On Saturday October 20th, the Arizona State basketball team officially kicked off the 2012 season with the annual Maroon and Gold intrasquad scrimmage. Despite last season’s disappointing 10-21 record, an encouraging crowd of about 400 packed the lower bowl of Wells Fargo Arena for Saturday’s 10 a.m. matinee.
The 2011-2012 version of the Sun Devils struggled to find offensive flow and defensive consistency. They found themselves on the short end of games against Pepperdine, Fairfield, and the University of Southern Missouri.
Coach Herb Sendek promised a much improved product for the 2012-2013 season, and made a statement by bringing in former NBA head coach Eric Musselman and a proven NBA assistant in Larry Greer to assist him on the bench.
Armed with two impressive assistants, Sendek also has the added benefit of playing Mesa High School legend Jahii Carson and Liberty University transfer Evan Gordon after they sat out last season.
The Maroon and Gold game offered fans the first glimpse into the future of Sun Devil basketball and marked the first time the 2012-2013 team subjected itself to outside evaluation. After the three, 10 minute “segments” concluded, the following five points of analysis became clear heading into the season.
1) Jahii Carson deserves the hype
This off-season, the Sun Devil media relations unit decided to gamble and make Jahii Carson the face of Arizona State basketball. A highly recruited talent who averaged 32.2 points per game for Mesa High School in his senior season, Carson found himself academically ineligible for his freshman season last year. Regardless, Arizona State put Carson on a pedestal and the majority of the fans at the Maroon and Gold scrimmage showed up simply to see if Carson was the real deal.
Good news for ASU fans. Carson can play. In 30 minutes of action, Carson dropped 18 points on 8 of 14 shooting, dished a few no look passes from impossible angles, and played on the winning team in each of the three segments.
If Jahii Carson can consistently perform against Pac-12 competition the way he performed against his teammates, then Arizona State should make vast offensive improvements from just a year ago.
2) Junior Transfer Evan Gordon is a Pac-12 talent
After transferring to Arizona State, Evan Gordon sat out the 2011-2012 season and focused on learning the ins and outs of Coach Herb Sendek’s scheme. Gordon acknowledges the differences between the system he played in at Liberty but notes,
“I like to play up-tempo and I like to play man-to-man” and he looks forward those opportunities at Arizona State.
Unlike Carson, Gordon is a proven talent at the college level as he averaged 14.4 points per game during his sophomore year at Liberty. Aside from his offensive prowess, Gordon considers himself a lock-down defender and should have no problem using his 6 foot 3, 200 pound frame to contribute on the defensive end of the floor.
3) The Sun Devils will struggle in the paint
If the Maroon and Gold scrimmage is any indication, Arizona State will rely heavily on guard play this year. Throughout the action, returning post players Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev went head-to-head in a battle of seven footers. Both players labored through the scrimmage and neither demonstrated a compelling reason for Sun Devil guards to pass them the ball.
In the later half of last season, Bachynski came on as a legitimate scoring threat, but appeared to have taken a step backward as Pateev actually got the best of him on most possessions. Unfortunately, neither player shot or rebounded particularly well and the starting nod will go to Bachynski simply because he is superior defensively.
4) Arizona State lacks depth
Eventually, look for the Sun Devils to build around Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon. Unfortunately for ASU fans, Carrick Felix is a senior and even though Chris Colvin started last year, expect Gordon to supplant him early on. Jonathan Gilling and Jordan Bachynski will start, but neither brings a dynamic spark to the lineup. The takeaway is that both forwards played fairly well in the second half of Pac-12 play.
Aside from the first six in the rotation, not one of the Sun Devil reserves looks like they would get meaningful playing time on another Pac-12 team. Arizona State does not have a true power forward, and putting Pateev and Bachynski on the floor together would qualify as a mess.
Most of the talent on the roster resides in the backcourt, so expect Coach Sendek’s lineup to reflect that.
5) Time to look to 2013 already?
This does not come as surprising analysis, yet a fresh start to the season and the presence of Jahii Carson might give fans the wrong impression. One player does not make a team. Just because they play well against their teammates does not mean they will do the same damage in conference play.
However, there is reason to believe that Arizona State will make significant strides this year and that could be felt in the standings. A finish in the upper half of the Pac-12 would shock most people, but finishing around 6th or 7th is not unrealistic for a program in transition. Once again, this Sun Devils program may be another year away.