Analysis of ASU’s Mountain Schools Homestand

This past weekend Arizona State played the home version of what is commonly its most challenging road trip of the season. Meaning, the Sun Devils played the universities of Utah and Colorado. The two teams that will host ASU later on this season in the Pac-12’s regionally dreaded Rocky Mountain Road Trip.

It has been fairly well documented that ASU has struggled on the road thus far and that the team had yet to win a Pac-12 conference game.

Well, that first conference victory did finally come Saturday afternoon against Colorado, however not before a resounding Utah loss seemed to frustrate the team to an incredible end.

So why don’t we take a bit of a look at some of the things that ASU did this weekend and why each of the games turned out the way they did.

The Sun Devils lost to the Utes 76-59, and after the game the weight of the team’s play along with the four consecutive losses was more than apparent.

“Once we started cold, it bothered us it affected our play,” Sendek said.

Arizona State simply did not play well early and it continued for the majority of the game’s duration.

Part of the diagnosis to the team’s sickly play was ASU’s lack of movement off the ball. Sun Devils players were engaged in the game, ready to swing it to the next player when the ball came around to their hands. However, they did not make many strides toward making these passes and offensive rotations easier.

ASU can get away with this offensive characteristic against a team like Colorado that has a tendency to stand around in the same manner (and they did). But against Utah who had constant player movement in and outside of the painted area; buckets are going to come easy to the team moving and hard for the team that is not.

What else does this do?

Well, on the defensive end of the ball Arizona State is going to get more tired out from chasing around players. Therefore if ASU does not move around on the offensive end as well, the team is essentially bailing out its opponent from exuding energy on both ends of the floor.

This is one of the many reasons lack of off-ball movement is a detriment to a basketball squad.

However, it wasn’t until the Colorado post-game press conference that coach Sendek would express his displeasure with his team’s off-ball movement against Utah.

“The other night I thought we got caught standing around,” Sendek admitted.

So what does one do when entry passes and drives to the basket are at a premium? That individual shoots.

And as mentioned by Sendek the Sun Devils did not shoot the ball well.

Although, it is encouraging that in the minutes they received, Bo Barnes and Jon Gilling continued to shoot the ball regardless of their earlier shooting inaccuracies.

On paper the four attempted shots by Barnes in 11 minutes and the three attempted by Gilling in 16 may look skittish. But these two individuals also aren’t Kobe Bryant—meaning they are not determined to get their own certain number of shots up no matter whether it’s within the offense’s flow.

Even though there was not much flow to the ASU offense against Utah--when Gilling and Barnes did get the ball they did not hesitate taking the shot when it was appropriate.

Barnes and Gilling’s involvement shooting the ball on this team is greatly important.

And that was displayed in the next game against Colorado when the two shooters continued to hoist up attempts and it became one of the turning points of the game for the Sun Devils.

So was that really all that is needed for the Sun Devils to put W’s up in the record column?

Not quite.

The pace picked up Saturday afternoon as opposed to Thursday night. The pace picked up largely because the energy was intensified.

Shaquielle McKissic’s four crowd raising dunks was a lead contributor to that heightened energy.

If you head out to a game at WFA sometime soon--please take notice at the few times that the arena raises its decibel levels above the building’s average, the Sun Devils feed of that energy tremendously.

It is much more effective than a bunch of crazed young people trying to grab an opposing free throw shooter’s attention.

After McKissic’s first dunk off of an alley-oop from Barnes, Barnes sunk a three in the corner on the very next possession. Further validation of how much this team values energy is that following Barnes’ made three-pointer coach Stan Johnson came enthusiastically fist pumping onto the floor after Colorado called a timeout.

Energy is critical to this team and because they cannot always depend on a home crowd (for obvious reasons such as away games on the schedule) finding another avenue to energize each other will be of necessity.

Another small note from the Colorado victory performance is Tra Holder’s subtle but controlling play. The guard ventured into the interior multiple times while keeping his dribble.

Keeping his dribble was the key so he remained a threat. However more often than not he bounced passed it to Eric Jacobsen who converted a few layups because the interior defenders collapsed on Holder.

The freshman finished with a career high six assists. And Holder looked as confident as he has in any game this season adding eight for 10 from the free throw stripe to his stat line.

All in all did ASU dodge a small bullet with Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott’s absence? Yeah, they sure did. Is there a guarantee that if that bullet had hit the Sun Devils it would have been a kill shot? No, no there is not.

Which is why credit should be given to Arizona State for securing its first Pac-12 victory of the season two days after it suffered its second worst loss. Colorado made some unbelievable shots toward the end of the game and if ASU had not continued to persevere and knock down free throws it would have been another L.

Instead the team is feeling as McKissic put it, “It’s a real good feeling knowing you have a win going into Cal.”

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