Monday, March 24, 2008
Devils Face Two-Time Champ Gators
Tuesday night ASU will take on the two-time defending national champion Florida Gators at Wells Fargo Arena in the NIT quarterfinals. The Sun Devils will play their final home game of the season on Tuesday night as a win will move ASU into the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden and a loss will end the season.
While Florida is no longer the powerhouse they were over the last two years, this year's squad still has plenty of talent and a coach with two national championships under his belt in Billy Donovan. Florida lost all of their talent from their championship teams and has a current roster with seven freshman. Much like the Sun Devils, the Gators are led by an immensely talented freshman wing player. Nick Calathes is a 6'6" stat machine that does everything on the court, averaging 15.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 6.1 apg, and 1.6 spg. While Calathes is the statistical leader, junior Walter Hodge is the elder statesman with experience. Hodge was buried under all of the future pros the last two years but is a very talented guard who can control a game at times. While Florida's strength over the last two years was big, talented post players like Joakim Noah and Al Horford, this year's team is loaded with athletic wings in the 6'6"-6'8" range. The Gator's lone real post presence this year is 6'10" sophomore Marreese Speights who is averaging 14.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, and 1.4 bpg. Dan Werner and Jai Lucas round out the starting lineup.
The Devils should match up well against Florida in everything from size to youth. Statistically, these two teams are very similar and should play a very interesting game. If the Devils can get a big contribution on offense from someone in addition to James Harden's stellar play, ASU's defense should be able to win this game. Individually there are several matchups to watch as well. James Harden vs. Nick Calathes is the headline matchup and will give fans a chance to see two of the most under-appreciated freshman talents in the country. Jeff Pendergraph vs. Marreese Speights will be the battle in the post and could be the most important matchup of the game. Both teams have guards that rebound the ball well, and these two will be counted on to control the paint. The X-Factor matchup would have to be Ty Abbott vs. Jai Lucas. Both are deep threats and can turn the game if they catch fire from behind the arc.
A trip to New York City is on the line and the Sun Devils have a chance to further prove the "experts" wrong who left them out of the NCAA tournament while Arizona and Oregon predictably fell in the first round. The game begins at 6pm and can be seen on ESPN.