Is Arizona State Really the Best Team in the Pac-12?

Posted by Adam Butler on January 31st, 2018

With a microphone in his face, Arizona State guard Shannon Evans told anyone listening that his team is the best in the conference and that the Pac-12 would be nothing without the Sun Devils’ non-conference efforts. Before diving into his bold statement further, let’s give credit where it is due — a win at Kansas is a win at Kansas. Xavier is a meaningful win too. It’s also worth noting that St. John’s is currently sitting at a cool 0-11 in the Big East standings. It is true, however, that the Sun Devils had the only non-conference season of note and it was very impressive. They even flirted with the #1 ranking in the country.

Shannon Evans is a Believer (USA Today Images)

Yet since Arizona State sat in the driver’s seat of that #1 ranking on the afternoon of December 30 (losing to Arizona), the Sun Devils have played to the tune of a negative efficiency margin (107 offensive efficiency – 108 defensive efficiency = -1 efficiency margin). Their defense, which was never celebrated, ranks eighth in the conference, even yielding more than one point per possession to Cal! Their offense, however, driven by great speed and long-range shooting, has seemingly disappeared. For the season, Arizona State’s offense has operated at a KenPom adjusted 119.4 points per 100 possessions, which is fantastic (eighth nationally) and carried, as noted, by outstanding three-point shooting. The Sun Devils are the nation’s 52nd-best three point shooting team (38.3%) for the season, but in conference play, they have not been nearly that good. Rather, Arizona State’s offense is hovering at a 107.6 efficiency (sixth in the Pac) while making 36.2 percent of their threes (seventh).

The numbers suggest that Arizona State is NOT the best team in the Pac-12. The latter point that Evans made is more difficult to quantify, but generally one team does not a conference make (cue the SEC chants). But in an effort to not harp on his bravado, it’s worth noting that both Tra Holder and Evans, the keys to the Devils’ early success, have each made two or more threes in just four conference games. In the non-conference season (12 games), they did it eight times. There’s no doubt that Guard U has cooled off, but getting the pair going once again will clearly be critical to an Arizona State turnaround. Furthermore, with the eligibility of Mickey Mitchell having come in mid-December, fewer minutes have been available for De’Quon Lyle. While a more traditional post player, Lyle perhaps afforded the Sun Devils a more predictable element inside that Mitchell yields in favor of his versatility. And while all eyes are often focused on Holder and Evans, it’s worth noting that Romello White’s production in Pac-12 play as measured by offensive efficiency is down about seven percent. Kodi Justice? Same story.

Shooters get cold, defense travels and senior guards get to be irrationally confident. These are basketball truths, and in the story of Arizona State’s 2017-18 season, as true as ever. Are the Sun Devils the best team in this conference? It honestly doesn’t matter so long as Evans and his teammates think so.

Adam Butler (36 Posts)


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