Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Strengths. The biggest strength the Sun Devils may have this season is enthusiasm, confidence and camaraderie. Two years ago, a combination of bad luck and senioritis killed the team’s season before conference play had even gotten into the grind. Last year, poor team chemistry and low expectations conspired to sap ASU of energy before even the New Year. This year, there is a swagger about the program, in part due to the confidence that newly eligible guys like Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon bring along with them. It also doesn’t hurt that those players have been in the program for a couple of years and know and like their teammates. That injection of talent combined with improving veterans and, as of right now, the Sun Devils have the feel of a team with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. That alone can take some of the 64-61 and 68-65 losses that ASU suffered last year (six of their first nine defeats were by six points or less) and turn those into wins. That newfound attitude coupled with a pretty significant upgrade in talent could equal the first step on the road to redemption for Herb Sendek’s program.
Weaknesses. A note on the above, all that good will and happiness could go south right quick if a couple bad bounces go against ASU; “here we go again” and all that. There are a couple of other significant areas that the Sun Devils need to improve on, however: turnovers and defense. Last year, ASU was in the bottom half of the country in defensive efficiency. And on the offensive end of the court, ASU turned the ball over more frequently than all but three other teams in Division I (according to KenPom), leading to pretty awful offensive numbers as well. Now, the addition of Carson alone could mean improvements in both of those areas, but with the new point guard comes a new faster-paced offense (just how much faster remains to be seen). And, if the freshman gets a little to amped up in an effort to push the pace, it is possible that those turnovers could stick around as well.