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.
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.