Pac Previews: Utah vs. Wichita State & Arizona State vs. UNLV

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 3rd, 2014

With Feast Week behind us and finals on the horizon, things are about to slow down just a little bit in college basketball. Come this weekend, we’ll have all sorts of interesting games on the slate — Arizona State vs. Texas A&M, Gonzaga vs. Arizona, Mississippi vs. Oregon, Colorado vs. Georgia and Washington vs. San Diego State — and not necessarily in that order, that have me intrigued. But between now and then, there are just two match-ups that we can recommend in good conscience, both taking place on Pac-12 home courts tonight. Below, we’ll preview the headliner – Wichita State at Utah – as well as an interesting undercard as UNLV visits Arizona State.

Wichita State at Utah, 8:00 PM PST, ESPN2

Unless you’re a big-time Utes fan or an inveterate college hoops junkie, the last time you saw Utah play it was falling short in a late mid-afternoon run at a comeback against San Diego State. Since then, the Utes have performed mop-up duty against a quartet of teams all ranked in the bottom 20 percent of Division I, winning those four games by an average of 36.3 points per game. The Shockers, meanwhile, have played three teams ranked between #50 and #75 by KenPom and won those games by an average of 17.3 points per game. While they are known for their perimeter players – guards Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker earned preseason All-America consideration, and senior Tekele Cotton is one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders — Wichita State is a team that plays inside out, getting dribble penetration into the lane and creating opportunities from there. As such, priority number one is stopping that penetration, something Utah is well-suited for with elite defenders Delon Wright and Brandon Taylor leading the way. Perhaps more significant to the Utes’ chances would be the presence of shot-blocking freshman phenom Jakob Poeltl protecting the rim should Van Vleet get into the paint. Likewise, on the other end, Poeltl’s skills in the post and the Utes’ offensive rebounding strength (they’re 18th in the nation with a 40.8% offensive rebounding rate – but remind yourself of that level of competition) could be a pain in the neck to a team without an established player taller than 6’7”.

Delon Wright And Utah Need To Prove They're Ready For The National Stage

Delon Wright And Utah Need To Prove They’re Ready For The National Stage. (Getty)

But really, match-ups and Xs-and-Os are in some ways missing the point of this game for Utah. The Utes have already shown that they can play with the big boys. They battled San Diego State to a four-point road loss (keeping in mind that the final score was a touch closer than reality); they played Arizona to a nine-point margin at the McKale Center last season, then took the ‘Cats to overtime in Salt Lake City later on. Last year they also split with Colorado (including a road loss in overtime) and took Oregon to overtime as well before losing. We know that this team is talented enough to play with some of the best teams in the country — what they have yet to show us is that it can beat those teams, can perform in clutch situations and make good decisions when the pressure is on. Against the Aztecs two weeks ago, the stage was a little too bright for them. They’ve had a chance since then to workshop their script in what amounts to little more than dress rehearsals. If the nation can stay awake on Wednesday night after the Duke/Wisconsin game, they’ll get a chance to see if this Utah team is ready for the spotlight. Read the rest of this entry »

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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 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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