December 26, 2007
Pac-10 Preview: Arizona State
Entering his second season in Tempe, coach Herb Sendek has more firepower and skill on offense and a zone defense that gave opponents fits at times last year. The team appears to be much improved, but what type of season will that translate to in an ultra-difficult Pac-10?
Arizona State Sun Devils
Coach: Herb Sendek (second year)
Returning Starters: Jeff Pendergraph, Jerren Shipp
Key Returning Players: Christian Polk, Derek Glasser, Antwi Atuahene
Key Newcomers: James Harden, Ty Abbott, Jamelle McMillan, Eric Boateng
The Sun Devils return five of their top six players from last season, when they went 8-22 (2-16 in the Pac-10) and add to that nucleus a recruiting class ranked among the Top-25 in the country, headlined by Harden, a McDonald's All-American.
By the second half of Pac-10 play last season, freshmen Polk, Shipp and Glasser were each averaging 30-plus minutes per game and though the Sun Devils had a dismal record in conference play, they lost just one of their final ten games by a double digit margin.
All told, ASU went 3-12 in games decides by fewer than six points. Its zone defense consistently kept games close, but the Sun Devils didn't have enough offensive firepower to get the job done down the stretch more than on a couple of occasions.
With the additions of Harden, Abbott and McMillan, the Sun Devils have recently started three freshmen, with Polk and Glasser coming off the bench. They typically go with what amounts to a four guard lineup, with Shipp, at 6-foot-4, playing in the frontcourt alongside Pendergraph.
Harden and Abbott are averaging double-figures, with Harden leading the team and Top-10 in the Pac-10 at 16.5 points per game. Harden, Abbott, Shipp, McMillan and Rihards Kuksiks are all shooting about .384 from 3-point range, turning what was a team weakness last season into a strength this year.
Gasser comes off the bench, but he's played more minutes than McMillan in recent games at the point guard position. Combined, the two players have 80 assists and just 32 turnovers. The Sun Devils are also leading the Pac-10 in steals per game and are among the league leaders in field goal percentage defense, signs that the zone defense is once again having success.
Through Christmas, the Sun Devils, at 9-2, have already won more games than they won in all of Sendek's first season. Four of the nine wins, including a 22-point victory over then-No. 17 Xavier have come by 20 or more points.
The Sun Devils don't have a lot of height and haven't been able to get Pendergraph and Boateng on the floor at the same time with effectiveness at either end. Out of the zone, weakside rebounding has been a concern, particularly due to a lack of height. Boateng has been perhaps slower to develop than some would have hoped.
Outlook: The Sun Devils are definitely improved from a year ago, with more offensive weapons and better athletes, but it's unclear if that will translate to a significantly better Pac-10 record because of how tough the league is. Certainly, they are headed in the right direction, especially considering all key players are underclassmen who could return next season.
Best Case Season: For ASU, a .500 finish in Pac-10 play would be a major success, and that's about as good a year as could be hoped for. It might even bring them into discussion for an NCAA postseason bid.
Worst Case Season: Things won't be worse than last season, and one would have to imagine the Sun Devils will win at least four or five games in the Pac-10 and finish around .500 overall.
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