December 22, 2006

Pac-10 Preview: Arizona State

Arizona State has one game left before Pac-10 play begins and the team sits at 6-4. Here's a breakdown of the Sun Devils with less than a week to go before the Pac-10 season kicks off.

Arizona State

Coach: Herb Sendek (first year)
Returning Starters: Jeff Pendergraph, Serge Angounou, Antwi Atuahene
Key Returning Reserves:[/db] Sylvester Seay[/db], Allen Morill
Key Newcomers: Christian Polk, Jerren Shipp, Derek Glasser, George Odufuwa

The Skinny: Former NC State head coach Herb Sendek replaces Rob Evans, who was fired after eight seasons in Tempe, culminating with a 2005 campaign that saw the Sun Devils go 11-17 overall and 5-13 in Pac-10 play.

Initially it was anticipated that ASU would have enough talent to compete for a potential NCAA berth, but the team's leading scorer, Kevin Kruger, elected to transfer, and second leading scorer, Bryson Krueger, was kicked off the team for an off-court incident.

As a result, just two starters -- sophomore forward Jeff Pendergraph and junior guard Antwi Atuahene -- returned, and a third player, forward Sylvester Seay, who started 11 games and had a strong second-half of the conference slate.

Pendergraph is the team's leading returning scorer, at 10.9 points per game, and rebounder, at 6.1 rebounds per game, and he's a long, skilled 6-foot-9 with the ability to face the basket and score from mid-range or in the post.

Atuahene is a push the ball type of point guard who may not be the most natural fit for the style of offense that Sendek would typically like to employ. He's more of a facilitator than shooter, but he can break down defenses and get to the basket. Atuahene is the team's lone returning scholarship point guard.

Angounou is a hustle player who has a nice face up mid-range jump shot and he can rebound and defends well in the post. Seay is the team's best pro prospect, with very good length, athleticism and a nice skill set, but he's only in the early stages of becoming the player he's capable of being.

Due to the team's lack of talent and experience in the backcourt, three freshmen are playing heavy minutes, led by 6-3 wing guard Christian Polk, who leads the team with 16 points per game. Polk is really the team's only player who is able to create his own shot consistently off the dribble and he winds up with the ball in his hands a lot at end of the shot clock as a result. He's more scorer than pure shooter though he can go on a hot streak and put up big numbers.

The team's other freshmen guards that are getting a lot of playing time are Jerren Shipp, brother of UCLA guard Josh Shipp and former Cal star Joe Shipp, and point guard Derek Glasser. Shipp is a smart player who is one of the team's better 3-point shooters. He's not particularly athletic but makes up for it with effort and intelligence. Glasser is a ball control facilitator.

Outlook: Basketball fans who are familiar with Sendek from his NC State days will expect to see his Princeton-style offense that is heavily reliant on back-door cuts and 3-point shooting but the team is using a flex-offense this year to play to its talent on hand. The Sun Devils are outmanned a bit against some of the more talented Pac-10 programs and they'll attempt to counter that with an emphasis on strong fundamental play on defense, and mistake-free play with high percentage looks offensively. They'll try to keep scoring depressed a bit in order to be more competitive. Sometimes it will work, often it won't and it likely won't become a winning season. But with an excellent recruiting class coming in next year and some talented young players already on board, the future looks relatively bright.

Best case season: Expect this team to be in a lot of close games against a majority of teams in the Pac-10 due to style of play and an intense work ethic defensively. It's not likely ASU will do very well against the more athletic teams in the league, such as Arizona and Oregon, perhaps Washington, but they could knock off just about any of the rest on any given day if the 3-point shots are falling. A great season based on this team's talent level and experience would probably be seven or eight Pac-10 wins.

Worst case season: In a guard-dominated league, the Sun Devils have very little experience and not nearly as much athleticism as their peers. Add to that the fact that only Polk is really capable of making things happen with the ball in his hands in all areas of the floor and it could be a real issues against teams that game plan well and extend defensively, taking away 3-point shots. If a blueprint is put together that stymies this team, and it's copied by others, it could be a long season with maybe three or four Pac-10 wins.

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