Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona StatePosted by Andrew Murawa on April 10th, 2014
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Up first, Arizona State.
What Went Right
Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic were largely excellent in their only seasons in Tempe (McKissic will be petitioning the NCAA for an additional season of eligibility). Jordan Bachynski capped his stellar Sun Devils career with his best season and an all-time conference record for career blocked shots. And Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since James Harden was on campus.
What Went Wrong
Still, despite that major accomplishment, you’ve got to feel that this team left money on the table at the end of the year. First, just the way they lost their NCAA Tournament game, falling to Texas on a buzzer-beater when the Longhorns’ last two buckets came on offensive rebounds after airballs – ouch! And Jahii Carson, the team’s best player and arguably a more talented player than what he showed, struggled through a rough season, with questions about his game confirmed and others about his leadership raised anew. Sendek did a solid job with this team, a squad that had some obvious holes in it. But still, this feels like a team that had an NCAA Tournament win (or two) in them but failed to get the job done.
Carson led the team in points and assists, and had the ball in his hands the most, but Jordan Bachynski was the team’s most important player. He developed into a solid offensive player this season, scoring 11.5 points per game and knocking in a high percentage of shots (including a career-best 69.3 percent from the line), but his biggest influence was, obviously, on the defensive end. Where this vintage of the Sun Devils showed the greatest improvement was there, with Bachynski providing a rim-protecting force inside helping to make up for often less-than-stellar perimeter defense.
Unfortunately, whatever momentum the Sun Devils built up this season may quickly dissipate, as there will be a lot of new faces in Tempe next year. Bachynski and Marshall have both completed their college eligibility, and McKissic may be right there with them. Carson will head off to pursue an NBA career, likely with plenty of D-League time mixed in. And then, last week, Bo Barnes announced that his time at Arizona State is over (he has graduated and may spend his final season of collegiate eligibility elsewhere), as did guard Calaen Robinson, who had a disappointing and quiet career as a Sun Devil. Then on Thursday, a couple more shoes dropped as Brandan Kearney added his name to the list of outgoing transfers, then Egor Koulchev piled on later. While none of those transfers alone are huge hits to the program, the combination of all four going at once is a major issue.
Players Coming In
Sendek has six new players already signed for next season, chief among them backcourt freshmen Tra Holder and Kodi Justice. Holder is a point guard who, while not the immediate star that Carson was, could find himself with a real chance at a starting job from day one. Meanwhile, Justice is a long and lean shooter who could step into the type of role that Barnes deserted. Elsewhere among the backcourt recruits are JuCo transfers Gerry Blakes and Roosevelt Scott, both off-guards. The frontcourt newcomers are freshman center Connor MacDougall and junior transfer (formerly of Cincinnati) Octavius Ellis, both of whom will compete with Eric Jacobsen for minutes up front. However, don’t expect those to be the only newcomers for the Sun Devils, who appear to be mining the transfer market for a high-impact graduate transfer, with UNLV’s Bryce Dejean-Jones the big early name.
Reason for Hope
It’s a fresh start for the Sun Devils, with a nearly complete change of blood. They do have glue guys like Jonathan Gilling and Jacobsen returning, along with guys like Chance Murray and Sai Tummala, who may have to have bigger impacts in their second years with the Sun Devils. And the newcomers are enough of an unknown that there could be some surprises in store.
Reason For Concern
Really, all that previous section says is there is little reason for immediate hope. Barring some home runs in the transfer and late recruiting season, it looks like 2014-15 is going to be rough in Tempe. Sendek is capable of coaching up his players and making runs the year after the highly-regarded stars leave (remember that the Sun Devils actually were one game better in the conference standings the year after Harden left for the NBA), but in a Pac-12 where the talent level is trending up, the Sun Devils will have a significant talent gap to fill.
B+. Twenty-one wins, the first NCAA Tournament appearance in five seasons, and an exciting double-overtime, court-rushingly fun win over in-state rival Arizona? Yeah, it was a good season. But still, there are a lot of what-ifs to ponder about this team.