Men’s Basketball is 8-2. Why Sun Devil fans shouldn’t overreact.
Wednesday’s email from Sun Devil Athletics said, “The Men’s Basketball team is 8-1! For only the fourth time in 38 years the team has started a season 8-1. If you have been to the games you know what an exciting team this is.”
Although it is their job to encourage the crowd to attend, and while our men’s basketball team certainly is exciting, mentally I always reply: Not so fast, Sun Devil Athletics. While I would love to be proven wrong and see a rebuilding Sun Devil basketball team make an NCAA tourney run, it will not happen.
But why? They are 8-2! They average 77.2 points per game! Freshman Jahii Carson is averaging nearly 18 points per game, put up 30 points against the 14th ranked Creighton Jays, and has surpassed everyone’s expectations.
Center Jordan Bachynski completed the first triple-double in ASU basketball history in an 87-76 win over Cal State Northridge. In that game, he was devoid of a single foul and blocked 12 shots.
Evan Gordon scored 29 against a decent Sac State team and Senior Carrick Felix averages almost 18 points per game. ASU has found a degree of consistency, as they have used the same starting five in nine games after using 12 different starting lineups in the 2011-2012 season. They are rank highly in the nation with almost eight blocks per game. There’s no denying the fact that Herb Sendek is coaching a solid basketball squad. But is it really that good?
I’m not so sure. The Sun Devils have had an mostly easy schedule, have not played on the road, lack depth, and fall short in major fundamental categories.
1. Strength of Schedule
Let’s face it: the Sun Devils have not beaten a good basketball team. Their only quality opponent was 14th ranked Creighton, to which the Sun Devils fell short to by 14 points behind 30 from Carson. The Devils put up 76 points in the losing campaign; it’s not a good sign when a single player constitutes nearly half of a team’s offense. And the Sun Devils haven’t had the opportunity to prove that they can beat quality basketball teams. The Sun Devils played confidently against weaker opponents such as Sacramento State and Florida A&M but ended up getting blown out by unranked Big East DePaul.
2. Home and Happy
The Sun Devils have not played a single game on the road, playing every game at Wells Fargo Arena besides the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, in which the Devils likely played for a neutral crowd. While attendance numbers have increased significantly due to their success (the two most recent games have garnered the most support), there’s no denying the fact that attendance is dismal, averaging just 4566 fans per game. Marching into opponent territory and pulling off a win is considerably more difficult, especially in basketball. Making free throws while the thousands of opposing crazies scream at you and keeping your composure in a different arena are just a few of the factors that will challenge the Devils on the road.
3. Dismal Depth
As previously mentioned, the Sun Devil starting lineup has played incredibly well. In the Cal State Northridge game, each starter finished the matchup with double digits. But scroll down the roster a little bit and we run into some issues. In that same game, ASU’s bench scored a dismal four points in 25 minutes on the court, all of which came from the charity strike. Except for Chris Colvin (11 against Central Arkansas, 15 against Florida A&M) and Eric Jacobsen (16 against Hartford) the Sun Devils haven’t found a player to turn to when the starters aren’t hot. The depth situation only got worse Wednesday night, when the bench combined for another six points after 37 minutes of play. Luckily, ASU hasn’t hit the wall yet, but one can be certain that the starters will either slump or face health problems eventually.
4. Fundamental Flaws
ASU struggles in key categories that can make or break a team. Before the DePaul game, ASU ranked 168th in the nation with nearly 14 turnovers per game. One can try to attribute this to a young team, but the fact remains that ASU has seen little improvement in the turnover category (16 turnovers per game in 2011-2012, the worst in the Pac-12). Possibly a more disturbing statistic is that ASU ranks 242nd in free throw percentage, at 65 percent (also before the DePaul game). You won’t continue to win basketball games if you can’t make the shots that the opposition so generously gives you. ASU’s hopes didn’t improve with the DePaul matchup either; they shot 42.1 percent from the free throw line and committed 13 turnovers.
While it is encouraging to think that ASU basketball will see continued success, it most likely won’t happen. Despite playing so well early on, they might even see a football-like collapse when playing against Pac-12 opponents. Just like Todd Graham’s promising start, Herb Sendek and his squad will likely struggle down the road. There is only one thing that can be said for sure: Don’t get your hopes up too quickly, ASU fans.