Arizona State basketball will face the defending NCAA champion No. 6 Baylor in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Wednesday evening.
The other six teams competing in the event are No. 19 Auburn, No. 22 Connecticut, Loyola Chicago, Michigan State, Syracuse, and Virginia Commonwealth.
Wednesday provides ASU, a team with mostly new players on it, a chance to come together and test itself against one of the nation’s best programs.
“I think this is the best holiday tournament of them all this year, just quality of field top to bottom and I think it tests your guys,” head coach Bobby Hurley told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta Tuesday. “I think it’s important, I think you’re battle tested once you hit conference play and you learn a lot about yourselves in games like this.”
Baylor has taken care of its business early on, winning its first four games by a combined 139 points.
ASU is 2-2 with its losses coming by a total of three points.
Hurley said his offense is a work in progress as the players get more experience with one another. It scored four points in the final three minutes in last week’s 65-63 road loss against San Diego State.
“We’ve got to make some perimeter shots and try and loosen their defense up so we could get better looks and create some driving lanes,” Hurley said. “They have really good guard play. They’re physical, they expect to win. They have a potential lottery pick in Kendall Brown.”
Under Hurley, the Sun Devils have had a history of being competitive against ranked units, defeating eight in six seasons.
Just two years ago, ASU took the then-defending champions Virginia down to the wire in a 48-45 loss during the final game of the Air Force Reserve Tip-off Tournament.
“Its a big challenge, a big opportunity for guys on the team and the program,” graduate student forward Kimani Lawrence told reporters Tuesday.
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The Bears lost some talent in the NBA Draft from their title-winning team, but they still got some key contributors back. Sophomore guard L.J. Cryer leads the team in points with 18.5 per game while senior wing Matthew Mayer has added 10.5 points per contest.
Hurley praised Baylor’s backcourt, singling out the freshman Brown, a long athletic wing who has scored 60 points in his first four college games.
Former Arizona Wildcats guard James Akinjo has started in all four games for Baylor.
The Sun Devils will have to take on the challenge without sophomore forward Marcus Bagley due to a knee injury. Hurley told reporters that there is no structural damage to Bagley’s knee, but he did not travel to the Bahamas to rehab.
Hurley also pointed out that this tournament will be a beneficial bonding opportunity for his team. He called them a close group already.
“It’s definitely a great experience, especially for our program that had a lot of problems and issues with COVID and had our season stopped a few times (last year),” Lawrence said. “It’s a blessing to be able to travel with the team.”
ASU and Baylor tip off at 5:30 p.m.
The winner of ASU vs. Baylor will face the victor of the Syracuse-VCU matchup on Thursday.
You can listen live Wednesday at KTAR News 92.3 FM.