The ASU Men's Basketball team ended the season with a respectable 18-14 overall record, which earned them an invitation to the NIT post-season tournament. Only knowing this, many people would look at the improvement over the previous season and assume that the ASU fan base is happy with the progress that was made since the end of last season.
However, that is not the case. Many fans are very upset at the team's record and performance this season.
It was really two seasons combined together into one. The first season, the non-conference schedule, was very successful (11-1) and built up hopes for the rest of the season. Those hopes came crashing down around the fan base when the team sputtered to a 7-11 conference record and didn't finish in the top half of the Pac 10.
A review of some statistics can shed some light on how the season turned sour:
It is safe to say that ASU's woes were not a result of offensive production. The team averaged 76.0 ppg overall and 74.0 ppg in conference (fourth in the Pac 10). Although they were not a great three point shooting team, the Sun Devils were successful on 34.8% of their shots from long range overall and 33.4% in Pac 10 play, which is good enough for fifth place in the conference.
Ike Diogu was the focal point for everything ASU accomplished on the offensive end of the floor. The Pac 10 POY averaged 22.6 ppg, leading the conference in scoring on 57.5% field goal shooting. Two other Sun Devils averaged in double figures, with Steve Moore and Kevin Kruger chipping in 12.2 and 11.0 ppg, respectively.
In almost every offensive category – scoring offense, 3-pt shooting percentage, field goal percentage, assists – the Devils finished in the top half of the conference. Their offensive game planning and execution were shaky at times, but were strong enough to win games. Most fans would like their chances of winning if they could consistently score 74 points against conference competition.
It is the defensive end of the floor that failed ASU in conference play. The statistical differences between the non-conference and Pac 10 games do not immediately jump out when looking at the raw numbers; however, the Sun Devils are a team with a small margin for error and thus the small statistical shifts were the difference between a winning conference record and finishing with eleven losses.
The first example is the opponents' ppg average. Overall, ASU held the opposition to 72.2 ppg; however, that averaged increased to 76.0 ppg for Pac 10 play. Only USC allowed more points to be scored in conference play.
Additionally, ASU allowed conference teams to shoot 47.7% from the field. This is an unacceptable level, even against good offensive teams. Once again, the Sun Devils were only better than the Trojans in this category.
Finally, the Devils were out-rebounded by Pac-10 foes by almost one rebound per game. Overall, the Devils were able to control the glass, grabbing three more boards than their opponents. The discrepancy shows you how dominant on the boards the maroon and gold were against non-conference competition. Unfortunately, against Pac 10 teams the Devils were eighth in conference in rebounding margin.
The only two categories in which ASU finished the conference season in the top half were steals and blocked shots. ASU came in fifth in both categories.
The statistics show that the Sun Devils could not consistently stop conference teams from scoring, which is a recipe for disaster against the skilled and athletic teams in the conference. It was frustrating to watch because the team never seemed to play with the intensity necessary to be successful on defense.
There isn't much to say other than the offense was pretty good and the defense was pretty bad. Unfortunately, the defense was a little bit worse in conference than the offense was good. This was especially true as the intensity level rose toward the season's end. The Devils ended the season with a five-game losing streak and most of those games were decided when ASU gave up an offensive rebound or were unable to make stops on the defensive end.
If Ike Diogu stays, the offense should be fine next season. The Devils will have to play with more focus on the defensive end if they want to challenge for the upper half of the conference. Defense is supposed to be Rob Evans' specialty, so you would like to think the Devils could figure it out over the summer.
If Ike Diogu goes pro, well, I don't even want to think about it.
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