This preview and more on Arizona State and the Pac-12 are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Arizona State Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-13 (9-9 Pac-12)
Postseason: NIT second round
Coach: Herb Sendek (120-109 at Nebraska)
Pac-12 projection: Fifth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Arizona State has made the NCAA Tournament once in seven years under Herb Sendek. That should change this season.
The Sun Devils have one of the nation’s best players in point guard Jahii Carson, an emerging if inconsistent big man in center Jordan Bachynski and a big-time transfer in shooting guard Jermaine Marshall. ASU also has improved its traditionally weak home non-conference schedule, so the NCAA Tournament selection committee won’t scoff at its RPI.
At this point, Sendek may need an NCAA berth to save his job. Carson is expected to turn pro after this season, leaving a huge void in the program. Simply put, it’s now or not anytime soon for both the Sun Devils and Sendek.
The Sun Devils desperately need the 7-2 Bachynski to shed his reputation as an enigma and become a potential double-double every time he steps on the floor. There are times when Bachynski is a dominant player; he had a Pac-12-record 120 blocks last season. But there are also times when he disappears; he had only two points and three rebounds against California last year. ASU doesn’t need Bachynski to be a big scorer; Carson will take care of that. But he has to stay on the floor for 30 minutes — which means staying out of foul trouble — and contribute, say, 12 points, seven or eight rebounds and three blocked shots every night.
Junior Jonathan Gilling hit a team-high 84 3-point shots last season, but like Bachynski he also had too many off nights. Given the attention Carson demands from the defense, Gilling should get enough open looks to be a 40 percent shooter from 3-point range rather than the 36.7 percent shooter he was last season. To his credit, Gilling has become a much better rebounder — averaging 6.1 per game — and defender.
The loss of Carrick Felix to the NBA is huge. He was ASU’s best defensive player, its second-leading scorer and in many ways, its leader. The Sun Devils don’t have a ready-made replacement. Michigan State transfer Brandan Kearney is the most likely choice, but he won’t be eligible until the Pac-12 season.
ASU should have one of the strongest backcourts in the Pac-12. Carson, obviously, is the catalyst. He was nothing short of brilliant his freshman year, ranking second in the conference in scoring while racking up 177 assists, the sixth-most for a freshman in Pac-12 history.
Carson, however, does has room to improve. He needs to be more consistent with his 3-point shot — although he has an uncanny knack of making them when they most count — which will prevent defenses from sagging off him as they did at times last year. Also, he almost exclusively goes to his right. If he can go left even on occasion, defenders will have to play him more honestly.
But those are nitpicks. Carson is a legitimate All-America candidate, a potential first-round NBA Draft choice and the reason Sendek will employ a hurry-up offense this season. The coach wants his team to shoot the ball in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock as often as possible.
ASU faced a huge hole at off guard when Evan Gordon unexpectedly transferred but then upgraded the position with the transfer in of Marshall, who averaged 15.3 points per game at Penn State last season. Marshall can shoot the three and get to the basket. He should be the perfect complement to Carson.
There’s not a lot of depth or talent behind Carson and Marshall, so it’s imperative they stay healthy. Shaquielle McKissic, a junior college import, could provide some athleticism in a reserve role, and redshirt freshman Calaen Robinson has a chance to earn some playing time, although Carson likely will play at least 35 minutes per game.
The Sun Devils will have eight new players, including five transfers. Jermaine Marshall is the big get; he’ll start at shooting guard and should be the perfect complement to Carson. Transfers Sai Tummala and Brandan Kearney will vie to replace the departed Carrick Felix at small forward. Kearney won’t be eligible until the Pac-12 season but his defense could give him the edge.
Factoid: 20. It had been 20 years since a Pac-12 freshman averaged at least 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game. Jahii Carson put up those numbers last season.
Believe it or not, the key isn’t Carson. He’ll undoubtedly be one of the country’s top players and arguably the best player in the Pac-12. But the Sun Devils don’t have a lot of size, making it imperative that Bachynski steps up. If he’s more consistent, and ASU can identity a wing player who can defend, ASU should be one of the top four or five teams in the conference and a strong bet to reach the NCAA Tournament.