Time for some optimism about ASU hoops
I don't think I've ever seen a team struggle to pass the ball as much as this year's Arizona State squad. Seemingly simple perimeter passes have been an adventure for the Sun Devils and that's one of the main reasons that ASU ranks 331st out of 338 NCAA Division 1 teams in turnovers per game (16.6).
Eight points in an entire half of a basketball game? Against Washington State? Are you serious? While playing with the Denver Nuggets in 1994, Rodney Rogers scored 9 points in 9 seconds, yet ASU couldn't do that in 20 minutes against the Cougars.
The atmosphere for most of the season at Wells Fargo Arena has been similar to that of a funeral, only with a pep band and cheerleaders. During their loss to UCLA on February 23rd, I could hear individual conversations going on in the crowd while I watched from the media section.
It's been a tough season for ASU coach Herb Sendek and company to say the least.
And maybe I'm in the minority, but I think the immediate future is bright for Arizona State basketball.
Stop laughing, I'm serious.
This isn't a "win over U of A hangover" talking here. Sunday's 87-80 win over the Wildcats was easily the Sun Devils' best performance of the year and a highly entertaining basketball game, but hardly served as a big enough Band-Aid to cover up the rest of the campaign.
No, this is good, old-fashioned optimism for the future.
And I'm not alone. ASU players believed that beating the Wildcats was a harbinger of things to come.
"It shows how much guys are improving like J.B. and Jon from the start of the season," junior forward Carrick Felix said. "We've got a lot to look forward to for the rest of this season and actually next year, too."
J.B. is Jordan Bachynski, the 7-2 Canadian center who saw his light bulb switch on earlier this year. After finding only spotty playing time, Bachynski has thrived in his last 12 games, averaging 10 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots during that stretch.
Jon is Danish freshman Jonathan Gilling, a sharpshooter who connected on 41% of his three-point attempts this season, and canned at least one trey in 17 straight games. Playing in only his 29th college game, Gilling delivered the biggest dagger to Arizona's NCAA Tourney hopes -- a three that put ASU up by four with :57 to play.
Both players look worlds more comfortable than they did when the season began back in November. They'll both be counted on heavily next season.
The Sun Devils are one of only nine Division 1 teams who didn't have to plan a senior day this year, meaning team leaders Trent Lockett and Felix will be back. And they're adding at least six new players to the mix for next year, including Jahii Carson, a 4-star recruit from Mesa High School who was ranked as the 8th-best point guard in the class of 2011 by ESPNU. Carson had to sit out this season with academic issues, but has been wowing onlookers in Sun Devil practices.
Also joining the mix for 2012-13 are Evan Gordon, who averaged 14.4 points per game for Liberty in 2010-11 before transferring, and Bo Barnes, who canned 57 three- pointers during his freshman campaign at Hawaii. Carson, Gordon and Barnes have participated in practice all season long, which leads current ASU players to believe that will expedite the improvement next season.
"I think it can be pretty fast," Lockett said. "We have maroon and gold teams. Maroon is the starting five and gold is the scouting team. This is the best scouting team we've had, they really knock down some crazy shots and it makes you frustrated in practice."
Sometimes, you've got to hit rock bottom before you can rise back up. Twenty-two wins over the course of two seasons certainly qualifies as "bottoming out." There's only one way for this program to go.
I believe that one year from now, we'll be talking about a much different Arizona State basketball team getting ready for the Pac-12 Tournament.