In light of their struggles last year, ASU has made some changes in their style of play. First and foremost, the Devils are looking to push the ball and create a much faster tempo game. The Devils want to take advantage of their deep lineup and create more fast break opportunities. Ike Diogu is in great shape and running hard this year, and that coupled with staying disciplined could translate into having a great degree of success running this scheme. However, the PAC-10 is the best fast break conference in college basketball and trying to run with high scoring teams could at times play into many of their opponents' strengths.
Coach Rob Evans has abandoned the motion offense he has used his entire head-coaching career. ASU has a few basic sets that they run to get them moving and get Ike the ball. They are setting a lot of screens in their offense this year to get guys open looks. Instead of starting Ike in the post and dumping the ball into him, the Devils are putting the junior in different spots and screening for him. This will hopefully make it harder for teams to keep track of Diogu and double him. While this gives the Sun Devil players less freedom, the continuity and sets should give the players better spacing and movement. Last season, the players had a difficult time getting Ike the ball and working off of him. Improving that aspect, working off of some screens, and utilizing Diogu's improved perimeter skills could result in a more effective offense.
While everything has changed, much has stayed the same. The purpose of the offense is still to get Ike the ball and isolate him. The Sun Devils want to try and prevent double teams on Ike. The issues here are still the same as well: Ike needs to handle the double teams better and make teams pay for their defensive strategy. He must eliminate unnecessary dribbling out of the double teams that usually leads to turnovers, as well as improve his passing to the open shooters on the perimeter or cutters to the basket.
The other players need to work off of Ike better and hit the open looks that they will get from the double teams. Furthermore the players need to find the open spots on the floor that will allow Diogu to successfully complete a pass. There were many instances last year where Diogu and his teammates weren't on the same page, and this lead to the offense stalling. When Ike gets doubled, the player left open has to automatically dive to the basket every time. Thus, the defense has to honor the cut or else ASU will get an easy lay-up. Diogu needs to read the defense like a quarterback, and go through his first to fourth options. This scheme can also put guys like Jason Braxton, who people usually double off of, in a great position, because it would have him slashing and using his athleticism rather than shooting jumpers. Another thing to keep in mind that effective spacing is usually a sure recipe to beating the double team. Furthermore, once a player gets a pass from Diogu he needs not to be in a defensive mode and be overly concerned about losing the ball, but rather attack the basket or try to create a scoring opportunity for a teammate.
More often that not ASU will encounter zone defenses, which are geared to take Diogu out of the offense and challenge the Sun Devil perimeter game. As mentioned earlier, the team should have the necessary outside shooting capabilities to beat zone defenses. However, they are some other issues that need to be taken in consideration when handling such a defense.
The philosophy of the Zone offense is to get the defense moving in and
out of place. The offense wants the ball to get into the short corner to flatten the defense out. The ball being in the short corner could take a defender on Diogu off of him. Diogu then could dive looking for the ball. If the ball doesn't go to him, it gets kicked out. The fanning out of the ball and swinging it quickly forces the defense to move and
shift. If the players move the ball rapidly enough the defense runs out of defenders and the offense gets a good look inside with Ike, gaps for penetration, and open 15-foot jumpers.
Coach Evans is known for his reputation as a defensive coach with great rebounding teams. However, the Devils' defensive numbers under Evans at ASU have never been among the conference's leaders. For the Devils to have a successful year they need a great defensive effort. Again, it all starts and ends with Diogu. His biggest weakness last year was his lack of effort and defensive presence. Other teams would attack ASU inside and exploit this weakness. They would get easy points in the paint and the Devils would be forced to double off of the other team's best players because Ike would have problems with average opposing interior players. To protect Ike, ASU would have to switch to a zone defense, which has never been a style of play Coach Evans has favored.
The facts are that while the Sun Devils have improved on their outside shooting capabilities in the off-season, the key for a successful season is going to be on the defensive end and on the glass. ASU has the best player in the PAC-10 and the most dominant post presence in college basketball. However, they are not close to competing with the offensive firepower of the PAC-10 teams. To win night in and night out, the Sun Devils have to play solid defense and control the glass. Because of their poor shooting ASU should be the number one offensive rebounding team in the conference, especially because the Zone defense is easy to get offensive rebounds from. If they get in shootouts with other teams they will not have the guns to compete.