(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
What distinguishes good teams from great teams isn’t necessarily the talent or the coaching because early on, the Arizona State Sun Devils have shown that they have enough of both to be able to compete with nearly any team in the country. The crucial difference is how they limit shooting themselves in the foot.
After rolling through one of the most difficult nonconference schedules in the entire country, ASU finds itself tied for last in the Pac-12 with a 1-4 conference record after losing only three in its 13 nonconference contests.
The major difference from then to now has been the self-inflicted wounds they are putting on themselves, and the numbers reflect that.
Looking at the Washington games alone, only a few things stand out that could potentially make a huge difference in deciding the fate of a game. For example, ASU missed 13 free throws, and the final margin of defeat was only four. Put free-throw shooting to the side, and the Sun Devils did everything they could in executing their Pac-12 winning formula they showed against Washington State.
For starters, the big change everybody was excited for with new head coach Bobby Hurley was the tempo. While on average ASU’s number of possessions per game has improved from last season, it outdid themselves in the Washington games.
In a typical game, the Sun Devils have the ball 70.8 times per game, which ranks 119th overall in the country. Against UW and WSU, the Sun Devils had 79 in each game, which would make them tied for second in the nation if that was their regular pace.
If a team’s possession count is that high, then it must mean that they aren’t making enough shots or the other team is forcing the issue. Theoretically, that makes sense. ASU shot 38 percent from the floor against Washington State and managed to win, while in its loss to Washington it shot seven percent better.
Other similarities in the numbers between the Washington series are all over the place. Against WSU, the Sun Devils turned the ball over 10 times, while giving away possession 11 times against UW. Ten made three-pointers against WSU stands next to the nine made against UW. The Sun Devil bench contributed 28 points against both Washington schools and grabbed the same amount of rebounds in both games.
The same speaks for the matchups with the Los Angeles schools. No more than 13 turnovers, no less than seven made three-pointers, and against UCLA, the Sun Devils were outrebounded by three while USC outrebounded the Sun Devils by eight. Possessions were also above their average, with 77 against the Bruins and 73 against the Trojans.
At this point, it seems that Hurley has found his formula to success: rebound, limit turnovers, keep a high pace, and make sure his players aren’t afraid to shoot. What lies beneath those things seems to be what is holding ASU back.
Entering conference play, the Sun Devils shot 71.6 percent from the free throw line. If they continued to shoot at that rate, they would be in the top 100 in terms of free throw shooting. Instead, the Sun Devils dropped their percentage down to 68.5 percent, which ranks them 209th in the country.
Against Washington, free throws seemed to be everything. If you take free throws out of the game, the Huskies made the same amount of three-point field goals as the Sun Devils, and overall, the Huskies made 34 total shots from the floor compared to the Sun Devils 30. This would mean that the Huskies espace with an eight-point lead.
Reinserting free throws into the equation, the Sun Devils made four more free throws than UW but missed 13, which is how the four-point loss came about. Had the Sun Devils made their nonconference average in terms of percentage, they would have made four more free throws than their converted 13.
While there may be signs of consistency through the numbers for the Sun Devils, their biggest problem is the simplest of issues to fix. After all, they are “free.”