It was announced Wednesday that Maryland will face Arizona State in the first round of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. The game will take place on November 24 at 7 p.m. at the Sprint Center in Kansas City and air on ESPNU. This will be Maryland’s third time ever facing the Sun Devils, with the last meeting coming in the 1994 Maui Invitational. The all-time record between the two schools is knotted at 1-1.
Arizona State is coming off of a program-turning year in which they made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. As a 10 seed, the Sun Devils lost in heartbreaking fashion on a buzzer beater to seven-seed Texas in the first round.
Despite the lack of success in the tournament, the Sun Devils experienced several highs throughout the year, none higher than their double-overtime victory over archrival and second-ranked Arizona 69-66 on February 14. In Arizona State’s first game with the Wildcats on January 16, they were pummeled 91-68. That loss brought them to a 13-5 record. After playing Arizona a second time and beating them, they had improved to 19-6 and worked their way from a team on the bottom half of the Pac-12 to a legitimate bubble team. That stretch of games, in which the Sun Devils added quality wins against not only Arizona but also Oregon, Colorado, Utah and California, turned their season around. Between February 14 and the end of the season, Arizona State beat Stanford and California for a second time, giving them enough quality wins to make the NCAA Tournament field.
Last season, Arizona State had three main players who made them run: Jahii Carson, Jermaine Marshall and Jordan Bachynski. All three were important scorers for the team, averaging over 10 points per game each. Carson was the fourth-highest scorer in the Pac-12 with 18.6 points per game, and Marshall wasn’t far behind him at 11th best in the conference at 15.1 points per game. Bachynski scored as well, but his greatest contributions to his team came in the form of rebounds and blocks. He led the entire NCAA in total blocks with 133 and blocks per game with 4.0. On the glass, Bachynski nabbed 8.2 rebounds per game, which was the fifth best in the Pac-12. Other players held important roles on the team as well, but these three were the backbone of the team. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, Marshall and Bachynski have spent their eligibility and Carson opted for the NBA.
There has been some good news for Arizona State this offseason, though. Guard Shaquielle McKissic was granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA in April, and with the loss of Carson and Marshall already to Arizona State’s backcourt, keeping McKissic was absolutely necessary. McKissic will likely be the go-to player for the Sun Devils this coming season, along with forward Jonathan Gilling, who will have to make up for the lost production from Bachynski. Both of these players did well in their roles last year but will now be called upon to take the next step to fill the large shoes left behind. Arizona State is going to have to enter something of a rebuilding mode this year after losing their three best players and lack much experience in the players remaining.
The other two teams in this tournament and possible Maryland opponents are Iowa State and Alabama. Those two teams will meet at 9:30 p.m. after the Terps and Sun Devils square off. The losers of the two first round games will play in a consolation game the following day at 7 p.m. and the winners will play after at 9:30 p.m.
Last year was one of Iowa State’s best in their history. They earned a three seed, giving them a third tournament berth in a row, and made it to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in their existence and the first time since 2000. In addition, they won their fourth Big 12 Tournament championship and their first since 2000. Their second round game against sixth-seeded North Carolina had a bit of a controversial ending but was easily one of the most exciting and interesting games of the tournament. The Cyclones would go on to lose to eventual national champion Connecticut in a game Connecticut led the whole way through starting with 18:15 remaining in the first half. After trailing by 16 points with 7:42 left in the game, Iowa State stormed back and brought it to within four with 2:24 to go. However, they were never able to fully close the gap and were eliminated from the tournament.
Iowa State will have to try it again this year without star players Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane. However, Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Naz Long are all returning for the Cyclones, and the addition of transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones is enough for Iowa State to be confident of another successful season. This season Iowa State will most likely stick to their play style of getting out in transition and piling up points before the opposition can even react.
Alabama didn’t quite accomplish as much as Iowa State did last season. They finished the year with a disappointing 13-19 record and despite having one of the best guards in the SEC in Trevor Releford, they were not able to find much success. Now Alabama is going to have to try to win without Releford, and if last year means anything, they might have a tough time. Anthony Grant has kept his job this summer and will be heading into his sixth season as the head coach in Tuscaloosa, but he is certainly feeling the pressure of the hot seat. Last season, Alabama finished 11th in the SEC in scoring and last in the conference in rebounding. They have some major rebuilding to do to get back to winning form.