Athletic Sun Devils a threat in the Pac-12
Even after losing his top three players from last season, Bobby Hurley is confident that his Arizona State squad is poised to be even better in 2018-19. At a minimum, it should be more talented.
The Sun Devils boast a program-record eight players who were four-star recruits when they arrived in Tempe, four of whom are incoming freshmen.
ASU will be a longer, more athletic team, particularly in the backcourt, where replacing outgoing guards Shannon Evans, Tra Holder and Kodi Justice will be the biggest challenge.
It was the 3-point shooting provided by those guards that enabled the Sun Devils to be the last remaining undefeated team in the country in late December. But their lack of depth, size and versatility caught up with them as they stumbled in conference play and barely slipped into the NCAA Tournament.
Still, Hurley considers the Sun Devils to be a year ahead of schedule. “I think this year’s roster gives me a ton of options to play a ton of different ways,” he says. “I could see scenarios where there’s five guys out there that are 6'7" or bigger, which I’ve never had.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Bobby Hurley
2017-18 RECORD (PAC-12): 20-12 (8-10)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Syracuse 60-56 in the First Four
G Shannon Evans II (16.5 ppg, 3.5 apg)
G Tra Holder (18.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.4 apg)
G Kodi Justice (12.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.0 apg)
Though everyone returns up front for the Sun Devils — a group that includes post player Romello White and part-time starters Vitaliy Shibel and Mickey Mitchell — the minutes will be much harder to come by.
San Diego State transfer Zylan Cheatham looked like one of the team’s best players while sitting out last season and is a big-time, NBA-caliber athlete. He averaged 9.1 points and 6.3 rebounds as a sophomore two years ago. Small forward Kimani Lawrence was perhaps the most impressive frontcourt player last summer and in the preseason, but he missed the first six weeks of the season with a broken foot. He will be a much bigger factor as a sophomore.
New arrivals include 6'8" Taeshon Cherry, the highest-ranked forward prospect ever to sign with the Sun Devils. He can score at all three levels and defend multiple positions. ASU even added a true 7-footer, Uros Plavsic — originally from Serbia — as part of an international class that also includes Elias Valtonen, a multi-skilled wing from Finland.
Cheatham, Lawrence and Cherry will give the Sun Devils a very different look, with a significant jump in athleticism and shooting range to the 3-point line. The Devils also return 6'10" senior De’Quon Lake, who at times was their best post scorer and defender a year ago.
Remy Martin was at times the Sun Devils’ best overall guard last season as a freshman, particularly on the defensive end of the floor and in transition. He’ll get to stretch his legs a lot more now that Evans and Holder have moved on.
Cleveland State transfer Rob Edwards joined with Cheatham and other bench players to give the starters fits in practice last season. He’s a strong 2-guard who was a double-figure scorer as a sophomore, and he should enjoy similar success in the Pac-12.
Luguentz Dort, a stocky 6'4" Canadian, is the highest-ranked guard to join the program since James Harden. He’s a powerful bull driving the lane, with a quick first step and a willingness to take on anyone at the rim.
The Sun Devils will be bigger, stronger, deeper and more athletic. They’ll provide Hurley with more lineup combinations and should be better defensively and on the glass. They may earn more second-chance points and have an easier time scoring inside the 3-point line. If they stumble, it’ll be due to outside shooting and a lack of experience.
Postseason Prediction: One & Done
Pac-12 Prediction: 5th