Arizona State Week: Evaluating the Recent PastPosted by AMurawa on June 11th, 2012
Over the course of the next 12 weeks, during the dog days of summer while there is relatively little going on in the college basketball world, we’re going to take the opportunity to fill you in on the status of each program in the Pac-12. Beginning this week with Arizona State, we’re going to dedicate a week’s worth of Pac-12 microsite posts to each program in the conference. We’ll take a little bit of a look at the recent history of the program and then dig into what the team is going to look like in 2012-13. Along the way we’ll have some interviews with coaches and players, we’ll take a look at schedules for the upcoming year, and we’ll introduce you to some of the new faces we’ll all be meeting. By the time kids are heading back to school in September, we hope to have kept you entertained while giving you a good primer for the Pac-12 conference in the next college basketball season.
Our first subject, Arizona State, is coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons. When Herb Sendek took over the program in 2006-07, his team struggled to an 8-22 finish as the Sun Devils featured four freshmen in their eight-man rotation. But, for the next three seasons, ASU won at least 20 games, earned an NCAA Tournament appearance (including a first-round win) in 2008-09, and finished as high as second in the conference in 2009-10. Along the way, the Sun Devils sent a couple different players to the NBA, with reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden going third in the 2009 NBA Draft and Jeff Pendergraph turning a second round pick into a couple years worth of NBA experience. “We really experienced a fantastic and very quick turnaround,” said Sendek last week when RTC talked to him. “Three consecutive postseason tournaments, three consecutive 20-win seasons – but then, we’ve had a series of unfortunate things happen.”
Those series of unfortunate things have led to the last two seasons, where little has gone right for the Sun Devils. In 2010-11, ASU lost 12 of its first 13 conference games on the way to a 12-19 record, as the senior trio of Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan took a step back from their performances in the previous year and the team could never find replacements for a couple of graduates: big man Eric Boateng and underrated point guard Derek Glasser. Those exact same areas also plagued the Sun Devils in 2011-12.
Freshman point guard Jahii Carson was expected to step in and take over the point from day one, but he was declared academically ineligible and had to watch the season from the bench. Iowa State transfer Chris Colvin was supposed to man the point in Carson’s absence, but he struggled with turnovers early, lost his confidence, and found his way into Sendek’s dog house with a corresponding nose dive in minutes. Sophomore wing Keala King was forced into duty at the point as a result, but that was a matter of a square peg in a round hole, a role King never took a liking to. King bristled under Sendek’s watchful eye, and then just before the team made a trip to visit the Los Angeles-area schools on the second weekend of the conference schedule, Colvin, King and sophomore forward Kyle Cain were all suspended and left behind; King would never return to the team, winding up taking classes at Long Beach State for the second semester. Colvin, however, did return and, when the team’s leading scorer Trent Lockett – who had taken over the point guard duties – went down with an ankle injury in the middle of conference play, Colvin was forced back into the rotation and he responded with improved play down the stretch.
Meanwhile, up front, the two-headed center of Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev struggled early in the season to make positive contributions. However, over the course of the last 13 games of the season, something clicked for the 7’2” Bachynski. After averaging just 2.8 points per game over the first 18 games of the year, Bachynski averaged 10.1 PPG down the stretch. His rebounding average jumped from 2.5 per game to 5.9 RPG, and he averaged a couple blocks per game as well. And, perhaps most importantly, after shooting 44.4% from the free throw line for his career, he hit 33 of his final 47 attempts from the line on the season, clocking in at 70.2%. “I think it just took some time for Jordan, having not played basketball for a full three years,” said Sendek, referring to Bachynski’s time away from the game while on an LDS mission and a lost senior season in high school due to an injury. “But once we hit about mid-January last year, he really came on for us.” His emergence down the stretch provides a glimmer of hope for greater things in the future.
Although the final record for Arizona State’s 2011-12 season clocked in at an unimpressive 10-21, the Sun Devils ended the regular season on a two-game winning streak, including a nearly perfect game against in-state rival Arizona on the final day of the season, shooting 62.5% eFG, knocking in 22-of-24 free throw attempts, and turning the ball over on just 15% of their possessions (down from a season-long number of nearly 26% of possessions, fourth-worst in Division I). The fact that the win more or less eliminated the Wildcats from the NCAA Tournament was just gravy for ASU fans.
While that win, coupled with the improvement of Bachynski down the stretch and the newly-granted eligibility for Carson, would seem to leave the Sun Devils in a position of great optimism for the coming year, the immediate aftermath of the 2011-12 season was another slap in the face for a struggling program. First, sophomore sharpshooter Chanse Creekmur decided he would be transferring out of the school in order to go play football at a school closer to his home (he wound up at Iowa State). Then Cain, the sophomore power forward, followed Creekmur on the way out the door, winding up at UNC Greensboro. And lastly, Lockett, the team’s leading scorer and steady veteran, announced that he would be transferring out in order to be closer to his mom as she battles cancer. Lockett wound up at Marquette, and with his departure, ASU has lost 12 different players from its program in the past four years.
The Sun Devils’ 22-40 record over the past two seasons is concerning enough, but priority #1 for Sendek and staff needs to be building some continuity in the basketball program. Losing 12 transfers in four seasons on top of all the natural losses to expired eligibility leaves the program trying to build a solid foundation on shifting sands. However, there are reasons to be excited about the Sun Devil program, with six newly eligible players joining five experienced returnees in Tempe this year. We’ll dig into those players beginning tomorrow and try to decide just how optimistic ASU fans should be.