When a team ends the year with an overall record of 10-17, including a 4-14 mark in their conference, there are obviously more negatives than positives to take away from the season. This past year for the Sun Devils certainly fits this description. Here are the major negative aspects of the 2003-2004 season:
· Team defense was not a strength at any point of the season and, at times, it seemed that opponents scored at will. The Devils were neither good man-to-man nor zone defenders. Against the man-to-man defense, opponents were able to easily attack the middle via dribble drives or passes. When playing a zone, The Sun Devils did not rotate well and consequently opponents got many open shots through inside-out plays or by quick movement of the ball around the perimeter. The concept of team defense was lost on ASU. When needed, help defense was either non-existent or arrived too late and individual defensive assignments were often missed.
· Interior defense was severely lacking this season. For all of his well-deserved accolades, Ike Diogu will not be on anyone's all defensive team. Opposing big men repeatedly abused the talented power forward in the post. Ike was unable to move his man off the blocks before the entry pass and gave up too much ground after the ball was already in the post. Too many big men were able to get short hook shots or lay-ups. Despite collecting his share of blocks, Diogu was not an intimidating defensive presence in the paint. Keith Wooden has the physical tools to help in this area, but his limited playing time and inconsistent play when he was in the game did not allow him to contribute much in this area.
· To continue along the defensive theme, the Devils' transition defense was also poor. Opponents were able to run at will and got easy looks in the transition game. The Sun Devils were often beat down the court, resulting in lay-ups for the opponent. When ASU was able to get back, they often failed to find the opponent's shooters on the perimeter and gave up easy three-point attempts. Overall, no aspect of the Devils' transition defense was solid.
· The inability to compliment Diogu with consistent outside shooting persisted again this season. At times Steve Moore, Jamal Hill, and Kevin Kruger were able to hit shots and open up the middle for Ike; however, the outside threat was unreliable and Jason Braxton was also unable to find a way to be a threat outside of 12 feet. Teams were able to collapse their defenses on Diogu and dare anyone else to beat them. Compounding the issue for the Sun Devils was Diogu's inability to quickly recognize double-teams and to get the ball to the open man. In the vast majority of games, opponents came up on the winning side of the gamble.
· Zone defenses were effective at stifling the Sun Devils' offensive attack. ASU did not employ a high post or "short corner" attack effectively to expose the weak spots in the zone. Many times, the Devils' perimeter players did not catch the ball in a position that was ready to attack the zone. They were happy to simply swing the ball from side to side without a real threat of putting up the shot. Additionally, the perimeter players did not do a good job of getting into the middle of the zone with dribble drives. Consequently, opponents just surrounded Diogu. Without him getting touches, the Devils did not score effectively.
· ASU looked lost in most "short clock" situations. Whether it was the end of the half, end of the game, or as the shot clock was just running down on an important possession, the Devils were usually unable to execute a play to get a good look at the basket. Some of this can be blamed on the players not executing what the coaches drew up, but some of the blame has to fall on the coaches' shoulders too. The best example of a player not understanding time and situation at the end of the game was when Steve Moore gave the ball up to Jason Braxton, who was immediately fouled, at the end of the Stanford game. The ball should have never been in the hands of the team's worst free-throw shooter when the game's outcome was on the line. There were other situations where the team came out of a timeout and did not run anything even resembling a set play or other times when a timeout was not called and the team simply ran the three-man weave and settled for a 25' heave at the end of the game. Sun Devils fans were demoralized when they knew their team would most likely not get a quality shot at the end of close games.
· The play of the point guards left much to be desired, since none of players at this position were able to effectively lead the team on a consistent basis. Jason Braxton was the best defender of the bunch and also valued the basketball very well this year, but he has been unable to hit enough jump shots to keep his man honest on the defensive end. Tron Smith is really more of a SG than a PG and was a turnover waiting to happen for much of the early part of the season, before a broken nose and pneumonia removed him from the lineup. Toward the end of the season, Kevin Kruger's play greatly improved; however, his decision-making skills and play making ability with the ball in his hands is still somewhat suspect. He looked best when Braxton was also in the game and he was not asked to do too much creating for others.
· As a consequence of the mediocre-at-best point guard play, the Sun Devils could not dictate the tempo to their opponents. ASU usually played the opponent's chosen style of game. If they wanted to run up and down the floor in a fast paced game, the Devils were happy to oblige. If the opponent wanted a slow down, grinding style of play, ASU played that style. This was especially evident in conference play, where the teams in the top half of the conference dictated the rhythm and usually came away with a victory.
· One of the freshmen big men should have redshirted. Chris Low, Wilfred Fameni, or Keith Wooden should have used this season to improve their strength and work on their game in practice. Chris Low was probably the best candidate, considering that both Fameni and Wooden were in the starting lineup at different points of the season. This would have also helped the coaches to spread out the recruiting years over another year, instead of having seven players (this year's freshmen) use up their eligibility at the same time.
· Ending the season in last place is never a positive.
Hoops Season Review – Part II
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