Ten wins and twenty-one losses later, it's time to close the chapter on a season that left a lot of fans frustrated but also a left a lot of reasons to believe that the 2012-13 campaign can really be a special one.
When your top recruit (Carson) doesn't qualify, your leading scorer (King) becomes a team cancer and your team can't stay healthy – that does not bode well for your chances at even a .500 season. Carson's ineligibility had a massive adverse effect on the team and the fact that the efforts to qualify the former Mesa HS star lasted nearly a month into the season didn't help matters and ultimately set the tone for the struggling season. That uncertainty cannot be overstated as it did not allow the Sun Devils to ever get into a rhythm offensively. All in all, that situation took a lot more out of the team than some would initially give credit for.
With their most talented point guard sidelined, and with the struggles of JC transfer Chris Colvin, ASU turned to Keala King. The sophomore showed in his first year in Tempe signs of being defiant and being the quintessential malcontent. Nonetheless, at the end of that year all parties believed that the worse was behind them when ultimately it was the writing on the wall. Even though he had some flashes and played considerable minutes as the starting point guard, King's personality did unfortunately prevail and prompted his dismissal from the team in early January.
ASU finished the season with an RPI of 252 with a Strength of Schedule coming at 131 – both numbers rank all 344 teams in Division-1 hoops. Against teams with an RPI of 100 or better, the Sun Devils were 1-12 with the lone win coming against Arizona while the worst loss of the season came early in the season against Pepperdine, who finished with an RPI of 272. Arizona State was 7-10 at home, 2-8 on the road and 1-3 at neutral sites. The moral of the story is that the Devils do not play a tough non-conference schedule and they almost never leave home before conference play begins. For this team to really take the next step, going to battle against tougher non-conference foes is a must and so is leaving home and playing in hostile environments.
Here are our evaluations of the players who saw action for the entire season:
Trent Lockett (13.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG): Easily ASU's steadiest player and by far the most important player on the squad. ASU turned to Lockett to run the point midway through the season due to attrition and he was more than serviceable. On top of that, when Lockett missed time with his ankle sprain his team couldn't find its pulse. Heading into his senior season, Lockett deserves more praise for his efforts in the maroon & gold and if there's anyone that deserves a ticket to the dance, it has to be the senior to be from Minnesota.
His presence when healthy usually elevated this team's play, but being forced to play the point guard certainly took its toll because he was never able to fully get into a healthy rhythm playing the role he was originally slated to play. Lockett was the team leader in points, rebounds and three-point shooting, but more importantly a team leader and the proverbial coach on the floor. Shining moment of the season was his dominant all-around effort and clutch free throw shooting in the upset over Arizona.
Carrick Felix (10.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG): In the pre-season we claimed that the junior was the X-factor on the ASU team and his play would often determine wins and losses. For good or for bad that did materialize last season. It has been a topsy turvy season for the Devils most athletic weapon. Felix started to fall in love with the contested jump shot and got away from his strong suit of getting to the bucket. His game winner against North Dakota State was one of the few highlight reel moments in a tough season, but again not a reflection of his dominant trait. In spite of it all, Felix was the team's second leading scorer with four 20-plus point efforts.
He's another player that would greatly benefit from consistent effort, and maturity is also an issue that he needs to address to some extent. Having said that he showed his experience with some solid efforts on the road, something that most players on the team cannot claim. Felix was hardly looking over his shoulder when his game went south, but with increased depth that will definitely change as his ASU career winds down. Felix has a specific niche on the team and if he can stay in it and execute it to the fullest he and his team will be better for that.
Chris Colvin (7.0 PPG, 4.0 APG): He came to ASU under somewhat false pretenses after the ruling of Jahii Carson was hammered down. Nonetheless, he still put together an OK campaign given the circumstances and despite the rough transition we discussed earlier. Colvin is a well-traveled player that started his career at Iowa State before dipping into the JUCO pool prior to making Tempe his home. His pre-season's performance gave everyone hope, but that optimism was dashed pretty quickly. Early in the season, Colvin was a turnover machine and was guilty of always trying to do too much. With a team already suffering from the aforementioned issues at point guard, Colvin's slow adjustment was eventually just too much for ASU to overcome and just continued the season-long instability at that role.
After settling down and calming his nerves, the point guard really started to make a difference with his scoring touch as well his ball control. A suspension midseason seemed to mark the turnaround and Colvin averaged 10 points and over six assists per game in the final six contests. He's another player that actually has some late season positives to build on for the 2012-12 campaign. Improved shooting and decision making can make Colvin a valuable and experienced bench player that can give Carson a breather when needed and still help the team not miss a beat during that time.
Ruslan Pateev (4.6 PPG, 54% FG): A player that seemingly fails to improve, Pateev has moments of absolute greatness only to follow it up with entire segments of games where you would not even know he was on the floor. If you ever needed to demonstrate the importance of the mental part of the game, the Russian center is definitely exhibit A, since the peaks and valleys of his game have less to do with his physical attributes.
In the first five Pac-12 games, Pateev averaged almost nine points a game and looked like he was finally becoming an asset but he scored only 54 total points in the final 14 games. It is maddening to watch and his improvement in the offseason is vital to this team's potential success. If Pateev comes in stronger and more confident in his game, the depth up front will improve even more and give ASU a stronger, fresher rotation. One can hope that as a senior he will be more consistent in his last go-around in Tempe and perhaps Jordan Bachynski's emergence can light a competitive fire under the 7-footer.
Jordan Bachynski (6.0 PPG, 58% FG): Look at this guy! Take everything that was just said about Pateev and flip it around. After watching the 7-2 Canadian import during his freshman season and even early into this, his sophomore campaign, it would not have upset anyone if you called this player a disappointment but the switch flipped about a quarter of the way through conference play and Bachynski turned into a player that ASU fans can be really excited about.
It's been well documented that the center arrived at ASU not playing basketball for three years (he was injured most of his high school senior season and then left for a Mormon mission). So while the struggles during his freshman year were understandable, it was definitely good to see the signs of a turnaround in his second year as a Sun Devil. Additionally, when you factor in the slower rate at which centers tend to develop at, then the late bloomer tag on Bachynski makes that much more sense. You can certainly make the argument that Bachynski's level of play as a sophomore is on par with that of former center Eric Boateng, and the later continued to develop and become a vital part of the team come his senior season. At this point there is no reason to believe that Bachynski cannot follow the same path and achieving the same rate of success, if not higher.
His soft touch, overwhelming size, mobility and undying motor make him someone that could really become one of the finest interior players in the West. He had a lot of big moments but the highlight of the season for JB was in a 21-point loss to Utah, Bachynski never stopped working and put together a fine 10-point, 7-rebound performance. It was all uphill from there. When his play became more consistent, Bachynski showed his coaches and the Sun Devil nation what he can do when he's dialed-in. Looking ahead, his ability to adjust to the fact that he will now become a focal point on opponents' scouting reports will greatly determine his rate of progress this next season.
Kyle Cain (7.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG): As we write this article it has been officially reported that the forward was granted his release and will transfer out of the team. It does not need to be hammered down anymore but this was a long season and it was easy to pick apart every little thing and Kyle Cain's ineffectiveness. In terms of scoring, Cain was a source of major discontent but what is easily forgotten is that Kyle Cain is what he is and that is the garbage collecting big man that gives ASU some much needed swagger. He was suspended midway through the season in KealaGate and he did not see as much playing time in the following weeks and as we see today that was effectively the beginning of the end for the sophomore forward.
Chanse Creekmur (4.7 PPG, 36% 3PT): Unfortunately, Creekmur is another player who decided to leave the team after season's end. The Iowa native played in 30 games this season and scored in double-digits just four times highlighted by a ridiculous shooting night against Oregon State that netted 24 points on 6-7 from three-point land in the upset win. But by and large he was a non-factor the entire year and Jonathan Gilling's fine play only made it worse for the sophomore. A formidable quarterback at the high school level, Creekmur will not only leave ASU but also reportedly try to get back into tossing the pigskin at a smaller college in his home state of Iowa. Deep down, Creekmur may have also realized that there was no home for a streaky shooter at even a low-major basketball school.
Jonathan Gilling (7.1 PPG, 41% 3PT): Everyone's favorite, the Danish Driller. Without a doubt, the biggest and most pleasant surprise of last season. You would expect a newcomer from overseas to experience a rough transition into college basketball, yet ultimately Gilling for the most part did a solid job defying that theory. The unexpected way he responded after being thrown into the fire gives the staff much to be excited about for the upcoming season.
If he was awful all season (and he was far from it) and just had the 21-point, clutch shooting Arizona game, he would still be considered a stud among the Sun Devil faithful. However, the unknown shooter from Denmark who came in with a lot of questions directed his way, finished the season having answered most of them.
His all-around game is far better than anyone expected it to be and he may one of the more underrated passers in the Pac-12. A lot of people will quickly compare him to Rihards Kuksiks but Gilling proved in one season that his game has a lot more to it than parking behind the three point line. His play became even more vital to ASU in light of Creekmur's struggles.
No one will blame the high level of anticipation fans have for Carson's performance next season, but we humbly believe that Gilling should probably evoke the same level of eagerness to see how he will follow up a formidable first year with the maroon and gold.
Max Heller (15 games played, 2 points): If ASU is going to the postseason of any kind next year; Max Heller will be ASU's Brian Scalabrine. The walk-on from San Diego came on in a pinch and held his own in light of the issues with King and Colvin. But ASU fans everywhere would be much happier to see him in the waning moments of a blowout victory as opposed to getting meaty minutes in the middle of a tight game.
ASU will welcome six newcomers on next season's team. Three of those players had to sit out last season but still practiced with squad, while the other trio will consist of three incoming freshmen how had solid senior seasons locally. Here is a look what the Sun Devils can expect from this group.
Jahii Carson: Was there ever any doubt who was going to lead this section of our season in review? Simply put, this is the guy. Many fans jokingly call him the savior (ever heard of Jahiisus?), but in all seriousness the level of expectations and possibly pressure that will be put on one of the best local high school players of all times is beyond sky high.
His level of athleticism and quickness at the point guard position is something that ASU never had in the Herb Sendek era. All euphoria aside, how many point guards in the league can you name that will be able to consistently stay in front of this incoming freshman on the defensive end? Consequently, the Sun Devils should have a floor general who will be able to break down defenses with penetration and do an equally effective job finishing at the basket or dishing out an assist.
The level of effort Carson will bring to the floor every game, his ability to pick up the scheme and execute it, handle the adversity he will be faced with as a first-year player and having good decision making will be some of the aspects that will dictate the level of success in his first year as a Sun Devil. Carson's newfound mentor, former ASU star and NBA player Eddie House, can undoubtedly aid Carson in his mission to be the impact player he and the program yearn him to be.
When James Harden came to Tempe, he turned the program around and proved to the nation that Arizona State can win in basketball. That torch has been dormant for the last three years and now it's time for Carson to take it and run with it. We're not exaggerating when we say that Carson alone can increase the attendance at Wells Fargo by several hundred fans per game. His dynamic personality and style of play will be a magnet of attention that has rarely been seen around this ASU program.
If Carson performs at the level he is expected to, ASU could win 20 or more games next season and ensure not only a post-season berth for the team but also take Head Coach Herb Sendek off the hot seat. If he doesn't, the Sun Devils are more than likely to struggle again and the hunt for a new coach is on. No pressure, Jahii.
Evan Gordon: The transfer from Liberty and brother of Hornets star Eric Gordon, Evan proved to be a legit scorer at the mid-major level with a nice slashing ability and impressive shooting range. Yet, it remains to be seen if that impact will carry over to the Pac-12 after a one-year hiatus. The good news is that he has been playing alongside Carson and Barnes on the scout team and chemistry is something this team has lacked all season. Additionally, he is someone that is more than capable of handling the ball if needed. Gordon averaged 14.4 points per game at Liberty which led the team and at ASU he could prove to be an asset as a backcourt reserve.
Bo Barnes: Another transfer who is a skillful jump shooter and adds invaluable depth to the team. Barnes is a local product from Scottsdale Christian that spent a season at Hawaii before returning home to the desert. He doesn't need much an opening to feel comfortable to hoist up a shot, he can greatly help with the spacing on the floor (much like Gordon) and allow players such as Lockett and Felix to utilize that open floor and penetrate to the basket (which is their strongest trait by far), as well as punish defenses for double teaming Bachynski.
Barnes has a real chance to be an impact player because his specialty is three-point shooting and Herb Sendek's offense has never met a three-pointer it didn't like. At Hawaii, Barnes scored 6.9 points a game with a 39% mark from long range. His 57 three-pointers were a freshman record at Hawaii. Overall, his style of play can benefit from the open looks he should be getting when a player such as Carson or Bachynski command attention in the paint.
Calaen Robinson: a combo guard out coming off a state championship with Tempe Corona Del Sol. He will need to play more under control and being behind Carson, Colvin and Gordon will help that cause albeit also giving him just a few precious minutes a game to strut his skills. He will be one the quickest players on the team once he arrives in the summer, but his ability to get to the hole with great speed has to be complemented with an improved jump shot.
Kenny Martin: an electric big man that has a Pendergraph-like non-stop motor, who has shown a great knack to block shots or at the very least alter any shot that comes his way. Yet, the Glendale Kellis forward's abilities are more a result of determination and high work ethic rather than superb athleticism. His technique is raw, especially in terms of posting up but his outside shot can make up for that offensive deficiency. Cain's departure can only help Martin see more minutes at the power forward position, but again his skills on the offensive end ill have to develop rather quickly for him to even have a chance at meaningful minutes.
Eric Jacobsen: At 6-10 335 lbs. the Chandler Hamilton standout has a classic build for a center. Granted, not the strongest of players, but someone who has done well for himself with a high basketball IQ and working within the framework of his abilities. Has solid speed and quickness for someone his size, and plays well in the paint both in terms of post-up moves and rebounding. Jacobsen probably has the most potential out of all three incoming freshmen. Having said that, he may be well served redshirting this year in order to get stronger but that is obviously contingent on Pateev's level of play as a reserve center.
After watching an ASU football team lose five games in a row and underachieve their way to an ugly 6-7 finish, the ASU basketball team could have picked up the pieces and given the Sun Devil nation something to be excited about, but that simply wasn't the case. Losses to Pepperdine, NAU and Fairfield before Pac-12 play even began gave fans little reason to follow the rest of the way and few that did keep paying attention were not often rewarded for their patience.
So do we predict for the 2012-13 season?
While other Pac-12 teams have stellar recruiting classes coming in, ASU is one of the very few teams that can lean on experience heading into next season. Having said that, for this team to be successful they will have to probably play with a strong sense of reckless abandonment and treat next season as the true "do or die" season that it is.
At the same time with seemingly so much on the line the ASU players and staff cannot be cautious in their approach. One can expect the Sun Devils to probably not be all that different offensively, but with the addition of Carson they are expected to play at a higher gear than last season which will naturally complement the reckless abandonment approach increasing scoring, especially in transition.
Throwing caution into the wind has to be the battle cry of the 2012-13 Sun Devils and the high level effort on both ends of the floor will be the fruitful byproduct of that mindset. If the team can quickly gel in the early part of the season and players identify what their roles are (something that should be easier with increased depth) this could prove as a vital ingredient for success.
It's likely that Carson will run the point along with Trent Lockett and Carrick Felix on the wing with Jonathan Gilling and Jordan Bachynski down low. With that lineup, you're looking at more depth than ASU has had in ages – with Chris Colvin, Evan Gordon, Bo Barnes, Calaen Robinson, Kenny Martin and Ruslan Pateev off the bench.
Not a lot of star power but ASU will be a deep squad with an abundance of athleticism, and a team that has post presence, deft shooters, and players who can get to the rim. While we will stop short of predicting what record or how many wins the Sun Devils will put together, we don't think it's much of a stretch that ASU should expect a winning season and a postseason berth of some sort at the very least. On the greedy end, if this team continues to mesh and Carson can be the difference maker people are expecting him to be, these guys could be in the upper echelon of the Pac-12 and contend for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Even with all that, Herb Sendek was signed to an extension that left many scratching their heads but validated the faith the administration has in this coach who has won 20 or more games in three consecutive seasons.
Yet, in the "what have you done for me lately" sports environment the Sun Devils are just 22-40 in the last two years. That is what the fan base remembers and that is what makes next season so crucial for Sendek and the ASU basketball program.
Note: this article was written before the news came down concerning Trent Lockett leaving the team to be near his ill mother