(Photo: Sun Devil Athletics)
Arizona State has gotten off to a 5-1 start after a third place finish in the Gulf Coast Classic. With their two leading scorers graduating and a position switch for one of their best players in Kelsey Moos this team had more questions than answers coming into the season. With a break-out performance from Sophie Brunner and a balanced offensive attack ASU is exceeding expectations. Our reporters break down what’s working and what isn’t.
Through the first six games of the season who has been the most valuable player for this team?
Tyler Strachan : The player who has impressed me the most so far in this short season has got to be Katie Hempen. Coming into this season it was clear that she was going to have to step up and take over a leadership role for a team that lacks upperclassmen experience, and I think that she has done a fantastic job of that. She has developed into a vocal leader both on the court, where she can be seen encouraging and interacting with her younger teammates, and off the court when her post game interviews resemble a Charli Turner- Thorne press conference. Not to mention she’s shooting 35% from deep and averaging 10.8 points per game, becoming one of the Sun Devil’s top scoring threats.
Drew Martin: Through the past six games, Sophie Brunner has been a staple of this Sun Devil team. Brunner has led the team in scoring (13.8 points per game) and in rebounding (9.0 rebounds per game). With a strong presence like Brunner on the inside, the Arizona State offense has a much easier time operating in its half court sets, Brunner’s gravity generating shots for perimeter shooters like Katie Hempen. As the season continues to unfold and Brunner continues to operate at such a high level, don’t be surprised if she is in the conversation for Pac-12 player of the year.
Terra Pinckley: The easy answer would be Sophie Brunner, she’s stepped up at the beginning of this year and filled the hole left by Adrianne Thomas and Deja Mann when it came to scoring. However, all around, I would go with Promise Amukamara. Amukamara is averaging 11.5 points per game which is impressive, but I’m more impressed by her defense. In ASU’s second game of the season Amukamara was asked to shut down CSU Bakersfield’s top player, Tyonna Outland. Outland averaged 20.7 points per game last season, and coming in to the season there was no reason to think she wouldn’t continue to dominate. Coach Charli Turner Thorne gave Amukamara the assignment to guard Outland the whole game, and that she did. Amukamara held Outland to nine points. Amukamara is on her way to making her senior year one to remember.
Thoughts on Kelsey Moos moving to the perimeter?
Tyler Strachan: The first thing that comes to mind when I hear about a center moving to the outside is the Pau Gasol situation a few years ago with the Los Angles Lakers. But Kelsey Moos’ graduation to the perimeter has gone a bit more smoothly than Mr. Gasol’s. She is currently shooting a surprising 42% from behind the arc while maintaining a field goal percentage of 53%. So until she starts missing these outside jumpers, I don’t see how this could be anything but positive for ASU.
Drew Martin: During the offseason, Coach Charli Turner Thorne began having Kelsey Moos spend more time on the perimeter. Although Moos was relatively quiet through the first few games, she really started to look comfortable on the perimeter during the Gulf Coast Showcase. In the loss to Green Bay, Moos had her most impressive outing of the season thus far, leading the team in scoring with 15 points. She got open often, and looked happy to knock down the mid-range shots that the defense was giving her. If Moos can start to come into her own on the perimeter, it will add another dimension to this offense.
Terra Pinckley: While it was a bit rough at first, Kelsey Moos seems to be adjusting to her role on the perimeter as of late. During the Gulf Coast Showcase, Moos was taking more jumpers and finding a better groove in the offense overall. Moos averaged 11.7 points per game during the showcase, while only averaging seven points in the games before it. Moos is starting to feel at home on the perimeter, which will only help this Sun Devil team as the season moves on.
What aspect of the team has impressed you the most six games in?
Tyler Strachan: The aspect of the team that has caught my eye in these first few games is the ball movement. You rarely see the rock stop moving in the half court offense and while I think a lot of that can be attributed to Elisha Davis’ ability to distribute, it’s still been fun to watch the unselfish mindset that this team has been playing with. When the ball keeps moving in and out the paint and around the perimeter, that’s where you find open shots and ASU has done a good job of that so far.
Drew Martin: The most impressive aspect of the team as a whole is how relaxed they’ve looked in their half-court sets. With Deja Mann at the helm last season, the team seemed to rely more on transition points and just feeding Mann the ball. This year, the offense looks much more established and looks to have more players contributing. Because so many players on the roster are able to score and find their own shots in the half-court, they don’t have to rely quite as much on getting out in transition.
Terra Pinckley: The offense is without a doubt the most impressive thing about this team so far. There were a lot of questions coming into the season about the offense, and a lot of doubts. Sophie Brunner, Promise Amukamara and Katie Hempen are all averaging double digits in points, and Kelsey Moos and Elisha Davis aren’t far behind. The offense has been able to spread the ball around the court well. Nobody on this offense is afraid to drive to the basket, which forces the defense to account for every player on the court. Doubling Brunner is a recipe for disaster as it leaves a viable option for the Sun Devils wide open.
What’s your biggest concern as a team so far?
Tyler Strachan: My biggest concern is the lack of productivity this team has been receiving from its bench. Charli Turner-Throne is known for her crazy rotations and ability to get multiple players involved, but we’ve yet to see anyone come off the pine and take leadership of that second unit. I understand that it takes a while for newer, younger players such as Peace Amukamara and Tia Kanoa to find their niche on a new team, but these players came into the year with lofty expectations that they have been struggling to meet early on. And although I have no doubt that Peace and the class of freshmen will find their groove eventually, It’s still troubling to see ASU’s bench get outscored 61- 35 over the course of three games in the Gulf Coast Showcase.
Drew Martin: My biggest concern so far is how will this young team matchup with some of the deeper, more talented teams as they move closer to Pac-12 play. With games against Stanford and Cal on the schedule, the Sun Devils will need to ensure that their bench is able to perform at a high level every game and not falter like they did against Green Bay. With plenty of games until Pac-12 play, Coach Charli Turner Thorne has time to whip everybody into shape.
Terra Pinckley: The defense has to be the biggest concern thus far. While the unit has shown sparks of greatness, it’s just been too inconsistent. They are letting way too many points get scored in the paint, which could very well be an issue the entire year, seeing as the Sun Devils aren’t a particularly tall team. Other than Sophie Brunner and Kelsey Moos, nobody on the team is averaging more than five rebounds per game, and the team as a whole only has a +.7 turnover ratio. The defense has done enough in the beginning of the season, but if the Sun Devils want to finish near the top of this conference, it will definitely have to improve.