2007-2008 Arizona State Sun Devils
KEY WINS: Arizona; @ Arizona; Xavier; USC; Stanford
KEY LOSSES: N-Illinois; @ Nebraska; @ Washington; @ California; @ Oregon
KEY STAT: Field Goal % Defense is 41%
There are two of these; first, Coach Herb Sendek is a weapon himself, and second, this team is very good from the charity stripe.
The Sun Devils are clearly greater than their individual parts. That is a credit to Coach Herb Sendek who has instilled a disciplined style of defense; the same he used while coaching at North Carolina State, (do you think they want him back in Raleigh now?). That isn’t to say that ASU doesn’t have skilled players; freshman James Harden is among the best in the newcomers in the country that no one is talking about and junior post Jeff Pendergraph has more than held his own against some of the best post players in the Pac-10.
Sendek has also brought his structured, methodical offense to Tempe and it has worked because it allows the young Sun Devils to be patient and it simply drives opponents nuts to have to defend for roughly 30-35 seconds of each ASU possession. The concentration and discipline that opponents need in order to successfully defend ASU’s offense is in short supply in college basketball, thus the Sun Devils score many easy baskets as the defense tends to fall asleep by the end of a possession. Arizona State has three key players averaging of 53% shooting from the floor and they shoot 47% from the floor as a team.
Arizona State is very good from the free throw line. They average 74% from the charity stripe as a team, and excepting one key player, their other top six players average almost 80% from the free throw line. That means that ASU can win tight games and that they know how to hold onto a lead.
Keep in mind that the Sun Devils won only 8 games all of last season.
There are two; first, the Sun Devils are very young, and second, they aren’t terribly talented across the roster.
ASU has nine players in its regular rotation and 8 of them are either freshmen or sophomores. The lone upperclassman is junior Pendergraph. This massive youth movement has led to some real meltdown in crunch time against some of the better competition that ASU has faced this season, (think the two losses to UCLA). It also has meant that the Sun Devils have been much more successful in Tempe than on the road. That doesn’t bode well for their post-season prospects.
Outside of Harden and Pendergraph, the Sun Devils don’t have anyone that strikes fear into the hearts of opponents. There are some decent parts on the team, specifically freshmen Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks, but they would only get some bench minutes on the better teams in the conference. Teams that are disciplined AND more talented than the Sun Devils have been very successful against them this season because, with everything else being equal, talent wins out in the end. For example, the teams most think are the most disciplined in the Pac-10 are UCLA and Washington State. They are also more talented, (UCLA), and experienced, (Wazzu), than the Sun Devils. Hence ASU’s 0-4 record against those two this season.
Harden isn’t only the best player on the team; he may be one of the top three players in the Pac-10. He leads the team in scoring at 17.7 PPG, is second in rebounding at 5.1 RPG, he shoots 53% from the floor and 42% from behind the arc. He’s also a 76% free throw shooter, which is excellent considering he’s taken almost twice as many free throws as anyone else on the squad.
Harden’s impact goes well beyond the stats, though. He’s is Sendek first true “blue chip” recruit; a player that could have stepped in and started at virtually anywhere in the country. His numbers are even more amazing when you realize that every defense is now geared to stop him knowing that ASU doesn’t have much else on the offensive end. His athleticism and generally good decision-making have made his teammates demonstrably better, and isn’t that what great players do?
MIGHT LOSE WHEN…
…they are forced to speed up the tempo. Arizona State’s success this season has been predicated partially on the ability to dictate the tempo on the offensive end. When they can’t do that, they not only lose an effective weapon, they also become a turnover machine. In the two losses to UCLA, ASU had a combined 29 turnovers, many of which occurred in the first halves of those games, effectively deciding their outcomes. Arizona State lost those two games by a combined 54 points.
MIGHT SURPRISE YOU WITH…
…junior post Jeff Pendergraph. When you look at the depth of quality big men in the Pac-10; guys who would start virtually anywhere, (UCLA’s Kevin Love; Stanford’s Brook and Robin Lopez; Cal’s Ryan Anderson; USC Taj Gibson; Washington’s Jon Brockman, all future NBA players), its easy to overlook Pendergraph. But the 6’9” forward, who has started every game in his career, has more than held his own. He averages 12.5 PPG and 6.5 RPG in a system that, even without Harden taking the majority of shots, is one that cuts down on total possessions per game. If Pendergraph played in a typical college offense, he’d probably be averaging closer to 18 and 10 and he would be right up there with those other post players from the Pac-10 when discussing future NBA players.
Pendergraph’s strength is his basketball IQ. He knows how to attack his defender’s weaknesses. Because of this he has been able to outplay some of his more celebrated brethren. In fact, except for Love, (and the Bruins are simply a bad match-up for the Sun Devils), Pendergraph has been able to statistically go toe-to-toe with Brook Lopez, Brockman, Anderson and Gibson.
PREDICTED NCAA FINISH:
Arizona State has to get into the Big Dance first, and despite the fact that this team deserves a berth, regardless of what happens in the Pac-10 Tournament, they may not get there. Sendek scheduled a bunch of cupcakes, all at home, knowing how young his team was going to be and that may be their undoing. Outside of the Xavier win, ASU’s best non-conference win was against LSU and they lost to an Illinois squad which played its best basketball of the entire year in that game.
But, assuming that ASU does get an invite to the NCAAs, they could be a dangerous team. Barring a substantial Pac-10 Tourney run, and that isn’t out of the question, the Sun Devils will probably be seeded anywhere from 10-12. That means playing as an underdog and on the road. Mitigating factors will include their defense, which is put at a premium in the NCAA Tournament, the fact that they probably won’t be playing a “true” road game, they hit their free throws and they have Harden. However, they are so young that it would be unwise to think this team could win a first round game. Just getting there will be satisfaction for this season.