(Photo: Eliav Gabay/WCSN)
For an Arizona State team with an enormous amount of offensive firepower and talent in the backcourt, there has been a serious lack of size and strength up front. The weakest area for the Sun Devils all season long has been their inability to rebound the ball effectively.
The lone bright spot for Arizona State in regards to rebounding well is senior forward Obinna Oleka. Despite standing at about 6’8 and weighing just 225 pounds, Oleka has essentially been playing at the center position all season for a very undersized Sun Devil lineup. Earlier on in the year, he was somewhat aided by star freshman Sam Cunliffe, but after Cunliffe’s mid-season transfer to Kansas, Oleka was left alone in the paint to fend for himself.
Oleka managed to meet the challenge head-on, having the best statistical season of his college career. He is averaging a team-high 10.1 rebounds per game (good for the number 22 average in the country) and has the 19th most total rebounds in the country with 262 rebounds so far.
However, despite his impressive rebounding ability and numbers, he does not get much support on the glass from his teammates. Senior guard Torian Graham is second on the team with a minuscule average of just 4.1 rebounds per game. The other two big men in the lineup, freshmen Ramon Vila and Jethro Tshisumpa, have done little to help as well averaging just 2.2 and 1.5 rebounds per game respectively.
Those numbers may be low due in part due to the much higher usage of Oleka compared to those backup big men. Vila and Tshisumpa play a combined average of 20.6 minutes per game compared to Oleka’s 32.4 minutes per game.
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley has relied heavily on his starting lineup this season, with each starter averaging at least 29.6 minutes per game. Vila and Tshisumpa have been the only other players to get consistent minutes and appear in almost all of the team’s games thus far. (Tshisumpa missed the team’s most recent game against Cal).
The lack of depth has hurt the Sun Devils on both ends of the court but Oleka especially has been left alone on an island; in the painted area. Many of Oleka’s impressive rebounding performances have gone by the wayside, with ASU losing four of the five games in which he had his five best performances on the glass this season.
Even though the Sun Devils have not performed well as a team so far this season, they surely would have struggled even more severely without Oleka’s efforts.