Arizona State Week: Herb Sendek Promises A Faster Pace, Should We Believe Him?

Posted by AMurawa on June 14th, 2012

In talking to head coach Herb Sendek last week, one comment of his stood out about a change in the direction of his program. “I think the expectation is that we’ll play as fast as anyone in our conference, given the change in our personnel,” he said, referring primarily to speedy freshman point guard Jahii Carson. However, even with a new point guard who is most comfortable in the open court and a handful of athletic wings — given Sendek’s history — if that claim actually comes true it will represent a change in philosophy from the last 10 years of his coaching career. Note that last season, the most uptempo team in the Pac-12 conference, Oregon State, averaged 71.4 possessions per game. The team that played at the sixth fastest conference tempo was UCLA, averaging 66 possessions per game, representing roughly the median point in all of Division I. By comparison, only twice in the last decade of Sendek’s career has his team played at an adjusted tempo better than 66 possessions per game (according to KenPom.com), and not once over that span has his team broken the 67-possession barrier.

Season

Team

Adjusted Tempo

National Ranking

2011-12

Arizona State

63.6

281

2010-11

Arizona State

63.9

296

2009-10

Arizona State

62.5

326

2008-09

Arizona State

60.0

333

2007-08

Arizona State

62.3

315

2006-07

Arizona State

59.2

329

2005-06

North Carolina State

66.0

209

2004-05

North Carolina State

64.1

287

2003-04

North Carolina State

63.9

292

2002-03

North Carolina State

66.8

258

As the above table shows, Sendek’s history belies a coach who likes to play at a below-average tempo. His history over that span also shows a strategy that generally eschews offensive rebounding in favor of getting back and setting up a stingy halfcourt defense, supports an offense that is generally quite efficient and shoots the ball at a high percentage, while registering assists on a high percentage of shots and keeping turnover rates low. That’s what you think of when you think of a Sendek team.

Now, just because there’s no real history of a Sendek team playing at a high tempo, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen; he’s certainly never had a lead guard with quite the dynamic skill set that Carson brings to Tempe. Junior center Jordan Bachynski reports that Sun Devil big men have been working on immediately looking upcourt after securing a defensive rebound, and with players like Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon capable of running the wings, he’s certainly got the horses on this roster to up the tempo from last year’s snail’s pace. But one of the biggest weaknesses of last year’s team was an abnormally high number of turnovers for a Sendek team. ASU turned it over on nearly 26% of all of its possessions last year (good for fourth-worst in the nation), and certainly cutting that number will be a priority for this team. There’s nothing that says that teams that play at a rapid pace necessarily have to turn it over at a high rate as well, but the combination of a drastic uptick in tempo and a freshman point guard generally equates to some unnecessary turnovers. If Carson proves from day one that he’s capable of playing uptempo basketball and still keeping turnovers to a minimum, maybe this sea change in pace has a chance to happen.

In short, until we see ASU repeatedly churn out high numbers of possessions in November and December, we’re going to chalk Sendek’s comment up to standard exaggeration. While the Sun Devils can certainly be expected to increase the tempo somewhat, playing at the type of pace that Lorenzo Romar’s Washington teams have consistently played at seems like a stretch. This is especially so in close games where Sendek is likely to encourage his team to revert back to the slower pace that his history indicates he is most comfortable with. Maybe this Sun Devil team tops 67 possessions a game, but the idea that all of a sudden Arizona State is going to knock out 70-plus possessions per night seems like a stretch.

AMurawa (770 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.


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