(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
The 2015-16 season carries as many questions as it does reasons for optimism surrounding Arizona State basketball. With the regular season opener against Sacramento State just over two weeks away, the Sun Devils are quite eager to get the season rolling.
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley will have a few closed scrimmages to gauge where his team is, as well as, an open exhibition against Western New Mexico on November 7.
“At this point in the year — and it’s been true almost everywhere I’ve been — after a month of going at each other every day, you want another opponent,” Hurley said. “That’s kind of where we’re at right now.”
While practice time is good for helping the six returners mesh with the newcomers, , playing against an unfamiliar roster will be a welcome sight for the team.
“It’s going to be real good,” senior forward Willie Atwood said. “Right now, we’re knocking each other out, so we want to let our pressure out on somebody else, so it’ll be really fun. I’m really excited to see how it’s going to go.”
The exhibitions will be especially critical for the Sun Devils as Hurley and his staff continue to feel out what type of players they have to fill out the roster.
“It’s getting chippy (in practice),” Atwood said. “We’re pushing each other hard every day. The competition in practice is way tougher because you know everybody want to show coach what they’re capable of, and we actually want to win this year and do some big things.”
Finding a rotation
In addition to replacing critical players like Shaquielle McKissic, Bo Barnes and Jonathan Gilling, the Sun Devils will enter the season with a mere nine scholarship players eligible. Although junior guards Shannon Evans and Torian Graham are able to practice every day, they are forced to redshirt since they followed Hurley from Buffalo.
“When you’re taking over, you’re trying to find the right combinations and what we do well and what our strengths are and what we need to work on,” Hurley said. “As much as it’s good for the guys – and I think they enjoy those reps – it’s good for us as coaches to evaluate.”
That evaluation hit a speed bump this week when junior forward Savon Goodman was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his foot. As a precautionary measure more than anything else, Goodman has missed the last four days of practice.
“We have to get creative to find ways to get reps because we’re not super deep on the front court,” Hurley said of Goodman’s absence in practice.
Even with concerns regarding depth, Hurley is pleased with what he has seen from his team thus far.
“You can really go up and down the line. It’s going to make it hard on us as coaches to distribute minutes and settle on a starting lineup,” he said.
While the Sun Devils are far from finding a solidified rotation, Hurley and the team are continuing to make the transition into the style his style of play. In the midst of installing a faster offense and an aggressive defensive mindset, senior guard Gerry Blakes and his team feel like they are adjusting well.
“They actually made an easy adjustment for us being in that they said they don’t have to coach effort,” Blakes said. “I think that’s a big thing that we bring it every day, and he’s just teaching us their system and their winning ways.”
Jacobsen continues to impress
Hurley has been consistently adamant in praising Jacobsen’s play through this portion of the preseason, and he has every reason to lean on his senior center. Jacobsen is the only eligible Sun Devils who stands above 6-foot-7, and Atwood called him their only “true” post player.
“At this level, you need a guy with that type of size, take up space in the lane and rebound the way he can,” Hurley said. “He’s a great screener too, which is an underrated skill.”
Jacobsen’s weight loss has been apparent and his movement on the court looks much more fluid than last season. Not only is he feeling springier, he has also expanded his game by working on his midrange jump shot this season.
“I feel comfortable picking-and-popping to the mid-range,” he said, then joked: “You’ll see a few threes.”
In his final season, Jacobsen understands the stakes of the season even with it looking like more of a transitional year than anything else. Even so, as the season draws closer, the pressure mounts.
“Now that we’ve gotten closer to the end of this beginning segment, you can tell that the margin for error has gotten a lot slimmer,” Jacobsen said.
Jacobsen and the Sun Devils will have several opportunities to refine the rotation and get healthy before their November 13 opener. The team is as optimistic as you’d expect with a fresh coaching staff and fresh start.
“We have that desperation, that drive to give it our all on our last go around,” Blakes said.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com