Pac-10 Preview – Arizona State #4

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by Griffin Bennett

Last year’s second place team in the Regular season, the Sun Devils got snubbed out of the Big Dance. I really feel for them as they had the best team in the nation that did not make it. Coach Herb Sendek has surprised everybody with his ability to win games so quickly and is definitely making the ASU program one of the most consistent ones in the conference.
 
This will be a key season for Coach Sendek as he will try to prove to recruits and alumni that he can keep his team at the top of the league and contend for league championships. This year he has a great combination of senior leadership and young talent. It could be a big year for the Sun Devils.
 
Key Losses:
 
-Derek Glasser – (10.1 ppg, 4.8apg) – graduated
-Eric Boateng – (8.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) – graduated
-Jerren Ship – (4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg) – graduated
– Demetrius Walker – (4.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg) – transfer to New Mexico
 
Best of the Rest:
 
While they might have lost their most hated played (Glasser), they still return two deadly players in Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott. Kuksiks (12.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg) is a deadly shooter while Abbott (12.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg) is no slouch from behind the arc either. They shot a combined 39% while attempting 404 threes.
 
We can’t forget Jamelle McMillan (6.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.8 apg) who is a local guy from O’Dea and is the glue that keeps Sendek’s offense working. Other notable returnees are Trent Lockett, Ruslan Pateev, and Taylor Rohde.
 
Incoming Freshmen:
 
Herb Sendek completely reloaded this year. With seven signees (two JUCO), their team is almost unrecognizable. Starting with the JUCO guys, the headliner would easily be Carrick Felix. From CSI, the same school that Aziz N’Diaye came from, he originally committed to Duke and became Coach K’s first JUCO player ever. After he failed to qualify academically he signed on with the Sun Devils. He is freakishly athletic from the wing position (6’6”) and can attack the rim. He enters as a sophomore and will contribute heavily. The other JUCO player of note is 6’1” PG Brandon Dunson who will probably be on the bench a lot of the year. He comes in as a junior and will help to alleviate the loss of Glasser.
 
The true story is the Sun Devil’s incoming freshmen. They have a potential freshman-of-the-year candidate in Kaela King. King was their only four-star recruit, but looks to start immediately for the Sun Devils. Jamelle McMillian called him a “lethal weapon on the offensive end as well as the defensive end”. Look for the 6’6” G/F to be the pre-season leader for FOTY. 6’7” forward Kyle Cain has already outshone is two-star ranking and impressed Coach Sendek already. Due to ASU’s lack of front court depth, Cain looks to be one of the key guys off the bench all year.
 
Their other newcomers consist of 6’7” SF Chase Creekmur, 6’2” SG Corey Hawkins, and 7’2” C Jordan Bachynski.
 
Projected Starting Line-up:
 
PG: Jamelle McMillan – 6’2”
 
SG: Ty Abbott – 6’3”
 
SF: Kaela King – 6’6”
 
PF: Rihards Kuksiks – 6’6”
 
C: Ruslan Pateev – 7’0”
 
Outlook:
 
The Sun Devils have one of the best senior classes with McMillan, Abbott, and Kuksiks, but their overall roster lacks experience. By my count, 3 of their top 7 players will have never played a Pac-10 game before. Also, they lack the inside pressure that Boateng provided last year and will have a huge weakness inside all year. Their only contributor who is taller than 6’7” is Pateev who will have to step up huge in his sophomore season.  Teams with height and length (USC, UW, UCLA) will succeed against ASU this year.  Their back court is second to only UW this year and can win games by itself.
 
There is a “Top Four” tier in the Pac-10 this year and ASU comes in at the worst of the bunch. I see them going 12-6 and earning one of the last births into the tournament as the Pac-10 sheds its “weak” perception.
 
How UW Beats Them:
 
The Herb Sendek coached teams have always infuriated the Dawgs with their zone defense, and slow offensive pace. They try to grind out wins by forcing turnovers and maximizing each possession. This year, however, the Sun Devils have a glaring weakness down low that they haven’t had in the past. Look for MBA, Aziz, Gant, and Holiday to have great days against their relatively small front line.
 
While ASU boasts a hefty back court, UW’s own back court is unmatched. Only the Huskies can match them player for player and it should negate any advantage for the Sun Devils. If they didn’t play Sendek’s type of game, I could see a two game sweep but, unfortunately, they do. Splitting the home games seems like a realistic option as the road trip to the Arizona schools looks tough this year.
 
Countdown Recap:
#5: USC

#6: WSU

#7: Oregon State

#8: Stanford

#9: Cal

#10: Oregon