Arizona State’s Most Important Player: Willie Atwood

Posted by Tracy McDannald on October 21st, 2014

The most important label is a lot like defining a most valuable player — a player’s talent may not necessarily translate into the team’s best, but his presence is discernible. So while Tra Holder and Shaquielle McKissic will shoulder a good chunk of the load as Arizona State looks to replace an all-conference backcourt, the void in the middle this season may be more glaring. The Sun Devils lost Jordan Bachynski, the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year. Look around the league this season and there is plenty of size left to battle, from freshmen Kevon Looney and Reid Travis to juniors Kaleb Tarczewski and Josh Scott. It’s a long way from a 7’2″ safety net and rim protector in Tempe nowadays.

Jordan Bachynski, The Pac-12's All-Time Leading Shotblocker, Will Be A Tough Guy To Replace

Arizona State has a 7’2″ void in the middle to replace with Jordan Bachynski (left) no longer in uniform.

Looking strictly at height, Eric Jacobsen and Cameron Gilbert are the biggest bodies on the roster at 6’10” each. While Gilbert is just a freshman, Jacobsen made 32 appearances (15 starts) and averaged 2.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season. But neither is the answer here. Rather, head coach Herb Sendek brought in 6’8″ junior college transfer Willie Atwood, who averaged 20.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game at Connors State in Warner, Oklahoma, for this very reason. But, like many JuCo big men, there is not much else big about his frame. Atwood is listed at 210 spindly pounds and is more likely to steal a few boards from the offensive glass and score off putbacks. Protecting the rim is not a core strength of his, but that’s not where the projected reserve needs to make his mark against the Pac-12’s other bigs. The Sun Devils are looking at Atwood as a stretch four and possible center in spurts, someone to provide much-needed depth in the frontcourt. With more of a face-up than post-up game, he will be asked to use his quickness to take his opponents off the dribble. Execute those moves properly and that could translate into foul trouble for the opposition, and that’s where an effective offense may be just as good as a lockdown defense.

A favorable non-conference schedule awaits to help Atwood transition to the Division I level, and there will be plenty of work to do before the team’s January 4 league opener at Arizona. But early production will be welcome as the Sun Devils await the availability of UNLV transfer Savon Goodman, who will be eligible in mid-December. With a full season under his belt, the most important title would be Goodman’s to carry — and it probably will be come Pac-12 play — but this is Atwood’s chance to emerge immediately.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2014

pac12_morning5

  1. There are a handful of things concerning Pac-12 basketball that are beyond debate. One is that Arizona is the heavy favorite to win the conference regular season title this year, and another is that their fans are the most passionate in the conference. Both of those things were very much on display on Saturday as Wildcats fans got a first look at their team at the annual Red-Blue game. More than 10,000 people turned out to the McKale Center to watch Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon’s names get unveiled in the Ring of Honor inside the arena, Stanley Johnson take home the pre-scrimmage dunk contest, followed by a pair of 12-minute halves. Some takeaways from those who were on hand: (1) Kaleb Tarczewski may be the Wildcats’ most improved player, and yet he had his hands full with freshman center Dusan Ristic, who scored 14 points in the scrimmage; (2) Stanley Johnson may have taken a step up in competition, but he is still a physical freak on the basketball court even when compared with more talented players; and (3) while there are plenty of veterans at Sean Miller’s disposal, two other freshmen – Craig Victor and 5’10” point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwrightappear headed for significant roles on this squad.
  2. Lorenzo Romar’s recruiting roll for Washington’s 2015 class continued on Monday as 6’10” junior college center Malik Dime chose the Huskies over other suitors such as Arkansas, Iowa State and Rutgers, while 6’9” high school senior Devin Duruisseau found Washington more appealing than San Jose State. Dime is a super-athletic big man who can come in an immediately provide minutes as a rebounder and defender next year, while Duruisseau is more of a project. For the class, that means Romar has six commitments for 2015, including a pair of top 100 recruits in Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, putting the Huskies in the top 10 class rankings for next season, according to ESPN. Of course, that leaves Washington with 15 committed scholarships for the 2015-16 season, meaning there will be some shuffling of the roster between now and then. But, all things considered, that’s a pretty good problem to have.
  3. Sports Illustrated had a powerful feature last week, detailing the plight of homeless young athletes in high school and college. The Pac-12’s own Shaquielle McKissic of Arizona State is no stranger to such problems, having spent his share of time without a home, among other terrible hardships. Now a senior with the Sun Devils, McKissic is telling his story in a documentary that will be released on Halloween, the four-year anniversary of the death of one of his best friends. House of Sparky has the low-down on the documentary, as well as a clip from the film, which was produced by McKissic’s brother David.
  4. Another gripping story about a Pac-12 player focuses on Colorado sophomore Dustin Thomas. Thomas struggled to make an impact as a freshman with the Buffaloes, but his story is a telling one. Above and beyond his parents’ divorce and his father’s time in prison, the death of his 13-year-old sister Shonda to a rare disease (microscopic polyangiitis) when Thomas was 11 is heartbreaking. But, while the story is tragic, Thomas’ strength and positivity in the face of such a calamity is a terrific example of humanity persevering in the face of disaster.
  5. We’ll finish up today’s five with happier news, as CBS Sports recently released its Pac-12 preview. Non-notable predictions include Arizona as the pick to win the conference (if anyone sees a Pac-12 preview that doesn’t have the Wildcats #1, that would be news), Stanley Johnson to take home the Freshman of the Year award, and Oregon State to bring up the rear. More notable picks include Utah‘s Delon Wright as the Player of the Year (the choice for the league’s top player is far more debatable than the choice of its top team), Colorado as the team with the best chance to challenge Arizona, and Matt Norlander for some reason picking Oregon State to finish 10th in the conference. But perhaps of bigger concern for fans around the conference is the idea that, outside of Arizona, nobody else should be considered a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and the idea from one anonymous coach that this conference seems more like a four-bid conference than the seven-bid conference it was last year.
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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.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 10th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Up first, Arizona State.

What Went Right

Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic were largely excellent in their only seasons in Tempe (McKissic will be petitioning the NCAA for an additional season of eligibility). Jordan Bachynski capped his stellar Sun Devils career with his best season and an all-time conference record for career blocked shots. And Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since James Harden was on campus.

Arizona State

Arizona State Went Dancing, But It Ended With a Heartbreaking Putback by Texas

What Went Wrong

Still, despite that major accomplishment, you’ve got to feel that this team left money on the table at the end of the year. First, just the way they lost their NCAA Tournament game, falling to Texas on a buzzer-beater when the Longhorns’ last two buckets came on offensive rebounds after airballs – ouch! And Jahii Carson, the team’s best player and arguably a more talented player than what he showed, struggled through a rough season, with questions about his game confirmed and others about his leadership raised anew. Sendek did a solid job with this team, a squad that had some obvious holes in it. But still, this feels like a team that had an NCAA Tournament win (or two) in them but failed to get the job done.

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Pac-12 M5: 12.30.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 30th, 2013

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  1. When the AP poll is released later today, there is at least a chance that Oregon and its undefeated record could sneak into the top 10, given that a couple of teams ahead of the Ducks – namely, Louisville and Villanova – both suffered losses this weekend. But despite the fact that Oregon is pretty highly regarded, some fans are asking, “Where’s the love?” One such example is provided by Don Gilman of Fishduck.com who points to some of Oregon’s flashy offensive stats and wonders why the team isn’t higher in the national polls. In the interest of full disclosure, I put Oregon at #8 on my weekly RTC ballot, but there are some good reasons why a 12-0 Oregon squad may still have some doubters. First, despite all those fantastic offensive numbers, its defense has just been ordinary (79th in the nation in defensive efficiency). And, well, the Ducks really haven’t beaten anybody great yet. They’ve got good wins, yes, over teams like Georgetown, BYU, Illinois, and on the road at Ole Miss. But one thing all of those teams have in common is they all should be on the outside looking in of the AP rankings this week for a reason.
  2. Stanford wrapped up its non-conference slate on Sunday with a win over Cal Poly, so now is as appropriate of a time as ever to ask: Have the Cardinal done enough to put themselves on the NCAA Tournament radar? Anthony Dimuro  of Golden Gate Sports says the answer is yes, based on an 8-3 record, a good win over Connecticut, and having won all the games they were supposed to (I might quibble with that one by bringing up the BYU game). But the fact is that Stanford is going to have to spend the rest of the season rooting heavily for UConn to earn some big wins in the American Athletic Conference to make that scalp look more impressive and help that uninspiring RPI number of 64. Needless to say, there is a lot of basketball left to be played, but still, on the basis of a solid enough non-conference schedule, they’ve at least given themselves a chance.
  3. Arizona State, like Stanford, will have plenty of work left to do in order to build up a convincing case for NCAA Tournament inclusion this season. But despite some missed opportunities in the non-conference schedule, there is plenty of positivity around the Sun Devils’ program. Jahii Carson has lived up to his high standards, Jermaine Marshall has shifted his scoring ability from State College to Tempe without a hitch, and Jordan Bachynski continues to swat away any errant basketball that comes near his body. All of those things were more or less expected. What could make the Devils a tough out going forward would be the types of things that happened Saturday afternoon against UC Irvine, such as Jonathan Gilling providing a varied offensive attack and senior forward Shaquielle McKissic becoming an explosive and athletic scoring threat.
  4. Washington State got a win Saturday night over Mississippi Valley State, but it did so without leading scorer DaVonte Lacy, who missed the game while having his appendix removed. He’s the second Pac-12 player to deal with appendicitis this year, as UCLA’s Travis Wear was the other. Judging by Wear’s experience with the situation, expect Lacy to miss roughly three to four weeks.
  5. Lastly, given Utah’s less-than-stellar non-conference schedule, people across the country may not yet have heard the name Delon Wright. But the 6’5” point guard has been catching a few eyes and drawing some rave reviews. The brother of Dorrell Wright, currently of the Portland Trail Blazers, the young Wright earned high praise from NBA players in a Los Angeles area summer league but is now set to turn his versatile game loose on the Pac-12. He had to take the long road to big-time college basketball, but now that he is here, he intends to make the most of the opportunity.
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Assessing the Pac-12 After One Month

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 12th, 2013

We’re a month into the season, something basically approaching the quarter-pole of this race, so it seems like a good time to take a look back at what’s happened so far, prognosticate a bit into the future, and reset the season as we move forward.

Overall, coming into the year, we regarded Arizona as the clear-cut favorite in the conference. A month in, the Wildcats have done nothing to dissuade us of that notion; in fact, if anything, they’re probably even a bigger favorite than they were in early November. Seeing the improvement the sophomores have made, the cohesiveness of this team defensively from the get-go, and contemplating the improvement that can still be made – especially on the offensive end – the ‘Cats remain the big boys in the Pac-12. That being said, Oregon, UCLA and Colorado have all established themselves as Top 25 caliber teams with plenty of upside. With the Wildcats needing to make road trips to visit every one of those teams, there will be plenty of chances for Arizona to slip up in conference play.

In The First Month, Arizona Has Solidified Its Reputation As The Pac-12 Favorites (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

In The First Month, Arizona Has Solidified Its Reputation As The Pac-12 Favorites (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Beyond that group at the top, California sort of sits in a tier by itself; it would be a serious surprise if the Golden Bears compete for a conference title, but at the same time, it would be a stretch to picture this team on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday. However, after the Bears, there are plenty of question marks. Arizona State started off strong, but a couple of slip-ups in the Wooden Legacy damaged their early hopes. Stanford’s got plenty of talent, but this team has done little to give any but the most myopic Cardinal fan hopes of serious change. And while Utah has looked exciting at times, that is a team that is going to be up and down over the course of the year; yes, they may sneak up and bite unsuspecting visitors to Salt Lake City in the butt, but they’ll also turn in a couple stinkers of their own. Beyond that, however, USC, Washington, Washington State and Oregon State are a good bet to make up the bottom third of the standings come March. Below, we’ll take a look at each of those top eight teams and talk about what we’ve learned over the first month and what needs to change going forward. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 29th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Strengths. The combination of the lightning-quick Jahii Carson and sharpshooter Jermaine Marshall gives head coach Herb Sendek one of the top one-two punches in the conference. Carson, arguably one of the top 10 point guards in the nation, will run the offense and is as dangerous as anyone in the Pac-12 in crunch time. Complementing the sophomore in the backcourt will be the Penn State transfer Marshall, whose ability to score from the perimeter and by driving to the basket will take some of the load off Carson. Sendek will employ a faster offense this season looking to maximize the speed and talent the pair provides. If Carson develops a strong left hand and even just on occasion forces defenses to play him more honestly, Arizona State can score enough points to compete with anyone in the Pac-12. All of this should result in its first NCAA Tournament trip since the 2008-09 campaign.

Everything Will Go Through Carson For Arizona State This Season (credit: Zach Long)

Everything Will Go Through Carson For Arizona State This Season (credit: Zach Long)

Weaknesses. As good as Carson and Marshall are, there will be nights when a little depth is required. And that’s where ASU could get into trouble. The next best guard is cornerman Shaquielle McKissic, who is in from Edmonds Community College. McKissic has some raw talent and athleticism, but he will be called upon often and doesn’t appear to be Pac-12 ready.

Non-Conference Tests. Arizona State starts the year with a trio of cupcakes before playing seven consecutive solid opponents. That’s almost unheard of in power conference basketball, so it will be interesting to see how the Sun Devils fare during the brutal two-and-a-half week stretch. Known games with UNLV (in Las Vegas), Marquette (in Tempe), and Creighton (in Fullerton) highlight the slate, while possible match-ups with San Diego State and Miami (FL) are also possible. They’ll remain on the road following the Wooden Legacy for a game at DePaul, which is still a Big East road game no matter how bad the Blue Demons might be.

Toughest Conference Stretch. Sendek’s team will get to face the two toughest teams in the Pac-12 back-to-back on the road near the front end of the league schedule. They’ll get a brief reprieve when hosting Utah following the Arizona game, but a visit from dangerous Colorado two days later accelerates things once more.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.14.13 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 14th, 2013

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  1. As we ease back into college basketball again, we’re back to Morning Fives every weekday from here until the end of the season. And we picked a good day to start these back up, because there is plenty of news to run down. Since the main preseason storyline is Arizona as the heavy favorite to win the league, we might as well start out with them, as the Wildcats had their annual Red-Blue Game on Saturday, an intrasquad scrimmage that serves as the introduction of the team to the supportive McKale Center crowd. Stud freshman Aaron Gordon put on quite a show, winning the dunk contest and backing that up with 13 points and 12 boards in the scrimmage. His classmate Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also looked good in his first appearance, pouring in 18 points on just 12 shots, and sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski showed improvement, notching 18 points of his own.
  2. The day before Arizona’s showcase, its in-state rival had its own intrasquad scrimmage up the road, as Arizona State got its season underway. Jahii Carson is always going to be the showcase player on this team, and he was as good as usual, scoring 22 points and showing an improved jumper. But the big story came from newcomer Shaquielle McKissic, who poured in 33 points and made a big impression in his first appearance with the Sun Devils. He showed an immediate rapport with Carson on the fast break, displayed an ability to knock down the three, and impressed defensively, forcing turnovers that led to breaks. In the competition to earn some of the minutes vacated by departing senior Carrick Felix, McKissic looks to be out in front.
  3. The news wasn’t as positive everywhere around the conference this weekend, as on Friday Washington State announced that point guard Danny Lawhorn, a junior college transfer expected to slide right into the lead guard role, had left the school. Lawhorn had already been suspended two weeks ago, not that it matters at this point. Minus Lawhorn, it looks like junior Royce Wooldridge, who had hoped to move back off the ball after he helped fill in at the one last year, will once again need to contribute at the point, while DaVonte Lacy (another guy better suited to playing the two) and freshman point Ike Oroegbu also in the mix.
  4. Minus Lawhorn, head coach Ken Bone’s chances of keeping his job inched down a little, and, as Pachoops’ Adam Butler noted, there are quite a few coaches around the league whose jobs may be in trouble. A main part of the reason why those coaches may be looking for work in the near future is their inability to keep local recruits at home. Butler points to four top-75 2014 recruits from the West Coast who have already committed to play basketball in places other than Pac-12 institutions. While the conference as a whole may be on a bit of an upswing, the failure to lock up your own state’s recruits is never a good sign of future prosperity.
  5. Lastly, way back at the end of last year, the big off-the-court story was Pac-12 coordinator of officials Ed Rush putting out a bounty – whether in jest or not – on Arizona head coach Sean Miller, a “joke” that was made seriously unfunny (well, at least Miller’s post-game comments were funny – how long has it been since you’ve watched the “He Touched the Ball” clip?) after Miller got run in suspicious fashion immediately thereafter. The conference’s immediate response (or lack thereof) to the situation was unfulfilling. But, some steps were made over the offseason to improve the officiating situation in the conference, as the Pac-12 has entered into a partnership with the Mountain West to oversee its officiating, and hired Bobby Dibler as the new coordinator of officials. One of Dibler’s first tasks is to make sure that Miller gets treated as fairly as every other coach in the conference.
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