Pac-12 Season Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 20th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Arizona State. 

Arizona State Sun Devils

Strengths: Goodbye Jahii Carson, enter Tra Holder. For a team that lost the quickest point guard in the country after last season, Arizona State’s tempo on offense should still be faster than any other team in the Pac-12. Holder provides the speed and talent needed at the one spot for the Sun Devils’ offense to run like head coach Herb Sendek wants, but inexperience might plague the true freshman early in the season. Senior shooting guard Bo Barnes provides some maturity in the backcourt, but he will definitely need to average more than his 4.5 PPG from last season.

Herb Sendek is Coming Off an NCAA Tournament Appearance, Finally (Photo credit: US Presswire).

Herb Sendek is Coming Off His Second NCAA Tournament Appearance in Tempe (Photo credit: US Presswire).

Weaknesses: This team has an extremely thin bench. Combo guard Chance Murray will be forced into playing most of his minutes at point guard, backing up Holder, and while this will be his second year in the system, he is still a big question mark for Sendek. Down low, the second team is filled with new faces. There is plenty of raw talent, but it could be a while before they develop into a Pac-12 ready group. It doesn’t help that one of its biggest scrappers in the post, UNLV transfer Savon Goodman, will not be eligible until after the team faces Maryland, UNLV and Texas A&M.

Non-conference tests: Arizona State has a very intriguing non-conference schedule. There is a good share of marquee opponents (UNLV, at Marquette, Harvard), and then a few quality tests on top of those (vs. Maryland, vs. Iowa State/Alabama, at Texas A&M). If the Sun Devils can get out of those games with a record of 4-2, the future is definitely bright.

Toughest conference stretch: It has to be their 14-day stretch to end the month of February. In those two weeks, the Sun Devils will play road games at Washington, Utah, and Colorado, while also hosting UCLA and USC in Tempe.

If everything goes right… The team develops a strong seven-man rotation as the season progresses and its high-scoring, fun-to-watch offense keeps them in nearly every game. The Sun Devils finish in the upper half of the conference and a run to the Pac-12 Tournament finals gets them an at-large berth into the Big Dance.

If nothing goes right… While the starting five holds their own, the team’s new bench players struggle mightily. The lack of a pure backup point guard hurts the team on the offensive end of the floor and their record stays around .500 all season.

Projected starting lineup:

  • PG Tra Holder (Fr, 6’1”, 180 lbs.)
  • SG Bo Barnes (Sr, 6’4”, 190 lbs., 4.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.4 SPG)
  • SF Shaquielle McKissic (Sr, 6’5”, 200 lbs., 9.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.3 SPG)
  • PF Jonathan Gilling (Sr, 6’8”, 220 lbs., 7.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.7 APG)
  • PF Eric Jacobsen (Jr, 6’10”, 255 lbs., 2.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 49.1 FG%)

Sixth-year senior Shaquielle McKissic is the leader of the starting five. The small forward averaged 9.0 PPG and over 5.0 RPG last year with the Sun Devils. Overall, I really like these guys. The pieces are there to play at whatever tempo Sendek feels like, and while the post might look a little weak, Jonathan Gilling and Eric Jacobsen both have a lot of upside. With four upperclassmen and one very talented freshmen, this is the ideal starting lineup for a team that is rebuilding and reloading.

Savon Goodman is the Wildcard for This Year's Sun Devils

Savon Goodman is the Wildcard for This Year’s Sun Devils

Key reserves:

  • PG Chance Murray (So, 6’2”, 180 lbs, 2.4 PPG, 38.9 3P FG%)
  • SG Roosevelt Scott (Jr, 6’3”, 180 lbs, 17.5 PPG, 38.2 3P FG% in 2013-14 at Indian Hills CC)
  • CG Gerry Blakes (Jr, 6’4”, 195 lbs, 23.7 PPG in 2013-14 at San Bernardino Valley College)
  • F Willie Atwood (Jr, 6’8”, 210 lbs, 20.8 PPG, 9.0 RPG in 2013-14 at Connors State College)
  • F/C Connor MacDougall (Fr, 6’8”, 220 lbs.)

The more you dissect this second rotation, the more you like what you see. Roosevelt Scott, Gerry Blakes and Willie Atwood all had terrific campaigns last season, but the key will be how quickly they are able to transfer their games from the junior college level up to the Pac-12. Connor MacDougall‘s game really intrigues me. He can play at either the four or five and was ranked the 12th-best center in the class of 2014 by Fox Sports Net. When Holder needs a breather, Sendek can call upon Chance Murray to facilitate the offense. Murray is the only one in this group who has spent a year in Sendek’s system (which is slightly concerning), so he will need to lead by example. Overall, these five remind me a lot of the bench we saw in Tempe two seasons ago when Arizona State made a run to the NIT. MacDougall has a lot of Ruslan Pateev in him, and Murray will be taking on the role that Chris Colvin played behind Carson. If the three transfers get acclimated quickly, I can see these guys making a lot of noise.

Extra Point. One name we haven’t mentioned much is sophomore forward Savon Goodman. The big man averaged 3.6 PPG and 2.4 RPG at UNLV in the 2012-13 season, then transferred to Indian Hills CC last year, but did not see any action on the court. He will be eligible on December 13 when Arizona State hosts Pepperdine. Goodman has a lot of potential and should be in the seven- or eight-man rotation by the time league play rolls around. Where he can really gain his minutes will be on the defensive end of the floor because a strong post presence is desperately needed for this team. His athleticism allows him to pressure opponents anywhere on the floor, but I’m guessing he will be kept down low in order to pick up more rebounds. The question is whether can he become half of the shot-blocker Jordan Bachynski was? If so, the step back on defense might not be as big as most expect.

Connor Pelton (300 Posts)

I'm from Portland. College basketball and football is life.

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