ASU Basketball Preview

The void of Ike Diogu is impossible to fill, and with only six returning players the task of having a successful season could be a daunting one for the Sun Devils. With minimal expectations, the maroon and gold will try and defy the prognosticators and prove that there is life after Diogu. The 2005-06 season tips off on Wednesday night, and Devils Digest previews a campaign that will more than ever rely on its newcomers.

Junior guard Kevin Kruger is undoubtedly the best returning player for Arizona State. The junior has averaged 11 ppg last year, and can play both guard positions. He's the team's go-to guy and the focal point for opposing defenses. The 6-2 186 Kruger has improved his strength, which is key for a player that could easily average 35 minutes a game this season. It's hard to imagine Rob Evans's squad having a big year without Kruger leading the way.

While the junior can play the point, the majority of his scoring comes when he moves without the ball. Thus, it will be interesting to see how he balances both the ball handling responsibilities with his natural tendencies as a shooting guard.

While Kruger will be called occasionally to play the point, two JUCO transfers will be asked to carry the lion share of minutes in this position. Senior Tyrone Jackson, hopes that the ever common trend of junior college transfers excelling in their second year comes true for him. Jackson's junior campaign was a disappointing one, as he averaged 3.6 ppg on 34.9% shooting, and amassed 2.3 assists a game. His superb play in junior college manifested his effective balance in leading an offense and being a viable outside shooting threat. Transferring that to the Division I level, can go a long way in helping his team. He's has surely heard the talk about junior college transfer Antwi Atuahene unseating him as a starter. This is a clear case where the competition will help him excel or minimize his minutes and contributions.

The early word on Atuahene is that he has the potential to end up being the best point guard to ever play on an ASU team during Evans' tenure. His court vision and quickness are said to be razor sharp and he will surely be given every opportunity to put his skills on display. He suffered a broken nose recently, and adjusting to playing with a mask may hinder his game in the upcoming weeks.

His surname sounds the same as the team's returning leading scorer, and his game has similar attributes. Bryson Krueger, the former local Mountain Pointe high school standout, is ASU's other sharp shooter. Last season, he converted three-pointers at a 43.5% clip, and at 6-7 The sophomore is the ultimate wing player who can cause match-up problems with smaller guards or slower forwards. The junior's offensive skills were never in question, as he posted nine double-digit point games last year. However, his defense and overall consistency have been a sticking point. Much like Jackson, he hopes that his second season following his transfer year will help him improve on his contributions. With the departure of Steve Moore, Krueger's minutes will increase and he will be counted on more than ever.

Down low, Serge Angounou leads the squad's big men. The junior is healthier than ever, and if he plays under control he should improve on his 8.1 ppg an 6.5 rpg averages from last year. His long arms are made for shot blocking, and if his outside shot is consistent opposing team's will have to respect that. His athleticism isn't what it was prior to his severe knee injury, so he will have to contribute on the boards and from the perimeter. The key for him will be to play within himself and avoid impatience.

Allen Morrill is the classic "tweener" which will probably play mostly at the power forward position. His height is more suited for the small forward position, but his strong physique and banging style of play can best be utilized to help the team down low. Morrill's deficiency is that he doesn't fill a role, and has nothing that he is known for. He is not a great shooter, defender, rebounder, but rather can do all of these things decently with a lot of hustle and heart. Unlike most of his first few years, the senior won't have trouble earning minutes and perhaps even starting in most games. At times, he showed a nice touch with his outside shot, but there's no question that most of his points will come in the paint.

JUCO transfer Bruno Claudino may start the season on the bench, but if his shot is falling with any kind of regularity he will find himself on the court early and often. Claudino is an leaner type of forward, that will have to complement his offensive skills with an improvement on defense.

Craig Austin is a 6-10 233 forward that didn't see many minutes his freshman year. While at the time the decision not to redshirt him seemed questionable, it could pay dividends with improved play this season. Austin is a hard worker who can bang down low on both ends of the court, and has a good mid-range shot. Compared to his teammates, not much will be expected from him, which could actually work in his favor.

The most intriguing newcomer is freshman Sylvester Seay. His build and game will remind fans of former Sun Devil Tommy Smith, but the feeling is that his development right now is ahead of what Smith's was at the same point of his career. Seay is a high impact player that can drain threes on offense, and swat balls away on defense. His upside is tremendous and time will tell how soon he can realize his potential.

Much like Seay, Jeff Pendergraph is another newcomer who reminds observers of Smith. A knee injury (a result of a non-cancerous tumor removal) has slowed him down, and the freshman may not play until a handful or so games into the season. He played at Etiwanda High School, which was a power house in Southern California last year and has shown a balanced game on both ends of the floor.

Chad Goldstein is transfer from UC Davis, who will have to sit out until the middle of December (the 17th to be exact) because of his transfer status. He's a former local player from Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale. He originally arrived as a walk-on but his play has awarded him a scholarship. At 6-9 241 he's the overall biggest player on the team who won't be afraid to throw his body around the paint coming off the bench.

On paper the Sun Devils have appeared to improve on their outside shooting capabilities. Nevertheless, the key for a successful season is going to be on the defensive end and on the glass. They cannot get into track meets, especially with the PAC-10 teams, and will have to rely on solid defense and controlling the glass to create easy transition baskets. Zone defenses have been used often last season to neutralize Diogu, and until the maroon and gold can prove that they can be a consistent perimeter threat, they are likely to see that scheme by their opponents. On the other hand, a zone defense is one that is conducive for offensive rebounds, so as long as the ASU big men manage to box out effectively, the zone can play into the hands of a team that may be short on offensive threats.

Starting Wednesday night, ASU will play four games in seven days. This period of time may be baptism in fire for the first-year players, but should force a team filled with newcomers to gel quickly. The proverbial chip on the shoulder will weigh heavily on the squad and its coaches, and that may be all the motivation they require to overcome what appears to be as insurmountable odds for success.

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