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Off track: An in-depth look into Herb Sendek’s player rotations.

(photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

Good teams are built upon a solid foundation. No matter if that team is an engineering group working together to solve an issue, a group of criminals getting ready to rob a vault, or a talented and capable basketball squad — teams need foundation and stability.

Stability is needed in basketball because it’s an athletic game in which those who are mentally superior fly above the rest of the competition. In order for players to be mentally stable though, they need to know their role on a team.

Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek has tinkered with his lineup more than a few times this season, and it has affected the roles of several players on the team.

Coming into the year he spoke glowingly about the depth of his bench and how this might be the deepest team he has had during his tenure at ASU.

The problem is that during the course of the season players have gotten both lost and rescued out of the complexity of his bench and that has made for a rocky foundation when a stable one would be a vessel ASU could smoothly move forward.

Why have the player rotations and minutes among each player been unstable and erratic?  In order to find out, let’s break the ASU season so far into four quarters consisting of five games a piece.


The First Quarter (Nov. 8 – Nov. 22)

At the beginning of the season, Sendek had voiced that his probable opening day lineup would consist of point guard Jahii Carson, forward Shaquielle McKissic, shooting guard Jermaine Marshall, forward Jon Gilling, and center Jordan Bachynski. ASU’s head coach made good on that prediction for 80 percent of this first quarter. A look at the positives says the Sun Devils went undefeated in this quarter. Tallying two 90-point games, two 80-point efforts, and a 70-point effort as well.

Four of the five starters began as expected and their minutes and lineup placement reflected their steady play. Over the first five games Bachynski averaged 27.6 minutes, Carson averaged 32.8 minutes, Gilling averaged 26.6 minutes, and Marshall averaged 26.6 minutes.

McKissic, the fifth starter began the season with a solid 11 points against the University of Maryland Baltimore County.  But, then he began to struggle going scoreless in two of his next three games. His playing time diminished from the season opening 28 minutes to just 13 minutes in the team’s fourth game.  In the fifth game, McKissic didn’t even make it out onto the court as he was benched in favor of Egor Koulechov.

Koulechov began the first three games of the season playing 10, 15, and 20 minutes respectively. The 6-foot-5 forward from Russia received his most playing time to that point by registering 34 minutes in the fourth game of this first quarter. In that fourth game against UNLV, Koulechov sweated and fought his way to a gritty five points and 10 rebounds. The next game, when the Sun Devils returned home, Koulechov was in the starting lineup for McKissic.

Before moving on to the next quarter, there is one more role player that received a considerable amount of playing time in these first five games.

Chance Murray, the freshman guard concluded the quarter averaging 13.2 minutes a game, but that average was very up and down. Murray played eight minutes in the season opener. He scored seven points on 2-3 shooting and had four assists. Against Miami of Ohio, Murray recorded 19 minutes of playing time, and with that time he registered six points and five boards.

Murray’s minutes then spiked to 25 in the third game of the year. However after that eight point, three rebound, one turnover (his first of the season) performance, he played five minutes against UNLV, nine when the team played Bradley, and three against Marquette.


The Second Quarter (Nov. 25 – Dec. 6)

Again, Bachynski, Carson, Gilling, and Marshall’s playing time is very much assured. In fact all four of those starters saw their average minutes increase from the first quarter of the season to the second quarter of the year.

This increase in playing time obviously means that other players are getting minutes revoked. The particular reasoning in this quarter is because the Sun Devils were involved in three challenging games, two of which resulted in losses to Creighton and Miami.

The most interesting storyline was still the war for the fifth starting position between McKissic and Koulechov. Koulechov came out victorious in the schedule’s second quarter quite handedly. He averaged 26.2 minutes while McKissic received his first benching because of coach’s decision. When you factor in his zero minutes  against Miami, McKissic averaged 17 minutes in the second quarter.

Although Koulechov won the battle of the second quarter, once again the winds of change swayed into prominence. Koulechov’s production began to decrease as the competition increased. The wingman went a respectable 4-8 from the field accounting for nine points and six rebounds in the Sun Devils’ win against Marquette. Disregarding his 12 point performance over a vastly inferior College of Charleston Koulechov’s next few games were widely unproductive.

He played 24 minutes in both losses against Miami and Creighton. At this point in the second quarter of the season, Koulechov averaged 29 minutes a game. But after a string of mediocre showings the transfer received just 15 minutes in the fifth game of the schedule’s second quarter against DePaul.

While all this was occurring in Koulechov’s domain, over on the bench McKissic did not seem as if he was doing much. The games encompassed a pair of six point outings against Marquette and Creighton, then a nine-minute game against Charleston that was a blowout. McKissic received the previously mentioned DNP in the game following Charleston. So fans and more importantly McKissic were probably thinking that the forward should settle in for an extended stay on the bench, right?

Wrong. The next game, Koulechov registered 15 minutes while the afro-haired guard from Seattle logged 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 31 minutes This closes out McKissic’s second quarter of the season.


The Third Quarter (Dec. 14 – Jan. 5)

The minutes per game averages of this third segment of five games are as follows for the five starters: Bachynski 31.6, Carson 32.6, Gilling 25.2, Marshall 30.2.

There was not a monumental movement in minutes even if the Canadian center was the lone man of the four to see an increase in average playing time.

One of the biggest issues with ASU last season was that they were a team that only went six men deep, and when it came down to crucial games in the back nine of the season the Sun Devils were not virtuous because of their lack of depth. Therefore, of course I am going to belabor and obsess over the time role and bench players are cataloging, especially when the team is boasting about the legendary depth they hold before the season.

Koulechov hung on to his starting position in the first of the next five games. However, it did not mean much at the end of the Grambling State game when both he and McKissic finished with 19 minutes played. Unfortunately for Koulechov while his zero points and six rebounds may have contributed to the win, McKissic’s 19 points on 6-8 shooting was a lot more attractive.

So what happens in the next game against Texas Tech? Anyone? Ah yes, the Seattle forward was back in the starting lineup. Over the next four games he played 36, 30, 31, and 32 minutes respectively. Three of those games were the beginning of the all-important in-conference schedule.

Koulechov’s playing time over the next four games contained outings of: 14, 16, 10, and 13 minutes. Koulechov averaged 13.25 minutes when coming off the bench in this section of five games, while McKissic averaged 32.35 when starting the last four games.

Maintenance still has not been called to this point for Murray because his minutes indicate that he’s still stuck on the roller coaster of erratic playing time. Murray received 17 minutes in the blowout win over Grambling State, which was more than Eric Jacobsen’s who I’ve yet to even address. Murray then played one minute against Texas Tech and three in ASU’s matchup with UC Irvine. Then after back-to-back games in whichMurray played single digit minutes the guard sweated out 10 minutes in the conference opener with the University of Washington. It was a game in which he was essentially non-existent, only scoring two points on two attempted field goals. These were not exactly blowout minutes either. This is baffling because after playing 10 solid minutes of run the guard received a single minute of playing time in ASU’s blowout 66-47 win over Washington State.

A player cannot be expected to excel without a blueprint of what their minutes will be from night-to-night.

A side note before we move on to the final quarter. Michigan State transfer Brandan Kearney played his first three games of the season in this third segment of five games. He was presented with a relatively set schedule of minutes that consisted of: 7, 11, 6, and 7 minutes again in the first game of the fourth quarter of the schedule.


The Fourth Quarter (Jan. 9 – Jan. 25)

Alright, so in the fourth quarter of the season (the last fully concluded quarter to this point) the winds of change are still very much present. The players with their starting positions cemented into the Wells Fargo Arena jumbotron now consist of only three, Bachynski, Carson, and Marshall. Their averages over this stretch of five games are as follows: Bachynski 31.4, Carson 33.8, and Marshall 29.5 minutes.

As you were already aware of and can now see from his exclusion, Gilling was moved out of the starting lineup during this span of five games.

But before we get to that, let’s take a quick peak back in at what Koulechov and McKissic are up to in this quarter.

To this point McKissic was able to come into the gym for a month straight and know what minutes he was going to play, and he performed at the level ASU needed. As for Koulechov, times have been tough. He averaged 7.4 minutes per game, including his first DNP of the season in an incredibly tough 79-75 win over Utah. Koulechov’s minutes descended as the quarter progressed: 14, 13, 8, DNP, 2. Go figure why he hasn’t been productive.

Gilling as was highlighted a few paragraphs above, was uprooted from what was perceived to be an assured starting position. The junior moved to the bench in the fourth game of this particular quarter. The difference about this change is that Gilling actually averaged more minutes coming off the bench for two games, 27.5, than the prior quarter of the season. Complementing the decision to move Gilling to the bench was the 9-10 shooting he accumulated in his final two matches.

Surprisingly, the Gilling move has been the least of ASU’s worries. Largely because he has still logged the same minutes in his newly inserted bench role.  Taking over for Gilling in the starting lineup has been sophomore Eric Jacobsen, he has been one of the Milford Men of this ASU team. Jacobsen was neither seen nor heard during the span of the UNLV game to the match against UCLA.

During that time period Jacobsen’s longest outings lasted 13, 9 and 8 minutes. Then all of a sudden the big man was bestowed with 19 minutes against the University of Arizona after playing two minutes in the previous UCLA match. One thing led to another and Jacobsen was in the starting lineup playing 16 minutes against Utah and 20 against Colorado.

Oddly enough Jacobsen is not even the most drastic modification from bench warmer to court swarmer. That title belongs to Bo Barnes.

The same young man who received eight DNPs during the course of the first 20 games was given a chance during the blowout loss against U of A. Barnes knocked down some shots (3-5 from three-point land to be exact) in 17 minutes. Just like that, the transfer from Hawaii gets 28 minutes against Utah and 19 against Colorado.

So there you have it, a presentation of ASU basketball’s ferris wheel of a player rotation. As you can now see player’s relevance to the team come and go like a hippie in the 70s. They settle into a role for a couple games then move on to the next slated position.

For example, Brandan Kearney, the young man’s previous four games consisted of 21, 24, 10, and 10 minutes played. Then in the first game of the season’s fifth quarter against Cal, Kearney played two minutes. In an overtime game I might add.

The only thing that is certain about this ASU team is that the lineups and personnel will continue to change. Koulechov will likely see a spike in minutes before the season ends, and it would be shocking to see Jacobsen remain in the starting lineup for the remainder of the year.

I do not say that because of their ability, but because of the coaching staff’s propensity to be unsatisfied with their current personnel and roles. When achieving a stable player rotation is one of the main ingredients to serving up a basketball squad, the end result is often dancing.

Dancing requires stability and solidarity. Without a solid foundation of what your identity and make up is, your knees will begin to buckle and you will ultimately crumble.

You can reach this author via email or on twitter @CammeronNeely

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