To make matters worse, ASU saw a 15-point lead disappear in the final 10 minutes of the Pac-12 quarterfinal match against UCLA that officially burst their NCAA Tournament chances. The highlights of the season were an 18-point shellacking of that same UCLA squad at home and a season sweep of Colorado capped off by Evan Gordon's buzzer beater in overtime on the road.
For the last five months, let alone last night, Jahii Carson has been the focal point of almost every Sun Devil basketball story but without Carrick Felix, this team probably does not sniff a .500 mark. Entering his senior campaign, Felix had zero career double-doubles, and this past year he recorded 13 such feats. His scoring average rose almost 50% up to 14.6ppg and his field goal and three-point shooting rates improved as well. And that's just his offensive accomplishments. Felix's defense was arguably the best in the Pac-12 and made every other team's go-to player go through 40 stressful minutes and usually shoot below their average.
With all due respect to Eric Jacobsen, who showed some flashes throughout the season, Jahii Carson is easily the winner of this award. The local redshirt freshman from Mesa came in with enormous expectations and proceeded to obliterate all of them. His 18.5 points per game is second only to Ike Diogu's 19.0 in 2002-03 among Sun Devil freshmen, and ranks seventh in Pac-12 history for a freshman. His 177 assists rank sixth in league history.
Carson also set Sun Devil freshmen records for points (647), field goals made (231) and attempted (488), assists (177), total minutes (1,303) and 20-point games (18). It may be quite a while until any ASU freshman can come even close to duplicating some of these numbers, let alone eclipsing those marks.
Through seven seasons, Herb Sendek has led the Sun Devils to a 120-109 record (53-73 in Pac-12 play). Despite those marks the 50-year old coach will head into the 2013-14 campaign on an extraordinarily warm seat that very well may carry an ‘NCAA Tournament or bust' tag. Lead assistant Dedrique Taylor, who was named Cal-State Fullerton's Head Coach, was replaced by former Drake and Utah assistant Stan Johnson. Eric Musselman is a strong possibility to depart the staff as well in search for an attractive college or NBA position. Larry Greer figures to remain on the staff.
Carrick Felix (14.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG) – the local senior from Goodyear had a season to remember. To review, Felix earned second-team All-Pac-12, Pac-12 All-Defensive Team honors and was the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He led the Pac-12 in double-double with 13 and set single game career-highs in points, rebounds and three-pointers. He was a three-time winner of the Pac-12 Player of the Week. All in all, he finally maximized his potential and reminded everyone why he was the first junior college prospect to be signed at Duke during Mike Krzyzewski's tenure.
We would be remised if we didn't mention Felix's draft prospects, as he is a player who may just sneak into the low first round depending on his performance in pre-draft workouts. His high energy and superior defense, let alone with athleticism and length have really caught the eye of NBA scouts to say the least as well as drawing comparisons to Brice Bowen and Kawhi Leonard. High praise without a doubt for a player that quite frankly didn't project well on that level just 12 months ago.
Jahii Carson (18.5 PPG, 5.1 APG) – sitting out last season due to academic ineligibility was a frustrating matter for everyone involved but Carson proved he was worth the wait. As referenced above, he ranks among the best freshmen ever not just at ASU but the Pac-12 as well. The most impressive aspect of Carson's game was his ability to put the team on his shoulders when they needed him most. Highlight of the season was posting a career-high 34 points against Stanford in the Pac-12 Tournament opener.
Jordan Bachynski (9.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) – the Sun Devils broke the Pac-12 record for most blocks in a single-season and the 7-2 Canadian center is naturally the primary reason for that. With 120 personal blocks on the season, Bachynski broke both the ASU and Pac-12 records. Offensively inconsistent, Bachynski has the opportunity for a Carrick Felix type of leap in his senior season if he can learn to play with a high level of tenacity on a nightly basis. His upper body strength needs work and an improved mid-range game could make him lethal.
Jonathan Gilling (9.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG) – a versatile player that was fifth on the team in scoring and second in both assists and rebounds, the Danish forward will look to find consistency in his long-range shooting in junior season. Just 26 percent three-point shooting (27/104) in Pac-12 regular season play wasn't the contribution expected from him. Gilling missed a lot of open shots and passed up a lot of open looks which showed his deteriorated confidence level. An offseason in the gym working on his shot a little more could go a long way, and more importantly learning to play with a dynamic point guard as Carson.
Evan Gordon (10.1 PPG, 35% 3PT) – the guy made the game-winner in Boulder and that is good enough for me. Aside from that, Gordon was another extremely sporadic shooter on this squad. With a great ability to get into the lane and a solid touch around the basket, Gordon will become even more dangerous if that 35 percent mark from beyond the arc dips into the low 40's.
Chris Colvin – in just two seasons, Colvin has delivered a mixed bag of goods to the Sun Devils with generally solid play on the court as well disciplinary issues that kept him out f action for a few games at a time. Earning a starting role later in the season, the senior from Chicago had a knack for getting key buckets and playing solid defense.
Ruslan Pateev – in an athletic Pac-12 conference that demanded a different style of play, Pateev's playing time dwindled as the Sun Devils went to a smaller lineup more and more as the year progressed. However, the Russian senior will leave Tempe with a fairly good career in the books. While not exactly a potent scorer, Pateev had a soft touch around the rim and could knock down the 15-footer if need be. The highlight of the season/career was earlier this year against Cal when he went for 12 points and 8 rebounds off the bench and exiting the game for the last time while getting a rare standing ovation.
Bo Barnes – the Scottsdale sophomore sat out last year after transferring from Hawaii and as three-point specialist who figured to be an integral part of the rotation, Barnes fell short of expectations. We're curious to see if he can bounce back this coming season and he certainly will have to try and develop his overall skills so he can contribute in various ways and not be the proverbial "one trick pony."
Eric Jacobsen – starting the season third on the front court depth chart, Jacobsen was overall a pleasant surprise in his freshman campaign and showed Sun Devil fans a glimpse of what looks to be a promising career. Highlight of his season was going for 16 points and six rebounds against Hartford. The grit and determination level he displayed should have his poised to be both coaches' and a crowd favorite during his tenure in Tempe.
Kenny Martin – in very limited playing time, the freshman from Glendale exploded with energy on both ends of the court and will look to expand his role a lot more in his sophomore season with Pateev's departure. Given his extreme athleticism, Martin could be a solid candidate for the rare ‘two-big men in the game at the same time' rotation that Sendek employs at times.
Brandan Kearney – After leaving Michigan State midway through the season, Kearney will be eligible for the Sun Devils in December 2013 and is likely to immediately become a key part of the rotation. With a frame similar to that of Carrick Felix, Kearney was a 3-star recruit out of Detroit that can knock down the outside shot and handle the ball well. Now, while he may be have tabbed as the player to replace Felix, since he has similar size and skill set, as is stands right now the Michigan State transfer is quite a ways away from achieving that. His sense of purpose in practice hasn't been at the level you would expect, even from a player that is forced to sit out the non-conference portion of the upcoming season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Kearney clearly has to get physically stronger, yet his improvement in the mental aspect as he tries to establish himself as one of the leaders on this team is probably even more urgent at this juncture.
Richie Edwards – Edwards, a 6-7 transfer from Valparaiso, isn't a catch and shoot type of scorer even though he would like to be known as one. 15 feet away from the basket appears to be the ideal range for him, creating his shot with an array of inside moves. Although he's more effective down low on the block, he is very much work in progress defending players with the same skill set as his. It remains to be seen where Edwards will fit into the rotation but the things he did well in his career at Valpo are things that the Sun Devils need more of to be successful.
He also dressed well this season on the bench and a man confident enough to wear a bow-tie in a casual setting is a man that I want on my basketball team.
Calaen Robinson – Sat out this season due for personal reasons, the hope is that Robinson took this year to build up his body to prepare for the rigors of the college game. As a combo guard, Robinson has a good chance to enter the rotation sooner rather than later.
Chance Murray – Offered by most of the Pac-12, the 6'3 guard out of LA has a great chance to earn significant playing time early in his Sun Devil career and is a solid recruiting snag for this staff. His length and athleticism, ball skills, and shooting abilities are above average. Yet, inconsistency and competitiveness were his biggest shortcomings for most of his high school career. He has reportedly improved on those traits as of late and if he continues to progress in that direction he could prove to be at worst as adequate backup to Carson.
Egor Koulechov – The Israeli-born, Florida-high school forward is a huge wild-card for this coaching staff. A high-volume shooter and a solid rebounder, the 6-4 180-pound wing is a deft jump shooter in the mold of former ASU player Rihards Kuksiks or current player Jonathan Gilling, yet probably a better athlete than either of them. May have to leap over a couple of players to get meaningful minutes, but as someone who has extensive experience in international play, suffice to say that Koulechov isn't your typical true freshman and thus could surprise in the level of his contributions.
What to Watch for in 2013-14
Those unusual gusts of winds yesterday in the valley, weren't only due to Mother Nature, but also were a byproduct of the Sun Devil nation exhaling in relief as they learned that Carson will remain in Tempe for his sophomore year (which very well could be his last).
The importance of Carson staying put cannot be overstated. However, what kind of squad can we expect in the 2013-14 campaign?
The loss of Felix and the inconsistent pay of returning upperclassmen such as Gordon, Gilling and Bachynski definitely raise questions of the offensive firepower capabilities of this team. Thus, it's imperative that this Sun Devil team be known for its defensive prowess to negate, at least to some extent, some of its projected shortcomings on the other end of the floor. If they can achieve that feat they do have a chance at a 20-plus win season.
No player on the team that will come close to averaging the same number of points as he will throughout the season. Thus, the aforementioned returning upperclassmen will have to be consistent in their contributions even if they barely dip into double digit scoring. Edwards will have to make a significant impact early whether its' being a starter or the first player off the bench. As mentioned, Kearney will only be able to see the floor when the Pac-12 slate begins and will have to hit the ground running as he's the most natural candidate to try and attempt to fill the void Felix left.
Worst-case scenario for next season is another season without an NCAA Tournament invitation as that will all but spell the end of Herb Sendek's tenure in Tempe. Best-case scenario is a better Carson, a more consistent Evan Gordon, a less-streaky Jon Gilling, an immediately impactful Brandan Kearney and a determined Jordan Bachynski net the Sun Devils their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2009.
The team right now has one scholarship to, but there is no one 2013 prospect that at this time can be classified as a strong possibility to ink his name with ASU in the late signing period. Transfer players are always a possibility, and one name to keep in mind in Kansas' guard Anrio Adams. Landing a front court player to boost the depth at that unit is the highest priority, but adding a point guard to the ranks, is also high on the to-do list.
All in all, this program has a solid core that is capable of advancing to the NCAA tournament and among its Pac-12 foes is one of the better squads in returning experienced players. Nonetheless, adequate player development is absolutely vital for this team as they will have to count on a few newcomers to provide significant support off the bench, let alone in the starting lineup.