There is immediate reason for optimism in Tempe. Like right now. Maybe this isn’t an NCAA tournament team, but when has ASU ever been a tournament team? Well, funny you should ask: the Devils have mustered just five invites since the ‘85 expansion (or roughly one-sixth of rival Arizona). But if we’re playing the relatable numbers game, ASU returns four starters from a team that finished tied for fifth. They introduce Bobby Hurley – the NCAA’s All-Time leading assists man – to Wells and have already received a visit from Grant Hill. And even if James Harden’s Adidas contract is bigger than ASU’s, you can still wear your Jordans.
Why I love them
Why I hate them
They return four starters from a team that got their coach fired. They lost to USC – a Pac-12 phenomenon only witnessed six times in two years. They’re learning a completely new system from a coach who’s only taught that system twice. Aside from being born in Tucson, there’s plenty to hate about this team. I mean, Adidas.
But in reality you can’t hate them as much as you think you should. While this may be an afterthought basketball program, they’re not a squad to ignore. I mean it. Savon Goodman and Tra Holder are possible All-Conference talents. Goodman was a constant double-double threat, the kind of “modern basketball” player who could thrive in this higher octane brand of Sun Devil ball. I’ll note the existence of Gerry Blakes as he was a very solid scorer, someone who created on his own (just 14% of non-threes were assisted), and enters his senior season poised to lead. Holder might be as good a scoring PG as any in the conference and is now learning from one of the best college PGs ever. That generally bodes well for one’s success. And I want to note two more names: Kodi Justice and Eric Jacobsen. First, Justice. We don’t know a ton about the kid but what we do know is that he made 48% of his 3FG attempts before breaking his foot last January. He brings what every prognosticator loves: A small sample set of success and an opportunity to look really smart with very little risk. As for Jacobsen, noting him is anything but risky. He’s been around the block (although I can’t speak to his activity on Mill Ave). What you might not have noticed is that the big Phoenician (Cactusen?) put up a 108 ORtg last season, the 8th best OR% in the conference, and 11th best free throw rate in the nation. He’s a more than capable big in his senior season.
Notably missing from this roser, however, will be Buffalo transfer Torian Graham whom the NCAA says must sit a season. Clearly, he’s not much of a sitter:
Stat you must know: 68.8
Adjusted tempo posted by Bobby Hurley’s 2014-15 Buffalo Bulls. In his only other season as a head coach, the Bulls posted a 68.1 adjusted tempo. They play fast offense (17.3 APL in both ‘15 and 14) and fast defense (17.6, 18). The Bulls’ 68.8 adjusted tempo would’ve ranked first in last season’s Pac-12. For years we heard the Herbivore tell us we’d see a faster offense in Tempe. He would incrementally deliver on that promise by nudging the gas pedal, moving the Sun Devils’ adjusted tempo from a 59.2 in year one, to a peak tempo of 69.2 at the hands of Jahii Carson (it was a modest 66.3 last season, 5th in the conference). For the first time, with Hurley at the helm, we might actually see what up tempo Tempe looks like.
What I learned at Media Day
Christian Laetner probably isn’t going to visit the ASU campus (while resting on his laurels).
Rock top (best case scenario)
Thon Maker commits to Arizona State.
Rock bottom (worst case scenario)
A Blue Devil, not yet a Sun Devil. It’s a less than glamorous first step as Hurley takes his strides towards K-placement. They finish below 8th in the conference, do not return to the NIT, and don’t secure a grad-transfer big to replace Jacobsen for what could be a very good 2016-17 team (Holder, Justice, Graham, Goodman).