Devils face challenging start to Pac-12 slate

Playing your league opener at your archrival's arena is probably not the most ideal of places to try and start to turn around a 4-8 season, yet this is where the Sun Devils find themselves as they visit Tucson on Saturday afternoon.

The Arizona State players were off for three days over Christmas weekend and were back at work on Monday evening. Head coach Herb Sendek stated that the layoff didn't necessarily help to heal some of his players, although none of them are expected to miss their contest versus Arizona this weekend.

"We really came out of that sequence of games before the break banged up," Sendek acknowledged. "Chanse's (Creekmur) ankle was getting better but he did miss additional time after the Fresno State game. Ruslan (Pateev) is nursing a groin injury. Carrick (Felix) continues to grin and bear and nurse the deep bone bruise he has on his wrist.

"Moving forward we will be OK, but we showed the first signs of some bumps and bruises through the ranks."

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It's a well known fact in sports that many stats can be misleading, and certainly many of those figures don't necessarily align with the Sun Devils' 4-8 record.

While ASU has committed 60 more turnovers than their opponents (Sun Devils averaging 17.2 turnovers a game), and allowing teams collectively to shoot 38.1 percent from three-point territory, Sendek pointed out that his squad is virtually tied in points scored with its opponents and has scored just one fewer point (a 1/10 of a point to be exact) than its opponents thus far. The Sun Devils are shooting 71.3 percent from the free throw line, and 45.4 percent from the field (holding opponents to just under 40 percent) and the maroon and gold are averaging nearly four more rebounds a game than the teams they have faced.

"If you look at our stat sheet in totality," Sendek commented, "and you erased that one part (turnovers), it would be a stat sheet that you'd look at not knowing the team's record and say ‘this team probably has a really good record.'

"But two things, one our turnover differential and our field goal percentage (defensively) behind the arc it too high and we have to be better at that. But I would also say in an effort of being really objective that we have run into some outstanding guard play."

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Despite the loss of Pac-12 player of the year, Derrick Williams, Sendek still sees an Arizona squad that is just as talented as the one that captured the conference's regular season championship and reached the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.

"They are one of the best teams in the country," Sendek remarked. "Their talent (level) is incredible. They are balanced with frontcourt and guard play. They have experience and they also have a young infusion of talent.

"They are going to look to push it and go in transition; there is no doubt about that. But they are also very comfortable executing in their half court. As always, they will be very good man to man defense. They're an outstanding team."

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Lack of options at point guard, namely freshman Jahii Carson not qualifying academically and a rough transition for JC transfer Chris Colvin, has forced sophomore Keala King to assume the role of floor general. Looking at his contributions thus far, suffice to say that it probably couldn't have worked better for ASU.

King is the Sun Devils' leading scorer, averaging 14.2 points a game and is fourth in the Pac-12 in minutes played with 32.9 per game. In his freshman season king was 1-18 beyond the arc, and this season he's already 12-31 from the same distance. He has improved his field goal percentage from .365 last year to .509.

"He's had to make a conversion where he has played almost exclusively at the point guard," Sendek explained, "and he really never had to do that to this degree, if at all, at some points of his career. Through the years he has been much more a wing player than he has been a point guard.

"It's probably the most difficult transition any player can make. I would think that moving from any spot to another wouldn't be nearly as difficult as moving from a spot to point guard. Our turnovers are down a little bit recently, and in the last two games, Keala has played with far fewer turnovers."


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