TEMPE Give Arizona State credit.
With personnel this season suited to run the floor, the Sun Devils will.
It is somewhat of a change from the post-James Harden teams of recent seasons, when the Sun Devils strength was their perimeter shooting.
With junior college transfer Chris Colvin in place this season, and the hope that touted freshman Jahii Carson will be joining him soon, the Sun Devils appear to have the kind of edgy, aggressive lead guards who can create their own shots and also find their way into the paint to set up easy hoops for others.
Colvin showed that in ASUs 20-point victory over Grand Canyon in an exhibition last weekend. Freshman Carson dominated the Arizona high school scene with that skill set the last two years at Mesa High, although he is still awaiting eligibility clearance.
ASU will open the regular season against Montana State on Friday at Wells Fargo Arena. The game can be seen live on FOXSportsArizona.com. (Click here)
The new attack mode cannot hurt a team that made only 42.6 percent of its field goals and averaged six fewer points than its opponents in conference play a year ago. The Sun Devils (12-19, 4-14) finished last in the league and were eliminated in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament by Oregon, a team they beat twice in the regular season.
ASU is not picked to do particularly well this season, either, not that it means much. Pac-12 media members voted ASU to finish ninth in their preseason poll, ahead of only Klay Thompson-less Washington State and newcomers Colorado and Utah.
Leading scorer Trent Lockett, a 6-foot-4 junior, and leading rebounder Kyle Cain, a 6-7 sophomore, are the signature returnees. The veteran perimeter threesome of Ty Abbott, Jamelle McMillan and Rik Kuksiks the 2-3-4 scorers last season have departed. McMillan led the Pac-10 in assistturnover ratio.
ASU will be the youngest team in the conference. There are no seniors, and Lockett and 7-footer Ruslan Pateev are the only players who have been in the program for as long as two years. But ASU is heavy in athletic wings and guards, and it appears suited to an up-tempo game.
Here are five things to watch for in coach Herb Sendeks sixth season at ASU.
--Will the rebounding improve? The Sun Devils must be a better rebounding team, not only to limit opponents second-chance possessions, but also to get the running game off the ground. They were outrebounded by 3.6 boards a game last season, and almost double that (6.7 per game) in conference play,. The Sun Devils have size in 7-footers in Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski, but rebounding is more about positioning and desire than pure height. Sendek has stressed a team approach, and he was pleased with the out-of-area rebounds that athletic wing Carrick Felix and Lockett had against Grand Canyon.
--How will the new half-court offense work? Not only are the Sun Devils trying to pick up the pace, they also are planning to use new offensive sets that feature more screening, especially at the top of the key. It should create wiggle room for their point guards and create pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop opportunities for their shooters. The ball screens also should create lanes for slasher Lockett to drive to the basket, the strength of his game.
--Will the free throw shooting improve? ASU was last in the Pac-10 in free throw shooting at 62.8 percent last season, ranking 313th out of the 335 NCAA Division I schools, but it was not for a lack of awareness. Like most teams, the Sun Devils spend time at the end of every practice at the foul line, simulating late-game conditions when the players are tired. The Sun Devils need to convert more of those free points. Lockett got to the line 133 times last season, the most on the team, and made 88, 66.2 percent.
--Will there be more size on the floor? Sendek appears intrigued with the idea of playing two big men together, something ASU rarely did last season, to give an opponent a different look. Pateev and Cain started the exhibition game at Grand Canyon, although neither played much because of early foul trouble. And 7-2 Bachynski had some sparkling moments last season, most notably in a short burst against Arizona game in Tucson, in his first season back after missing a year with an ankle injury two more on an LDS mission. He is the best shot-blocker on the team, too. A two-big would give ASU the bodies to match up against the physical front line of, say, UCLA, although much of the Pac-12 does play smaller groups.
--Will the lack of experience be an issue? Lockett has said he plans to step into the leadership role that was handled by McMillan and to a lesser extent Abbott last season, and his experience more than equips him. And while there are no seniors, the majority of ASUs expected rotation has had at least one year to learn the intricacies of Sendeks 1-2-2 matchup zone defense. When to switch, where to fill, etc. Sendek paid particular attention to defense in the early drills.