Pac-12 Burning Questions: Can Bobby Hurley Do More Than Recruit?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 10th, 2016

When Arizona State hired Bobby Hurley away from Buffalo as its new basketball coach a year ago, athletic director Ray Anderson made no bones about the incoming expectations for his new coach: “We are intent on becoming an elite men’s basketball program.” The hire gained nearly universal praise, in large part thanks to Hurley’s fantastic playing career at Duke and his work in leading Buffalo to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015. Once his first season in Tempe started, however, the Sun Devils looked anything but elite.

Bobby Hurley's Team Would Be In Based On Non-Conference Play Alone

Bobby Hurley’s Team Needs To Show More This Season. (Getty)

The team ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 on both ends of the floor, won just five league games and generally appeared unready to compete for a conference title. Very little of this was the new head coach’s fault, of course. Predecessor Herb Sendek left insufficient talent on hand for the formation of a competent rotation, and those few players remaining were ill-suited for Hurley’s attacking style of offense. Still, despite the team’s continuing struggles, Hurley managed to pile up the accolades for his work in both changing the program’s culture and luring big-time recruits to the desert. As such, despite finishing 11th in the Pac-12 standings, Hurley convinced Arizona State that he deserved a raise and contract extension. And although there is plenty of evidence that Hurley has pointed the Arizona State ship in the right direction, he now needs to reward that faith and enthusiasm with some accompanying on-court improvement.

This year’s roster has the ability to produce that improvement. Leading scorer Tra Holder (14.2 PPG) is back to run the offense with several complementary pieces in the backcourt around him: sharpshooter Kodi Justice; talented but troubled Torian Graham; Buffalo transfer Shannon Evans II; and touted freshman guard Sam Cunliffe. There is a very good chance that three of those five will be on the floor at the same time to run Hurley’s dribble-penetration offense. The frontcourt is quite a bit thinner with star freshman Romello White now academically ineligible and classmate Vitaliy Shibel out for the year with a knee injury. But Obinna Oleka (9.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG) is an above-average stretch four and top-100 incoming freshman Jethro Tshisumpa is a monster who should be able to contribute immediately. Andre Adams is also healthy after missing consecutive seasons with separate ACL injuries, and Spanish freshman Ramon Vila is a big body who has to this point in his career played more high-level basketball than most college freshmen.

In a league with potentially nine teams possessing realistic NCAA Tournament aspirations, the Sun Devils are probably still a little too inexperienced and thin up front to compete for their own NCAA Tournament berth. However, this is a group that should probably win more than five Pac-12 games and make things uncomfortable for nearly every team that visits Tempe. Never one to shy away from a nationally televised recruiting opportunity, Hurley also deserves credit for scheduling one of the tougher non-conference slates of any team in the country. The Sun Devils will take on Kentucky in the Bahamas, Purdue in the Jimmy V Classic and Northern Iowa in the Tire Pros Invitational. And that’s just before Christmas. The Sun Devils will also play at San Diego State and welcome Creighton to Wells Fargo Arena – two match-ups that most Power 5 coaches wouldn’t be caught dead placing on the schedule.

Given the difficulty of the schedule, Arizona State fans would be foolish to judge this season’s success solely on the team’s win-loss record. But they should fairly expect some level of greater consistency. Hurley has already proven he can recruit at an elite level, but the recent college basketball landscape is littered with top-notch recruiters who have failed as head coaches. The key this year will be whether Arizona State can stop teams from scoring at will against them; otherwise, it won’t matter how many five-star recruits Hurley can lure to campus. This season should be about fight and toughness rather than wins and losses. If Hurley can coax greater passion and intensity from his charges this year, it’s reasonable for the folks in Tempe to start daydreaming about their own Pac-12 ascendance in coming seasons.

mlemaire (324 Posts)

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