Arizona State Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 4th, 2013

Now that all 12 conference teams are officially in the offseason, it’s time to take a look back and evaluate each team’s 2012-13 performance. Today we start with Arizona State.

What Went Right

A lot of things went right for the Sun Devils this year, as they won 12 more games this season, but a lot of those things stemmed from the eligibility and success of freshman point guard Jahii Carson. He was this team’s catalyst from start to finish and many of the areas in which ASU improved can be directly traced back to him. Carrick Felix’s offensive explosion? It certainly wouldn’t have happened without Carson’s play-making ability and the attention he drew from defenses. Herb Sendek’s new slightly-more-uptempo approach? It was almost entirely tied to Carson’s strengths. And best of all, for the first time since James Harden left Tempe, Sun Devils basketball is unabashedly cool again.

Jahii Carson Helped Make Sun Devil Basketball Cool Again (credit: Arizona State)

Jahii Carson Helped Make Sun Devil Basketball Cool Again (credit: Arizona State)

What Went Wrong

Any time you’re ranked below 300th in the nation in free throw percentage (64.9% as a team), you know you’re going to frustrate your coaching staff. The Sun Devils lost seven games this season by five points or less, and their combined free throw percentage in those games was even worse than the season average at 59.6%. Games like their home game against Stanford where they just 8-of-16 from the stripe in a three-point loss have to stick in the craw, even months later.

MVP

While you’ve got to recognize the great impact that Felix had on both ends of the court for the Sun Devils, there is little question that Jahii Carson was the team’s best player and it’s most valuable. He was the only major addition to a team that had won just 10 games in 2011-12 and he was not only the focal point offensively, he also injected the team with confidence and excitement.

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Celebrating Arizona State Senior Carrick Felix

Posted by AMurawa on February 22nd, 2013

It’s that time of the college basketball season when you look up out of nowhere and notice that conference tournaments tip off in a couple weeks, Selection Sunday is in a smidgen over three weeks and before you know it we’ll be crowning a champion and watching a “One Shining Moment” montage. But before we get ahead of ourselves, one of our favorite traditions of the end of the season is Senior Day, a chance to pause for a brief moment, get the student-athlete at the end of the bench that has worked tirelessly for little fame or glory a moment in the spotlight, and recognize the efforts of guys who we have gotten to know over the previous few years one last chance to take a bow in front of the home crowd. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll turn an eye to each Senior Day around the conference and highlight the guys we’ll be saying goodbye to this season.

Carrick Felix Has Exploded With Career High's Across The Board In His Senior Year (USA Today Sports)

Carrick Felix Has Exploded With Career High’s Across The Board In His Senior Year (USA Today Sports)

We start with Arizona State, where the Sun Devils Senior Day (or more fitting, I suppose, Senior Night) comes Saturday as they host Washington. Carrick Felix, Chris Colvin, Ruslan Pateev and Joey Hormes will be the honorees. Of those four, obviously Felix is the big name — he has spent three years in Tempe after beginning his career at the College of Southern Idaho, but until this year may have been most well-known as Mike Krzyzewski’s first junior college signee at Duke (although he never played a minute there). After a slow start to his college career (just 23 points in limited minutes over the course of 11 non-conference games), Felix came alive at the start of Pac-12 play as a freshman, averaging 12.7 points, 3.3 boards and two assists over six games while veterans like Trent Lockett and Jamelle McMillan were banged up. Unfortunately, Felix got sick prior to the Devils’ next road trip, missed a game and was never back at full strength the rest of the way as the team limped home to a 12-19 record. His junior campaign featured much more playing time and production but very little team success. Jump ahead to his senior year and his production is through the roof. He’s averaging career highs across the board (with the notable exception of turnovers, which are actually down despite increased run) and he sits at or near the top of several Pac-12 stats and is in line for strong consideration not only for First-Team Pac-12 Honors, but also Defensive Player of the Year.

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Pac-12 Report Card, Volume VII: Solid Students

Posted by AMurawa on February 20th, 2013

Maybe Professor Pac is in a good mood this week, because he couldn’t bring himself to give any of the below teams  D’s.

UCLA – C-

A road split. That’s good right? Yeah, it will work, but the way the Bruins lost their first game of the week (building up a 23-point half-time deficit and never making a serious push in the second half) is pretty inexcusable. They bounced back strong against Stanford and turned in their best offensive performance since, maybe Missouri, but this team is still a mystery.

Focus on: Kyle Anderson. Anderson was terrific against Stanford, scoring 18 points, grabbing 13 boards, handing out four assists, snatching a couple steals and even knocking down a three (he’s now 5-of-26 for the season from back there). That’s the guy that Ben Howland needs to show up on a regular basis for the Bruins. His ability to make plays for himself and teammates makes the Bruins more explosive and his newfound interest in hitting the glass is an absolutely necessity on an otherwise ridiculously poor rebounding team.

The Bruins Need Kyle Anderson's Versatile Game On A More Regular Basis (UCLA Athletics)

The Bruins Need Kyle Anderson’s Versatile Game On A More Regular Basis (UCLA Athletics)

Looking ahead: If the Bruins want to prove to themselves that they have the ability to be a national threat in March, they first have to prove that they can win a big local battle, as they travel 14 miles southeast to face USC on Sunday.

Washington State – C-

So you’re playing the conference leader to a draw. You’ve already got them in overtime and with just seconds left, your sophomore guard who is having a breakout career game knocks down a big three to tie the game and give you a real good chance to go to a second overtime. And then. Ugh. You probably know what happened. I can’t bring myself to repeat it, but suffice it to say, the Cougars went out of their way to ease Oregon’s route to a two-point overtime win. Hey, when you’re 2-11 in conference play, you usually have some bad luck and some ridiculous events. But that? That was above and beyond.

Focus on: Royce Woolridge. So, let’s focus on the positives. After struggling with his shot and his confidence early in the season, this sophomore transfer from Washington State is proving his worth. He has now scored in double figures in six straight games, but the piece de resistance came Saturday against those Ducks as he hit 10-of-15 shots from the field, including six threes on his way to a 36-point total that shattered his previous career-high. As recently as a week ago I was writing off Woolridge as a shooting guard that can’t shoot or a point guard that can’t handle. And clearly, I wrote him off too soon. His confidence is through the roof and he’s showing  that he can be a key part to this program for the next couple years.

Looking ahead: The Cougars travel to Arizona State tonight, then Arizona on Saturday. Nothing is for certain, but this looks like 2-13 is on the way.

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Pac-12 Report Card: Volume III

Posted by AMurawa on January 23rd, 2013

Just about one-third of the way through our semester, Oregon is the favorite pupil, having earned all As in their exams. Join Professor Pac as we once again break down our class and see who’s joining the Ducks at the front of the class and who’s in the corner with the dunce cap.

Oregon – A

Before we give props to the Ducks for their 5-0 conference start and vault to the favorite position in the conference, let’s take a minute to mourn the loss of the full 18-game home-and-away round-robin of the Pac-10. You see, with UO’s win at UCLA this week and home win against Arizona last week, the Ducks have wrapped up this seasons’ meeting with those two teams. Neither the Wildcats nor the Bruins will get a chance for revenge, at least until and unless they meet up in Vegas come mid-March. But, that’s not the Ducks fault. No, they’ve done what they’ve needed to do early and they’ve set themselves up well. Now, they’ve still got more than two-thirds of the conference schedule remaining, but here are their remaining road games in conference play: Stanford, Cal, Washington, Washington State, Colorado and Utah. They’ll be favorites in all of those games, as well as all of their home games. Sure, there are probably a couple of losses in the mix there somewhere, but barring some significant slide that Dana Altman-coached teams are not known for, the Ducks are a heavy favorite to be the #1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

The Diminutive Jonathan Loyd Brings Energy Off The Bench For Oregon (goducks.com)

The Diminutive Jonathan Loyd Brings Energy Off The Bench For Oregon (goducks.com)

Focus on: Jonathan Loyd. Freshman point guard Dominic Artis is the rightful recipient of plenty of positive buzz regarding his play, but the diminutive junior backup deserves some credit for accepting his decreased minutes and filling his role. Sure, he can’t shoot a lick. And his turnovers are through the roof this season. But you can see that his defensive intensity has carried over to his freshman pupil and he always brings energy aplenty when he’s on the court. And, consider this: a 5’8” he swatted away a Larry Drew II fastbreak layup tattempt this weekend

Looking ahead: The Ducks host the Washington schools this week and Ken Pomeroy puts the chances that they win each game somewhere north of 85%. Beware the letdown, Ducks.

Arizona – A-

For three quarters of their battle with in-state rival Arizona State on Saturday, the ‘Cats had a battle on their hands, played basically to a draw. But over the last 10 minutes, a time that coincided almost exactly with Mark Lyons coming back in the game (and, with Lyons drawing the fourth foul on Jahii Carson), they outscored the Sun Devils by 15 and equaled the biggest defeat ASU has suffered this season. Over those ten minutes, Lyons repeatedly got to the hoop, scoring 12 points and handing out three assists in likely his best 10-minute stretch as the UA point guard. The problem is the previous 30 minutes, wherein Lyons had 12 points on 11 field goal attempts, zero assists and four turnovers. Sure, he’s one heck of a closer, but as the season ramps up come March, the ‘Cats will need a more complete performance.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.20.12 Edition

Posted by PBaruh on November 20th, 2012

  1. Shabazz Muhammad finally saw his first action as a Bruin and the Georgetown Hoyas ruined his debut. The Bruins fell to John Thompson’s team, 78-70, and while Muhammad did not start, he came off the bench and scored 15 points in 25 minutes of action. He showed off his athleticism and athletic ability from the start, but as expected Muhammad will need time to adjust to college basketball as he was thrown into the fire playing against a very good Georgetown team. Because of this UCLA loss, we will not see the highly anticipated match-up with Indiana, but it’s fair to say with Muhammad now back the Bruins should be a mainstay in the Top 25 and an exciting team to watch all season.
  2. Speaking of Top 25, there’s a new team from the Pac-12 this week in the AP Poll. The Charleston Classic champions and 4-0 Colorado Buffaloes are ranked 23rd in this week’s latest poll and are back there for the first time since 1997. With wins over Dayton, Baylor, and Murray State, the Buffaloes made an excellent case for the inclusion this week. Colorado did not show up in the coaches poll this week, but did gather votes to end up at 27th. The Buffaloes will have many chances to show the nation they deserve to be in the Top 25 the rest of the way as the Buffs will travel to Kansas to take on the Jayhawks in December and will have multiple match-ups with Arizona and UCLA in the conference season to showcase themselves.
  3. The Arizona Wildcats came in at 10th in this week’s AP poll and had their first test of the season with their victory over Long Beach State 94-72 last night. Many expected the Wildcats to win this game, but the game was unexpectedly out of reach fairly early because Long Beach State didn’t cause any problems for Arizona. The Wildcats were led by freshman Brandon Ashley who put up 20 points and 10 rebounds. Arizona’s freshmen trio of Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Grant Jerrett are going to be key for the Wildcats all year and this game showed just how much they could impact the season. Tarczewski and Jerrett combined for 12 points, giving the trio a total of 32. If one of the freshmen can step up in every game this year, Arizona will be very hard to stop.
  4. The Oregon Ducks were able to beat Jacksonville State handily last night by a score of 67-45 with Tony Woods leading the way with 17 points. This was also transfer Arsalan Kazemi’s second game and Dana Altman thinks with additional playing time, Kazemi could have a real impact for the Ducks. Kazemi was able to pick up seven rebounds and two steals in his first game on Friday and had eight rebounds and five steals last night against Jacksonville State. The 6’7″ Kazemi might not stand out in the box score with points as he gets acclimated to life in Eugene, but he affects the game in many ways defensively and on the glass and certainly makes Dana Altman’s job a lot easier.
  5. It’s not easy to be a senior and be content in the sixth man role, but that’s exactly what Arizona State’s Chris Colvin is doing. Colvin helped the Sun Devils to a win on Sunday night against Florida A&M by scoring 15 points on nine shots. With Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon starting at point guard and shooting guard respectively, Colvin fills a vital role coming off the bench because he can play both positions. If Arizona State wants to contend in the top half of the Pac-12 this year, Chris Colvin’s role as sixth man will certainly be a factor.
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Introducing the Preseason All-Pac-12 Grab-Bag Teams

Posted by KDanna on November 8th, 2012

Yesterday, we released our preseason All-Pac-12 teams. Today, we take a look at some niche teams based on a certain characteristic that makes a player stand out. You won’t see these categories on the official Pac-12 season awards release at the end of the season, but they’re fun to think about nonetheless.

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

Shabazz Muhammad shows why he landed a spot on the Rush The Court All-Pac-12 Rim-Rattler Team

All-Rim Rattlers

  • Shabazz Muhammad (Fr., Guard/Forward, UCLA) – 15 votes
  • Nick Johnson (So., Guard, Arizona) – 11
  • Carlos Emory (Sr., Forward, Oregon) – 11
  • André Roberson (Jr., Forward, Colorado) – 11
  • Eric Moreland (So., Forward, Oregon State) – 8

Reasoning for a squad like this is done best by highlights, so here are your explanations for MuhammadJohnsonEmoryMoreland and Roberson. Click on the individual name to see some thrilling dunks for each candidate.

All-Shooter Team

  • Chasson Randle (So., Guard, Stanford) – 17 
  • Allen Crabbe (Jr., Guard, Cal) – 14
  • C.J. Wilcox (Jr., Guard, Washington) – 10
  • Spencer Dinwiddie (So., Guard, Colorado) – 6
  • Aaron Bright (Jr., Guard, Stanford) – 4

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Stanford, the leader in the Pac-12 in three-point field goal percentage as a team, would have two representatives on the all-shooter team. Chasson Randle, who highlights this group, drained seven threes in the first half of a Pac-12 Tournament game against Arizona State last year and is the leading returnee in three-point field goal accuracy in the Pac-12. Expect C.J. Wilcox to have a big year in 2012-13, as he is a guy who has the potential to be close to a 50 percent three-point shooter with such a deadly stroke.

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Pac-12 Team Previews: Arizona State Sun Devils

Posted by AMurawa on November 2nd, 2012

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.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State

With Jahii Carson Leading The Way, This Edition Of The Sun Devils Has More Swagger Than Recent Teams

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.

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Arizona State Week: Running Down the Returnees

Posted by AMurawa on June 12th, 2012

Five different players who earned significant playing time in 2011-12 return for Arizona State. While the two players that averaged more than 13 points per game (Keala King and Trent Lockett) are not among them, the Sun Devils return a solid foundation upon which to build their 2012-13 campaign. Below we’ll take a look at those five players, in order of last season’s scoring average.

  • Carrick Felix, Senior, Wing (10.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG) – Felix was a bastion of consistency in one area last season: Of the 29 games that he played in, he played 30+ minutes in 21 of them. Aside from that, however, Felix was up and down most of the year. He certainly had his moments in scoring over 20 four different times, but also had four games in particular where he was borderline invisible, scoring two or fewer points in losses to Fresno State, UCLA, Stanford and Colorado. Still, Felix’s second season in Tempe was a clear improvement over his first. His minutes more than doubled, his efficiency numbers went up a bit, his jumper showed significant improvement, and he showed an ability to influence a game defensively without fouling. All indications are that his senior season could be even better. According to teammate Jordan Bachynski, “He was good last year, but he’s even better now – more athletic, better shot, just an all-around better player.” Throw in the fact that Felix is the type of open-floor athlete who could really stand to benefit from a playmaking point guard like Jahii Carson and he could be an impact player on the wing for the Sun Devils.
Carrick Felix, Arizona State

The Addition of Point Guard Jahii Carson Could Help Carrick Felix Continue His Career's Upward Trend (US Presswire)

  • Jonathan Gilling, Sophomore, Small Forward (7.1 PPG, 1.7 APG, 41.1 3P%) – Gilling’s first season in the desert did not exactly get out to a booming start, as he scored just 12 points in ASU’s first eight games. In his first nine games, he averaged just nine minutes per contest but once the calendar turned and conference play came around, he stepped into a much bigger role, averaging nine points per game the rest of the way. The highlight was 21 points on five-of-six shooting from three in a 87-80 victory over Arizona that was without question the apex of a relatively dismal year. All told, Gilling wound up as the most efficient offensive player on the Sun Devils, in large part due to his dead-eye from deep, but his offensive skills go beyond just the three-ball. “He really is versatile,” said head coach Herb Sendek. “Not only is he a great shooter, but I really love the way he passes. He has a tremendous feel for the game and really makes his teammates better with his playmaking ability.” With a year of experience under his belt, and hopefully sometime in the weight room, the young Dane should be ready to have an even bigger impact as a sophomore.

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Arizona State Week: Players Not Returning

Posted by AMurawa on June 11th, 2012

While ASU will return five different players from its 2011-12 rotation, there are four players who saw significant time last year that will not return to the program, none of whom had exhausted their eligibility. This continues a disturbing trend in Tempe, with now 12 different players having transferred out of the program in the last four years. Below, we’ll take a look at the four players who have moved on from the program and how big of an impact their loss will have.

  • Trent Lockett – The loss of Lockett does by far the most damage to ASU’s 2012-13 outlook. Lockett, who graduated in just three years by knocking out 20+ credits in recent semesters, wound up transferring to Marquette in order to be closer to Minnesota where his mom, who is fighting cancer, lives. Lockett was not only the Sun Devils’ leading scorer last season, but he also led the team in steals, rebounds per game, and three-point percentage, in addition to chipping in at point guard and being the unquestioned emotional leader for the young team. If Lockett had returned, he would have fit in perfectly on the wing across from Jahii Carson, as well as giving the team a solid secondary ballhandler on the floor at the same time. Instead, he’ll be tasked with making guys like Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue better under Buzz Williams. While his loss certainly puts a dent in the Herb Sendek’s 2012-13 plans, our thoughts are with him and his family as the go through a difficult time.
Trent Lockett, Arizona State

Trent Lockett Is Leaving Tempe In Order To Be Closer To His Ailing Mother

  • Keala King – King left the ASU program in January after being suspended prior to the team’s trip to face the Los Angeles schools, winding up at Long Beach State, where he will be eligible after the fall semester next season. A natural wing, King was asked to fill in at the point guard position in the absence of Carson and the ineffectiveness of Chris Colvin, but he struggled with turnovers and never struck a comfortable balance between creating for himself and distributing to his teammates. While he struggled with some immaturity problems that led to his departure from the program, he was the type of athlete that could have been an impact player as an upperclassman. Instead he just goes down as another coulda-been in Tempe. Read the rest of this entry »
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Arizona State Week: Evaluating the Recent Past

Posted by AMurawa on June 11th, 2012

Over the course of the next 12 weeks, during the dog days of summer while there is relatively little going on in the college basketball world, we’re going to take the opportunity to fill you in on the status of each program in the Pac-12. Beginning this week with Arizona State, we’re going to dedicate a week’s worth of Pac-12 microsite posts to each program in the conference. We’ll take a little bit of a look at the recent history of the program and then dig into what the team is going to look like in 2012-13. Along the way we’ll have some interviews with coaches and players, we’ll take a look at schedules for the upcoming year, and we’ll introduce you to some of the new faces we’ll all be meeting. By the time kids are heading back to school in September, we hope to have kept you entertained while giving you a good primer for the Pac-12 conference in the next college basketball season.

Our first subject, Arizona State, is coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons. When Herb Sendek took over the program in 2006-07, his team struggled to an 8-22 finish as the Sun Devils featured four freshmen in their eight-man rotation. But, for the next three seasons, ASU won at least 20 games, earned an NCAA Tournament appearance (including a first-round win) in 2008-09, and finished as high as second in the conference in 2009-10. Along the way, the Sun Devils sent a couple different players to the NBA, with reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden going third in the 2009 NBA Draft and Jeff Pendergraph turning a second round pick into a couple years worth of NBA experience. “We really experienced a fantastic and very quick turnaround,” said Sendek last week when RTC talked to him. “Three consecutive postseason tournaments, three consecutive 20-win seasons – but then, we’ve had a series of unfortunate things happen.”

Herb Sendek, Arizona State

After Three Straight 20-Win Seasons, Arizona State Has Slipped The Last Two Years (Harry How, Getty Images)

Those series of unfortunate things have led to the last two seasons, where little has gone right for the Sun Devils. In 2010-11, ASU lost 12 of its first 13 conference games on the way to a 12-19 record, as the senior trio of Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan took a step back from their performances in the previous year and the team could never find replacements for a couple of graduates: big man Eric Boateng and underrated point guard Derek Glasser. Those exact same areas also plagued the Sun Devils in 2011-12.

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Arizona State: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by AMurawa on April 6th, 2012

Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future. Today’s subject: Arizona State.

What Went Wrong

Herb Sendek had a ton of bad luck this season. Freshman point guard Jahii Carson fought with the NCAA over eligibility issues well into December before finally being declared ineligible (he came up either one letter grade in a high school class or one ACT point away from eligibility) for the year. And transfer Chris Colvin struggled mightily early in the season (35.3 eFG% and 0.92-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the nine games prior to the Carson ruling), forcing Sendek to turn to wing Keala King at the point. He actually did as good a job as could be expected for a player without any experience there (although he too struggled with turnovers), but bristled under Sendek’s constraints and transferred out of the program after being abruptly suspended (with two other teammates) prior to a January road trip. That left leading scorer Trent Lockett, another wing, as option #4 at the point, and when he went down in late January for six games with an ankle injury it was back to Colvin. All of the uncertainty at the lead guard spot did nothing to make anything easier for the rest of the team. Sophomore Kyle Cain took a step back after a promising rookie campaign (and announced his own transfer out of the program after the season ended), centers Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev were up and down (at best), and the program is now 22-40 in the past two seasons combined. While it seemed like Sendek’s crew was a walking proof of Murphy’s Law, the time is past for excuses; this program is in bad, bad shape.

Herb Sendek, Arizona State

Not A Lot Went Right For Herb Sendek And The Sun Devils This Year (Harry How, Getty Images)

What Went Right

Really, you’ve got to stretch in order to find positives in this year’s team, but Jonathan Gilling, a freshman forward from Denmark, looked pretty good in his first year on campus as maybe a second-coming of Rihards Kuksiks. Gilling knocked down 53 threes at a 41% clip while playing a shade over 50% of the available minutes, but he’s got work to do not only on the defensive end as well as helping out on the glass. Sophomore center Jordan Bachynski showed some flashes of serious potential, scoring in double figures in eight of his final 13 games and showing a penchant for being able to get to the line, although he needs to add consistency. And, more than anything else, when ASU fans look back on the good parts of the 2011-12 season, they can always point to the regular season finale, when they knocked off Arizona behind solid play from Gilling, Bachynski, Colvin, Lockett and even junior Carrick Felix, effectively eliminating the Wildcats from at-large NCAA consideration. That was sweet for Sun Devil fans.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 03.05.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on March 5th, 2012

  1. The story was pretty simple for Washington when they tipped off against UCLA on Saturday morning: Win, and the Huskies were the conference champion; lose, and they would need some help. And for much of the game it looked like the Huskies were in a mood to take control of their own future, leading for much of the middle 20 minutes of the game. However, when Lazeric Jones hit a three-pointer with just under nine minutes remaining, it gave the Bruins their first lead since the 14-minute mark of the first half and set up a back-and-forth finish to the game. In those last nine minutes, the Huskies turned the ball over five times, made just 3-of-10 field goal attempts and scored just seven points on 14 possessions. But still, with just 15 seconds left, Washington found itself down two as senior forward Darnell Gant received the ball in three-point land at the top of the key. Terrence Ross was open on the wing, but Gant launched the shot and it came up just short, giving UCLA the win and the #5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament while the Huskies would have to wait until Sunday to find out their fate. As for the Bruins, it was the second straight encouraging win in the aftermath of the controversial Sports Illustrated story last week, sending the team to the conference tournament feeling as good as they have all year.
  2. Washington got the answer it was looking for on Sunday, when California had its conference title hopes dashed by their Bay Area rival, Stanford. It was a tight game down the stretch, but much like the Huskies on Saturday, the Golden Bears just didn’t make the plays necessary to win a championship. For instance, Cardinal sophomore guard Aaron Bright was sent to the free throw line three straight times at the end of the game, and on each of those occasions, he missed the second of his two free throws. However, the first two misses wound up right back in his hands as the Bears were unable to secure an offensive rebound. Earlier, Cal guard Allen Crabbe had passed up an open baseline jumper to drive to the hoop, only to fumble the ball out of bounds. And, continuing a theme for Cal’s loss at Colorado last week, Justin Cobbs and Jorge Gutierrez struggled shooting the ball, hitting a combined six of their 22 field goal attempts. The loss sends the Bears to the Pac-12 Tournament with consecutive defeats for the first time all season. While Stanford’s 10-8 conference record wound up being disappointing (especially the seven losses in its final 12 games), the Cardinal did cinch a 20-win season for the first time in three seasons.
  3. To finish off the trifecta of top teams losing in conference this week, Arizona fell to Arizona State on Sunday in one of the more surprising results of the conference season. Not only was ASU’s 87 points its highest total on the year, it was only the tenth time all season that the Sun Devils had scored more than one point per possession in a game; in fact they averaged 1.27 points per possession, an excellent number. What changed for the Devils? A lot of things, but first and foremost, let’s look at the point guard play: Chris Colvin, who has averaged a turnover more than once every three possessions used, played 34 minutes and had just two turnovers compared with nine assists. Secondly, junior wing Trent Lockett is now, perhaps for the first time, clearly back near full strength after his midseason ankle injury; he had 21 points, seven boards and chipped in five assists of his own compared with just three turnovers. As a whole, ASU only turned it over 10 times on the day, their lowest total of the season, and their turnover percentage (the percentage of possessions on which the team commits a turnover) of 14.7% is almost half of their season average. The Sun Devils go into the conference tournament on a two-game winning streak (their first such streak of the year) and playing arguably their best ball of the season. Meanwhile, for the Wildcats, this was a devastating loss to their NCAA Tournament hopes. Already sitting firmly on the bubble (and possibly on the wrong side of it), Sean Miller’s club has to figure the only way for the team to make its 27th tournament in 28 years is to win the Pac-12 automatic bid next weekend.
  4. The other major story line going into the final weekend was the race for the four opening round byes in the conference tournament. Oregon took care of its business this weekend by throttling Utah on Saturday. The Ducks scored 34 of the game’s first 36 points, and sent seniors Devoe Joseph, Garrett Sim, Olu Ashaolu, Tyrone Nared and Jeremy Jacob out in style, securing the #3 seed in next week’s conference tournament. Colorado, however, floundered at Oregon State, losing by 14 and not only played itself out of contention for one of those byes, but dropped all the way to the #6 seed. The Buffaloes will host Utah on Wednesday as they are still looking for their 20th win on the year.
  5. Lastly, USC’s disaster of a season is now apparently just one game away from being mercifully over. The Trojans fought hard in their final regular season game, holding Washington State scoreless for the final nine minutes and nine seconds on Saturday and rallied back from a 17-point deficit to as close as three late, but once again came up short, wrapping up the conference schedule with a 1-17 record and a school-record 25 losses on the year.
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