The Mountain’s Best
The Aztecs have helped the MWC rise nationally.
By Thomas Walk
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
The Arizona State Sun Devils (6-1) have by all accounts exceeded expectations so far this season. ASU has beaten their opponents by an average of 16.5 points, however with the likes of Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Central Arkansas and Sacramento State in the W column, the jury is still out on this squad.
The Sun Devils most impressive win came against Arkansas (4-3) who they knocked off 83-68 to advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. The team faced its toughest matchup of the season in the tournament final, No. 16 Creighton (7-1) ASU held tough behind freshman Jahii Carson’s career high 30 points. He added seven assists and four steals but junior Greg McDermott’s 29 points were too much for the Devils as they fell 87-73.
Carson has been an absolute spark for this year’s squad. The Mesa, Ariz native, who sat out last year due academic issues, is averaging 18 points and five assists through seven games. Senior captain Carrick Felix as been the other catalyst for the team averaging 16 points and six rebounds thus far and was named this week’s Pac-12 player of the week.
The success of ASU as the season moves along will depend on if Carson can continue his play when they enter Pac-12 competition. So far, Carson is fifth in Pac-12 for scoring and trails only UCLA G Larry Drew III and USC G Jio Fontan in assists.
The ASU season will also depend on the development of 7-2 C Jordan Bachynski who floundered last year until showing improvement in the final 10 games of the season. The junior has carried that success into this season, posting 11 points and eight rebounds and a Pac-12 leading five blocks per game. Bachynski’s play will be crucial for the Devils as last year’s leading scorer and second leading rebounder, Trent Lockett, transferred to Marquette.
ASU will look to continue their success before conference play begins Jan. 2 vs. Utah. Their remaining opponents hold a 17-19 combined record excluding their toughest test, a Dec. 22 road matchup against Texas Tech (5-1)
The early wins have been soothing for coach Herb Sendek, who is in his 6th season as the Sun Devils coach. Sendek faced some scrutiny entering this season despite being named Pac-10 Coach of the Year after 2009-2010 season. Sendek had an 88-75 overall record entering the season but is 38-52 in conference play. Sendek has one only one NCAA tournament win with the Devils in two appearances.
The majority of the criticism of Sendek came after last season, 6-12 conference record which followed a disastrous 4-14 conference record leading to a last place finish. Sendek’s top recruit, Carson failed to become eligible and sophomore Keala King, was suspended while leading the team in scoring and was dismissed from the team in January.
Sendek fortified the coaching staff before the season by hiring Larry Greer and Eric Musselman, two coaches with NBA experience. He also has the services of Carson, who is cooling the hot seat with every passing game.
ASU hopes to post a three game win streak when they take on Hartford (4-3) at home Wednesday night.