Wed, 12 Dec 2018
42
Reno

Then there were (will be) 10.

Two of the 11 remaining Division I unbeatens, No. 6 Nevada and No. 20 Arizona State, will meet in the final game of the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic triple-header at Staples Center on Friday, another among a strong list of early-season showcases.

Nevada has won its first eight games for the second straight season, building on a sensational 2018 NCAA tournament run that took it to the Sweet 16 before an upset loss to Loyola Chicago.

Arizona State is 7-0 for the second time in two seasons. It was the last remaining unbeaten a year ago, when it opened 12-0 and reached No. 3 in the AP Top 25 before slipping in the Pac-12 season and losing in the NCAA first four. The Sun Devils entered the AP Top 25 this week.

"We're just trying to continue to validate who we are as a basketball team," said Nevada coach Eric Musselman, who spent two years as an assistant coach at Arizona State in 2012-14.

The Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, and forward Jordan Caroline led the Wolf Pack to a 29-8 record last season, and then again form the nucleus after the Martins opted against declaring for the NBA draft last spring. All three are seniors.

Caleb Martin is leading the Wolf Park with a 19.9 scoring average, and brother Cody is averaging 9.9 points while leading the team with 6.3 assists a game. Caroline is averaging a double-double, 18.5 points and 10.0 rebounds.

Caroline, 6-foot-7, was the Mountain West player of the week after getting 39 points and 17 rebounds in victories over Loyola Chicago and USC, the first a 79-65 NCAA-avenging win in Chicago on Tuesday. Caroline had his sixth double-double of the season with 24 points and 11 rebounds in a 73-61 victory over the Trojans, season-low point totals for both teams.

Nevada will play its fifth of six consecutive games away from home against Arizona State, finishing the stretch against Grand Canyon in Phoenix on Sunday. The Wolf Pack opened the run by winning the Las Vegas Invitational over the Thanksgiving holiday.

"Without question this is our hardest stretch of the season," Musselman said. "We are four games through and we'll see how we come out of it. The identity is starting to shape in the direction that we want it to."

Both teams also are ranked in the top 14 in the NCAA's new NET -- NCAA Evaluation Tool -- ratings, a metric that is designed to replace the RPI and provide more accurate guidance in the selection process for the NCAA tournament. Nevada is No. 12 and Arizona State is No. 13.

Arizona State has remade itself this season after winning from the perimeter behind three-point shooters Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice a year. All are gone, replaced by senior transfer Zylan Cheatham and highly regarded freshmen Luguentz Dort and Taeshon Cherry.

Cheatham, a 6-foot-8 forward who played three years at San Diego State, had the second triple-double in Arizona State history with 13 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in an 83-71 victory over Texas Southern on Saturday. He is the reigning Pac-12 player of the week.

Near the end of the game, Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley was on his feet, encouraging the crowd to get behind Cheatham, a local product from South Mountain High.

"You're talking about unselfish statistics," Hurley said. "His rebounding. His passing. When you have a triple-double, it is pretty special. I wanted everyone to know how excited we are for him that he is here."

Cheatham missed a triple-double by one assist in the previous game while handling more of the offense in the absence to play-making guard Remy Martin, who has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain. He is considered probable for Reno.

Dort, a 6-4 guard from Montreal, is averaging a team-high 21.7 points and a game and also is averaging 6.6 rebounds a game, second to Cheatham's 9.6. Dort has made 13 3-pointers, but he has been more effective when muscling his way to the basket.

"They have a really special player," Musselman said. "When plays break down, Dort is so good at creating his own shot. They can run offense and something beaks down and he finds a seam in the defense and creates for himself or for others."

The physical Sun Devils are averaging 46.0 rebounds a game, 13 more than their opponents, and have out-rebounded all but one. They also won a tournament in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving week, beating then-No. 17 Mississippi State in the MGM Main Event.

"Arizona State is really, really good," Musselman said. "Their coach is an aggressive coach, and he does a great job of getting his teams to playing aggressive. They are long. They are athletic. They have scorers. It will be a big-time challenge for us for sure."

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