TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State had two certainties heading into the past two seasons: Jahii Carson at point guard and Jordan Bachynski clogging the middle at both ends of the court.
With both gone off to play professionally and seven newcomers on the roster, the Sun Devils may have more questions than answers this season.
“The more new players you have, the more transition you’re going to have,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. “When you have everyone back, there’s not as steep a learning curve. But that’s OK; sometimes new is good.”
Behind Carson, Bachynski and Jermaine Marshall last season, Arizona State reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
Carson, the Sun Devils’ leader in scoring and assists, decided to leave after his sophomore season and is playing in Australia. Bachynski, the Pac-12’s all-time blocked shots leader, graduated and is playing in Turkey. Marshall, the second-leading scorer, also graduated.
Those three were Arizona State’s top three scorers, combining for 45 points per game.
Of the returning players, do-it-all forward Shaquielle McKissic was the top scorer, averaging 9 points per game last season. Sharpshooting senior forward Jon Gilling also is back, along with scrappy guard Bo Barnes and improving big man Eric Jacobsen.
After that, Arizona State will have a bunch of players who either played limited roles last season or are new.
The good news for Sendek and the Sun Devils is the new guys coming in have plenty of talent and, in some cases, experience.
Once hesitant to bring in junior college players, Sendek shifted his approach this season after McKissic made a successful transition to Division I.
The Sun Devils will have four talented JUCO transfers who should be able to contribute right away: forward Willie Atwood, guards Gerry Blakes and Roosevelt Scott, and Savon Goodman, a former UNLV player who will be eligible the second semester.
Still, there are a lot of new and moving parts, so it could take the Sun Devils a little while to become a cohesive team.
“We have a lot of new guys and a lot to learn,” senior forward Jon Gilling said. “But we can be good if we play as a team.”
A few more things to look for with the 2014-15 Sun Devils:
BIG CONCERN: Sendek’s biggest concern has to do with losing his biggest player. The 7-foot-2 Bachynski was a defensive mistake eraser during his time in the desert, leaving with Pac-12 single-season and career records for blocked shots. The Sun Devils don’t have a true shot blocker with him gone, so they’ll have to be better at stopping players off the dribble and protect the rim by committee.
AT THE POINT: Replacing Carson at point guard will be tough, but freshman Tra Holder has a chance to shine. Highly recruited out of Los Angeles, the 6-foot-1 Holder is a pure point guard who enjoys distributing the ball and can be a tenacious on-the-ball defender. If he doesn’t adapt quickly enough to the college game, Blakes and Chance Murray, a pair of combo guards, could spend time running the point.
TEMPO, TEMPO, TEMPO: Sendek got the Sun Devils to pick up the pace last season and may step on the throttle even more this year. The coach has said this may be the quickest team in nine seasons at ASU and the roster is full of athletic multidimensional players. Arizona State will try to get out on the break or into early offense whenever possible, but the biggest difference may be on the defensive side. Because of personnel, Sendek wasn’t able to extend the defense as much as he might have liked, but this season the Sun Devils have the athletes to create havoc all over the floor.
SHAQ BACK: McKissic was a success story last season, shaking off his troubled past by playing with a prove-them-wrong chip on his shoulder. He was Arizona State’s best athlete last season and complemented it with a tireless work ethic on and off the court. McKissic was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and still feels like he has something to prove, so it could be a big final season for him.
SCORING?: McKissic is the most likely candidate to lead Arizona State in scoring as the leading returning scorer. But this is a team with multiple scoring options and multidimensional players, so it could be a different player every night. The downside of that is that Arizona State may not have a go-to player late in games, like it did with Carson.
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