Offense ahead of defense for ASU Hoops

For most years during the Herb Sendek era in Tempe, ASU's stifling zone defense has been one of the main factors of its success. While that scheme remains unchanged coming into the 2011-12 season, a fairly experienced Sun Devil squad is actually excelling thus far in the pre-season more with a new offensive system rather than mastering a familiar defensive system.

It's certainly not uncommon for a basketball team three or so weeks into pre-season practices to be playing far from its full potential. Nonetheless, after an expected rough start Sendek feels that his team has made significant improvement in the last three practices and those sessions have been far and above any practice the team has gone through up to this point.

"Having said that we have our feet on the ground and we have still a lot of work to do," Sendek admitted. "But we have started to understand what we are trying to accomplish offensively better. For this early in the season, we have taken very few bad shots. The guys have had almost a natural inclination to move and share the ball and make the right plays. The last three days the offensive execution saw a big spike."

"Defensively we haven't been as good, despite that being something we emphasize with great importance since the first day. We still have a lot of work to do on the defensive end. We really tried to emphasize rebounding and we haven't rebounded the way we ideally need to yet, defensively. We're very much work in progress defensively. We're going to have to be much better in that area."

The ASU head coach doesn't feel that there have been sweeping changes on offense and that his players this year are given the freedom to make reads and attack the basket, rather than play in a highly rigid scheme.

"We've tweaked it to allow us to play a variety of combination of players," Sendek explained. "We tweaked it to be better in transition. We tweaked it to continue to incorporate ball screens as much as we can."

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One of those combinations will undoubtedly be playing center Ruslan Pateev and forward Kyle Cain in the same lineup, rather than both of them spelling each other as was the case all of last year. Pateev's development in the pre-season is a major reason why this combination is not only possible, but one that figures to be part of the Sun Devils' current starting five.

"Yesterday in practice (Pateev) was 10 of 13 from the field," Sendek recalled. "I think he is playing with a good measure of confidence right now. He and Kyle Cain are two of our young front-court guys that I think right now are in a really good place. They're playing the best basketball in their careers at Arizona State in practice over the course of the last week.

"We have been able to give them the ball inside. They are understanding angles and some of the nuances of the post-up game. They're finishing. I've just been really encouraged by some of their progress."

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Both sides of the court for ASU will have a very unique test this Saturday, as they play a rare road exhibition game. They actually won't have to leave Maricopa County for this endeavor, as they travel to West Phoenix to play Grand Canyon University and help christen their much-publicized new arena.

"It's a special night from the standpoint that Grand Canyon is opening up a brand new, beautiful facility,'' Sendek said. "(Grand Canyon coach) Russ Pennell, a friend of ours, a former ASU (assistant) coach as well as U of A, asked if we'd come over and open the gym for him. He thought it'd generate a lot of interest and really be a good thing for basketball in the Valley. And we agreed to do it.

"From what I understand the game is sold out. The Grand Canyon folks have done a tremendous job promoting it. It should be a really challenging experience, first weekend of November for our team, to go on the road in that kind of environment and play. From that standpoint it should have terrific value for us."


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