Pac-12 Team Previews: Arizona State Sun Devils

Posted by AMurawa on November 2nd, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Strengths.  The biggest strength the Sun Devils may have this season is enthusiasm, confidence and camaraderie. Two years ago, a combination of bad luck and senioritis killed the team’s season before conference play had even gotten into the grind. Last year, poor team chemistry and low expectations conspired to sap ASU of energy before even the New Year. This year, there is a swagger about the program, in part due to the confidence that newly eligible guys like Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon bring along with them. It also doesn’t hurt that those players have been in the program for a couple of years and know and like their teammates. That injection of talent combined with improving veterans and, as of right now, the Sun Devils have the feel of a team with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. That alone can take some of the 64-61 and 68-65 losses that ASU suffered last year (six of their first nine defeats were by six points or less) and turn those into wins. That newfound attitude coupled with a pretty significant upgrade in talent could equal the first step on the road to redemption for Herb Sendek’s program.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State

With Jahii Carson Leading The Way, This Edition Of The Sun Devils Has More Swagger Than Recent Teams

Weaknesses. A note on the above, all that good will and happiness could go south right quick if a couple bad bounces go against ASU; “here we go again” and all that. There are a couple of other significant areas that the Sun Devils need to improve on, however: turnovers and defense. Last year, ASU was in the bottom half of the country in defensive efficiency. And on the offensive end of the court, ASU turned the ball over more frequently than all but three other teams in Division I (according to KenPom), leading to pretty awful offensive numbers as well. Now, the addition of Carson alone could mean improvements in both of those areas, but with the new point guard comes a new faster-paced offense (just how much faster remains to be seen). And, if the freshman gets a little to amped up in an effort to push the pace, it is possible that those turnovers could stick around as well.

Non-Conference Tests.  This is one of the weaker non-conference slates in recent memory for the Sun Devils. The biggest test is going to come on Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas, when ASU will face Arkansas and then either Wisconsin or Creighton in the Las Vegas Invitational. And really, those are two very tough games for the Sun Devils. Aside from that, however, the only games against major conference teams at a visit from DePaul and a trip to Texas Tech, two very winnable games. Losses anywhere else in the non-conference slate would be disappointing. A 10-2 non-conference record would be a great result; 9-3 pretty decent. Anything less and we’re right back into that “here we go again” territory we talked about above.

Toughest Conference Stretch.  I feel like I’ve said this in all of my Pac-12 previews, but really, they’re all gonna be tough for most of the teams in this conference. The bottom of this conference is much improved and there are no gimmes on the conference schedule for ASU. That said, let’s just say that it is Valentine’s Day and somehow the Sun Devils have scraped and scrapped their way to a 6-6 record with one third of their conference slate remaining. Those final six games are brutal. Try Colorado as the back half of their trip to the Rockies, then a homestand against the Washington schools, then out on the road with a trip to the Los Angeles area schools and a trip down the I-10 to Tucson to wrap things up. Even if ASU surprises early, they better not hit the wall before that stretch.

If Everything Goes Right…  Carson is as good as advertised and by the middle of conference play is on the very short list of best point guards in the Pac-12. Jordan Bachynski takes his back half of last year’s conference slate and builds upon that for a whole season, while sophomore Jonathan Gilling builds on his promising freshman campaign. Evan Gordon announces himself as a serious scoring threat at his new higher level of basketball, Bo Barnes becomes one of the most feared shooters in the conference, and the senior trio of Chris Colvin, Carrick Felix and Ruslan Pateev each turn in their best season of their ASU careers. And somehow you look up in early March and, after completing that 10-2 non-conference slate, they’re within shouting distance of .500 in conference. A record somewhere in the 18-12 range is not out of the question and that type of year would have them at least in the NIT conversation.

If Nothing Goes Right…  Bachynski backslides, Gordon can’t live up to the level of competition, the senior class remains ho-hum and Carson plays more like a freshman than a program savior. Aside from getting killed in both games on their Vegas trip in November, they suffer a couple other head-scratching non-conference losses, and by the time February rolls around, a conference record of 1-6 reveals the new vintage of the Sun Devils to be quite similar to the previous two versions. And, then, sometime around the start of March, new ASU athletic director Steve Patterson begins his search for the program’s next head coach.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Jahii Carson (Fr, 5’10” 175 lbs)
  • SG Evan Gordon (Jr, 6’1” 187 lbs, 14.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG at Liberty in 2010-11)
  • SF Carrick Felix (Sr, 6’6” 197 lbs, 10.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG)
  • PF Jonathan Gilling (So, 6’7” 215 lbs, 7.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG)
  • C Jordan Bachynski (Jr, 7’2” 250 lbs, 6.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.4 BPG)

They’re definitely undersized, but if Bachynski can do the tough double-duty of patrolling the paint for blocks and cleaning the defensive glass, this could be a tough team in transition. Out on the break, Carson can push and take the ball all the way to the hoop or stop for pull-up jumpers or find guys like Gordon and Gilling spotting up at the three-point line. Then there’s Felix, a great athlete who could be the team’s best perimeter defender and a terror running the break with Carson.

Key Reserves

  • SG Bo Barnes (Soph, 6’4” 195 lbs, 6.6 PPG, 1.7 RPG at Hawai’i in 2010-11)
  • C Ruslan Pateev (Sr, 7’0” 255 lbs, 4.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG)
  • PG Chris Colvin (Sr, 6’2” 185 lbs, 7.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG)
  • PF Eric Jacobsen (Fr, 6’10” 245 lbs)

The key here could be Jacobsen, the most obvious possibility of a guy on the bench who could step in and give the team a true power forward. Barnes is a brilliant shooter, but needs to prove that he can do other things, especially defensively. And then there’s the pair of senior-classmen, who need to make significant strides after disappointing junior years. Freshman guard Calaen Robinson has not been with the team for several weeks now while dealing with a personal matter. While he was expected to provide some punch off the bench, it is not known if or when he will return to the team.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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