(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
As Arizona State opens conference play it’s a great opportunity to look back on the non-conference season that was and examine the keys for success in what promises to be a competitive Pac-12 conference. Our writers took their best crack at it and provide their predictions on where this team will finish.
What has impressed you the most about this ASU team over the non-conference schedule?
Tyler Strachan: The most impressive thing about this team in the early going is the ball movement and overall efficiency of the offense. Arizona State is 19th in the country in assists per game, something that seems quite unbelievable for a team that entered the year with a new everyday starter at the point. But Elisha Davis has proven that she is the real deal when it comes to creating plays for her teammates, and that has lead to a smooth transition offensively for ASU into the post-Deja Mann/ Adrianna Thomas era.
Terra Pinckley: During non-conference play Arizona State started games quickly and created large runs at all points in the game making it near impossible for their opponents to come back. ASU started off three different games with at least a 10 point run which allowed them to put away opponents early. While scoring points is obviously a testament to the offensive skills ASU has, the defense is equally if not more impressive during these streaks. ASU’s defensive efforts have given them plenty of touches on offense, causing them to be able to create the runs and streaks that have led to them winning games.
Drew Martin: The most impressive aspect of this Arizona State team so far is its scoring defense. The Sun Devils stingy defense has allowed only 56.8 points per game in non-conference play, good for second best in the Pac-12. This is a vast improvement from last year’s squad, who were sixth in the conference in scoring defense at 65.7 points per game. The Sun Devils have shown some improvement on offense as well, but they will need to keep up their defensive intensity if they want a chance to contend in the Pac-12.
What’s the most significant concern coming into PAC-12 play?
Tyler Strachan: There has been a lot to like about the Sun Devils so far this season, but a big concern that I have for them heading into Pac-12 competition is their inability to consistently crash the boards. Arizona State currently has the lowest amount of rebounds per game in the entire conference with a measly 34.8. If ASU is can’t out rebound the likes of Utah (6-5) and UCLA (5-7), then they will probably find it difficult to keep contenders like Stanford and Oregon St. from completely blowing them away in the rebounding category.
Terra Pinckley: Coach Charli Turner Thorne has spoken about how this team seems to take the foot off of the gas pedal after building up leads in her postgame press conferences. Arizona State is very good at creating these big leads, but there are points in the game where they tend to cruise and let their opponents surmount a comeback. ASU cannot cruise against some Pac-12 opponents like Cal, Stanford and Oregon State if they want to have success in conference play.
Drew Martin: My biggest concern throughout non-conference play has definitely been the minimal production from the Arizona State bench players. Through 12 games, the ASU starting five have accounted for just over 70% of the total scoring. The bench will need to start making more of an impact on the scoreboard in order for the Sun Devils to compete with teams like Stanford and Oregon State. Luckily for ASU, players like Quinn Dornstauder and Eliza Normen have started to come on as of late, so we’ll see if they can continue to produce as conference play gets going.
Which player will have the biggest impact on ASU’s success in conference play?
Tyler Strachan: Quinn Dornstauder. If you don’t know it already, I am a strong believer in Dornstauder’s ability to become a dominant force in the paint for this basketball team. And while the obvious answers to this question, Sophie Brunner and Promise Amukamara, will play very big roles in the Sun Devils’ success or failure in Pac-12 play, it will be the development of the 6’4 Saskatchewanian that truly determines whether or not ASU is a contender or pretender for the conference crown. If Dornstauder can prove to be a solid inside presence off the bench for the Sun Devils in 2015, they may find themselves in the same conversation as Stanford and Oregon St. as favorites to win the Pac-12.
Terra Pinckley: Quinn Dornstauder will be crucial to Arizona State’s success in conference play. Arizona State’s starters have produced and done more than what was expected of them, but if ASU is to continue its strong season and remained ranked Dornstauder will have to continue to be successfull . With Charli Turner Thorne’s system, there has to be production from the bench and Dornstauder has started to stand out as main contributor. With a solid sixth man, ASU can continue to have success going into conference play.
Drew Martin: In this case, I believe that the obvious answer is the correct one. I have to go with Sophie Brunner. Brunner is leading the team in scoring with 12.5 points per game while also leading the team in rebounds by a substantial margin with 7.6 rebounds per game (the next closest in Quinn Dornstauder at 5.1 per game). Brunner is responsible for a significant portion of ASU’s production in multiple categories, and I believe that she is truly the key to success for this squad. Sophie Brunner will absolutely have to keep up her impressive start throughout conference play to give the Sun Devils a shot at achieving a top spot in the conference.
Predict ASU’s PAC-12 finish.
Tyler Strachan: This is definitely the toughest question for me simply because there hasn’t been a single team in the Pac-12 that has distinguished themselves as clear favorites to become conference champs. Normally you can pencil in Stanford as Pac-12 champs with confidence, but this is the first season since 1999 that the Cardinal seem vulnerable. I know it seems foolish to label the team that took down mighty UCONN as vulnerable, but Stanford has suffered two significant loses to North Carolina and Tennessee and an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Chattanooga. But even with Stanford looking weaker than usual, this is still a deep and tough conference to play in, so I will refrain from making an overly optimistic prediction for ASU’s season. I’m going to go with a 13-5 record in Pac-12 play for the Sun Devils. That accounts for two losses to Stanford, one loss from both Oregon St. and Cal, and I’ll leave a loss for a wild card upset. This would be a two-win improvement on their record from last year, good for a third place conference finish and a spot in the big dance.
Terra Pinckley: If Arizona State is able to improve their rebounding, I can see them finishing third in Pac 12 play behind Stanford and Oregon State. I know that Stanford has had its struggles as of late, but the Cardinal are a resilient team and are entering a more familiar territory starting Pac-12 play this week. Oregon State and Arizona State have gotten off to similar starts on the season, both only losing one game in non-conference play, but Oregon State’s one loss was against a No. 8 ranked Tennessee. Oregon State and Arizona State match up well together, with neither team having a player that eclipses 15 points per game, and are able to move the ball on offense very well. The battle for second place in the Pac-12 will be tough, but I see Oregon State coming out on top, with Arizona State getting bronze, leading them to a solid seed in the NCAA tournament.
Drew Martin: This Arizona State team has looked even better than what I would have predicted early on in the season, but with multiple high-caliber teams in the mix in the Pac-12, it makes it difficult to predict exactly how much success ASU will see in the conference. Stanford defeated UCONN early on, but has faltered in recent outings against Tennessee and UNC. Cal, the preseason favorite, has struggled to an 8-4 record through non-conference play including a three-game losing streak near the end of december. Oregon State might be the most impressive thus far with a 10-1 record and a no. 13 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Overall, I believe that Arizona State will end up with a 12-6 conference record. That accounts for two losses to Oregon State, one loss from Cal, Stanford, and Washington, and one upset bid. This would place the Sun Devils at around fourth in the conference and depending on how the conference tournament unfolds, at about a 7-seed in the NCAA tournament. Both marks would be an improvement from the 2013-14 season.