.

So why has it been that the Sun Devils struggle with Mitchell in the starting lineup and not so much Shibel?

First, let’s take into account conference play. Mitchell has started six of the seven conference games ASU has played so far, including arguably the three toughest PAC-12 road environments(Arizona, Colorado and Utah).

The one game that Shibel started in conference play was against the team tied for the worst record in the conference Cal(1-6 in conference).

In case you have been living under a rock, ASU’s non-conference schedule was no cupcake either, with wins over San Diego State, Xavier, Kansas, Kansas State, St. John’s and Vanderbilt.

It was Shibel who started in all of those wins.

The key to this puzzle lays within the bench production of these two. Coming off the pine, Shibel scored a combined five points and six rebounds in seven games, averaging barely six minutes a game.

Besides his first game, the 95-85 win at Kansas, Mitchell has had his best games as a Sun Devil off the bench, averaging 10.6 points and 9.6 rebounds in those contests.

Will ASU continue to succeed with Shibel in the starting lineup? Despite there being a small sample size of 11 games where both Mitchell and Shibel play, the numbers suggest that they should.

Hurley said Tuesday that they wouldn’t commit to a starting lineup, that they would evaluate it on a game-to-game basis.

ASU returns home to face Utah Thursday. You can can hear the call on Blaze Radio Online Mixlr with Tyler Henry and Skye Merida on the call.

TJ Mathewson is a beat writer for Blaze Sports covering ASU Men’s Basketball. You can reach out to him at tjm5518@gmail.com or follow TJ on Twitter @TJMathewson.

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