Marching to Vegas: Arizona State Emerging From Behind The Curtain

Posted by Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) on February 20th, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

When conference play began, Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils weren’t expected to do much. They were 8-5 with an unimpressive schedule that yielded a home loss to Lehigh. Sure, the rest of their losses were excusable instances against quality teams or on the road; but we still had little reason to imagine that Arizona State would amount to much. Then three of their first four conference games were on the road and – in slicing three of four another way – those games were against three top-10 defenses. Arizona State, on January 15, was sub-.500 and we could seemingly give up on them. The basketball was ugly enough that you might jarringly display it from behind a curtain during a free throw.

Arizona State Basketball: What The Hell Is Going On Here?

Arizona State Basketball: What The Hell Is Going On Here?

I suppose this is as good a time as any to talk a little bit about Herb Sendek’s program. Maybe it’s because I’m a defender of jobs and don’t enjoy the hot seat debate. The irresponsible wielding of the sword threat bugs me. Of course by noting my affinity for positive coach speak, I’m backhandedly noting that Herb could be on the hot seat. Whoops. What has Herb done in Tempe? Well he’s attended two NCAA tournaments which matches the program’s success of the previous twenty years. He’s won twenty games on five occasions (of eight seasons). Is success relative? I think so. For example: Two NCAA tournaments in eight seasons at UCLA? Should we even bother to answer this question? Or should I just pose it to Gene Bartow? Gary Cunningham? My Socratic methoding seems to suffice. But the perhaps curse of Sendek has been his swift success. He plucked James Harden out of the Los Angeles grips of Ben Howland and within three seasons in Tempe, Herb was finishing third in a six-bid league (read: tough Pac-10). Fairly or otherwise, it seems to me that expectations were set. And then they won just 20 games (ten per season) the next two years. Disappointment set in but expectations were not adjusted. After the Harden years, it would be five seasons before the Devils could have their dancing hearts ripped out again.

So let’s get back to January 15th. The Devils stunk and had just been blown out by Utah with Colorado looming. They’d win that CU game and a handful of the following games. Six of nine to be exact and ASU deserved our attention. We had to as Arizona State basketball was making the front page of the New York Times’ sports section. How are they doing it? It’s not a light schedule. Everyone is playing a crummy Pac-12 schedule this season and no one is distinguishing themselves. The Sun Devils have a marquee win over Arizona and knocked UCLA off on Wednesday. They’re a top-10 defensive rebounding team and mostly do just enough to not screw up defensively. Herb has gotten his Altman on and scrapped together a lot of castoffs. This is the third best offensive team Herb has coached (by straight offensive efficiency) and the second best by national ranking (remember, success is relative). That’s really damn impressive, you guys.

Tra Holder And A Strong Cast Of Returning Characters Should Make ASU A Threat Next Year (Tony Avelar, AP)

Tra Holder And A Strong Cast Of Returning Characters Should Make ASU A Threat Next Year (Tony Avelar, AP)

With regards to program continuity – because this season will amount to an NIT at best – the returning pieces on this roster appear to be formidable. I’m not a huge prognosticator but I’m willing to subscribe to the idea that a high offensive rating projects, particularly if usage or minutes are low. ASU is high on those. Kodi Justice is unfortunately lost for the year but the freshman had a 107.1 ORtg on 21.2% usage in just 13mpg. Also of that ilk are Chance Murray (104.1/20.1 in 10 mpg) and Savon Goodman (106/24.1 in 23 mpg). Eric Jacobsen will return as will the increasingly terrific Tra Holder. Since that 1/15 date of Devil ineptitude, Holder has been putting up 11 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds per game. Would you take that from your point guard? I would. The Sun Devil future is bright.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And in a season where we’ve had ample opportunities to get excited for teams for getting really good, really early (Cal, Washington, Stanford?) maybe it’s a good idea to slice the season up some. A marathon not a sprint. So let’s acknowledge that a team can get better, later. Isn’t that the goal? To be playing your best basketball as during the third month of the year?

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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