Unstable rotation is cause for concern

Whether it would be injuries or the effort to integrate several newcomers, establishing a constant starting lineup and a set pattern of relief players has and continues to be a challenge for the Sun Devils who are 8-7 overall, 1-3 in Pac-10 play.

"I don't know if we are set on a starting lineup or for that matter a definitive rotation," Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek said, "especially when you have different guys missing games for a variety of reasons for the first stretch of January ."

"We are not dealing from a position of strength right now. We are up against it. That's where we are right now if you look at our team. We have a streak of humility, we know where we are at and we are working as hard as we can to get better. But not having a set rotation isn't at the top of our checklist. That's something that is secondary to the real meat and potatoes that we have to get better at."

The Sun Devil skipper mention that getting easy baskets is a concern and that something that Jamelle McMillan's absence (unlikely to play Wednesday night in their home game versus Tulsa) has contributed to, but Sendek feels that the quality of shots isn't all that different than years past. Nonetheless, the statistics don't paint a faltering picture.

"You look at our numbers," Sendek stated, "and I don't know if they are any on the offensive end that you would circle in black (as a positive stat). We're in the low to mid 60's (percent) from the foul line. That's a lot of points that we are leaving out there. As a team we are under 30 for three (point shots). We are in the low 40's for two (point field goals). We have more turnovers than assists in conference play.

"Offensively right now we are not at a very high level. Part of it is converting when we have opportunities and we have to keep on working to get better."

ASU's next opponent, the University of Tulsa, should present the maroon and gold with a formidable opponent who beat Stanford 65-53 last month, and is a team that according to Sendek has proven to be a consistent in their accomplishments.

"They are a program that has been good for a long time," Sendek commented. "I compare them in many respects to a Xavier. They are coming off their fourth straight 20-win season. It's one of those places where in my lifetime they have been good no matter who the coach is. They are truly one of the solid programs in the country. They know how to do it and they win a lot of games.

"They happen to have terrific guards and whatever level of basketball you want to evaluate, if you have good guards you can be in a lot of games. Good guards control basketball games not unlike good quarterbacks do in football."

For the first time in the Sendek era in Tempe, ASU will playing a non-conference game in January and a few days before their rivalry game against Arizona. The Sun Devils' head coach said this is due to nothing else but trying to fit Tulsa in his team's schedule.

"In our attempt to play a very rigorous non-conference schedule we had an opportunity to play Tulsa," Sendek explained. "The dates worked out…it could have easily happened the other way and we could have finished our non-conference schedule by now.

"When you schedule there are a lot of moving parts and you don't necessarily just get the opponents and the dates that may be most ideal."

Sendek added that he has no preference to having a non-conference game in the future before the Arizona contest or continuing to have the traditional week off.

"When you make the schedule it's impossible to tell where your team will be that particular week anyway," Sendek remarked. "Right now we have the guys out that we do…probably the best thing would be to have a couple of extra days this week. But we didn't know that when we made the schedule.

"Conversely there are times where your team is really playing well and it's great just to stay in rhythm and having a game mid-week doesn't hurt. But it's impossible to read too much into that. Next time we play Arizona in our bye week we don't have a game."

Coming off two consecutive home losses to the Bay Area schools, Sendek indicated that despite the final result he saw some progress in those games.

"In both games we fought and we clawed our way back into the game," Sendek said. "In both games we had sizeable first half deficits and we put ourselves in a position where both games ended up being tied. So that was a positive.

"But having said that it doesn't necessarily mean that you get rewarded. So sometimes you have to just keep ploughing through and the rewards will come when they come. That's one thing I like about our team, they are in a mindset that they know they need to get better and they are working hard at it."

The biggest surprise coming out of last weekend's games was the insertion of walk-on Marcus Johnson who was prior to this season was awarded ASU's last available scholarship. In his first game action since arriving to Tempe the freshman played 15 minutes in the loss to Cal. Jackson is an aerospace engineering major who is a member of ASU's Barrett Honors College. He aspires to be an Astronaut but Sendek wouldn't rule the pint guard being the President of the United States. "That's the kind of kid he is to put it bluntly," Sendek said. "There's nothing he can't do."

Sendek appreciate the "gym rat" work ethic Jackson has which is one reason why the walk-on is getting more playing time than any other walk-on Sendek has coaches in the past. "I thought Marcus gave us some really good minutes," said Sendek. "With Jamelle being out we have a point guard by committee approach and all of those guys are really playing that position or learning it for the very first time and that was Marcus' first college basketball game. So that has a lot of ramifications for our basketball team.

"But I thought Marcus really did a good job. Sometimes you're valuable and important for the plays you don't make. Every once in a while, if you're on a certain track, you may make a spectacular play, but in trying to make a spectacular play you make three plays that don't help our team. What I liked about Marcus' approach the other day is that he may not have done anything flashy, but he also gave us a steadiness."

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