ASU Basketball Season Review

Picked to finish near the bottom in just about every Pac-10 preseason poll and coming off an 8-22 campaign in 2006-2007, the Arizona State Sun Devils outlook on the season looked anything but bright. However, sometimes things don't turn out like they are supposed to and with that, head coach Herb Sendek and his team became one of the nation's best turnaround stories.

In Sendek's second year in the desert, there was reason for hope in the form of freshman swingman James Harden. One of the best high school players in the country and a McDonald's All-American, Harden chose to play at ASU and immediately became an impact player on his way toward superstardom. Factor Harden with the lone incumbent star, Jeff Pendergraph and the Sun Devils instantly had more offensive firepower than last season.

Yet, the Pac-10 was regarded as the deepest conference in the country and there wasn't room for the Sun Devils to move up quite yet.

The season opener against Illinois in the Maui Invitational seemingly proved all of the doubters right. Illinois opened up the game with a 20-0 run and the Sun Devils were out of the contest before they even scored a basket but that didn't demoralize the team.

In fact, they came out the next night and clobbered a hapless Princeton team and then won an overtime thriller against LSU and left Hawaii with two wins. The maroon and gold faired very well in the rest of the non-conference slate that was highlighted by a domination of the Xavier Musketeers, a talented squad that is currently standing in the Elite Eight.

Thus, before Pac-10 play began, ASU was 10-2 and firing on all cylinders. For the next couple of weeks, the Sun Devils would remain scorching hot.

ASU opened the conference slate with a sweep at home over the Oregon schools and then a monumental win over archrival Arizona in Tempe. The Devils then hit the road and won in overtime at Cal. Sendek's squad was sitting at 4-0 in Pac-10 play for the first time in over 30 years and nationally ranked for the first time in 10 years.

The first bump in the road was a loss to Stanford in Palo Alto, which was followed by a sweep of the Washington schools at Wells Fargo Arena. The following weekend was even worse as UCLA and USC held their home court advantage, and made easy work of the Sun Devils.

Just like that ASU was 4-5 in Pac-10 play and the skeptics around the country took delight in their grim predictions supposedly materializing. The chuckles didn't last long though as ASU went down to Tucson and completed a season sweep of Arizona for the first time since 1995 and then came back home to beat then #7 Stanford in overtime.

Alas, the momentum didn't last long as the Devils lost a heartbreaker to Cal and then got buried at Wazzu. They rebounded well to beat Washington in Seattle and get a split at home against the LA schools beating USC and losing to UCLA. The regular season ended with a trip to Oregon and the Sun Devils lost to the Ducks but closed out the conference slate with a victory over the last-place Beavers.

With a 9-9 conference record and 18 wins overall, the Sun Devils were squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. With wins over Stanford and Xavier, ASU had proven to the basketball world that they have the talent to beat anyone on any given night but on the flip side, losses at home to Washington and Cal and the Illinois debacle in Hawaii had shown the basketball world that they could also come out flat on any given night as well.

With the Pac-10 Tournament approaching, many experts and analysts figured a win over USC in the quarterfinals would likely secure a bid but even with a loss, the Sun Devils should earn a ticket to the big dance.

The USC contest was a back and forth battle in which the Trojans prevailed after an extremely controversial over the back foul was called on Pendergraph in the waning seconds, on a play in which the Sun Devils could have tied the game.

On selection Sunday, the 65 teams that would participate in the NCAA Tournament were announced and the Arizona State Sun Devils were left out. Every sports show around the nation wondered aloud why the maroon and gold were not invited, and later that day, ASU accepted a bid to the NIT and would get a chance to play some postseason basketball.

Even though, the NIT was not quite what they wanted ASU took advantage of the opportunity to play extra games at Wells Fargo Arena. In the opening round, the Sun Devils overwhelmed Alabama State and in the second round they did more of the same against Southern Illinois. The season ended with a tough loss to the two-time defending National Champion Florida Gators in a game in which the Gators simply could not miss.

With the loss to Florida, in front of 12,306 fans, ASU finished their season with a 21-13 record and a fifth place finish in the Pac-10. While we all hoped for an NCAA Tournament bid, not all was lost as ASU broke the 20-win barrier for the first time since 2002-2003 and had 21 wins for the first time since 1994-1995.

Individual Player Summaries

James Harden – (17.8 PPG, 2.1 SPG)

Season Overview - The game-changing swingman was the go-to guy for ASU and often times put the team on his back and led the team to victory. Harden wasn't all about the offense, as he finished first among all Pac-10 players in steals. He has already indicated that he will return for his sophomore season and will be one of the nation's premier players next year.

Best Game – Too many to pick from if you ask me but if I had to narrow it down, Harden established himself in the victory at home over Arizona. He scored 22 of his 26 points after halftime and led ASU to their first home victory over Arizona since 2002.

Jeff Pendergraph – (12.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG)

Season Overview – The numbers may have been down but Pendergraph proved to be a major force down low for the Sun Devils and with an improved mid-range game and great instincts on the defensive end. His tendency to pick quick fouls was definitely his Achilles heal. Pendergraph will be even better if he decides to return for his senior year.

Best Game – How about a career-high 29 points in Tucson to help erase a huge first-half deficit and the first road win against Arizona since 1995?

Ty Abbott – (9.9 PPG, 36% 3PT)

Season Overview – A late grab in the recruiting process after he de-committed from New Mexico, Abbott was a mainstay in the starting lineup and could take over games with hot shooting. He broke the ASU freshman record with 76 made three-pointers. While he was very streaky with his jump shot, he was certainly one of the better all-around players on the team.

Best Game(s) – In two games against Cal, Abbott scored 55 points and hit 15 three-pointers.

Derek Glasser – (6.1 PPG, 2.3/1 A/T)

Season Overview – He isn't flashy and nothing about him stands out but Glasser is a bona fide leader and his intelligent play and steady attitude is a big reason for the Sun Devils success. His assists to turnovers ratio of one of the best in the conference and his outside shooting was noticeably better than last year.

Best Game – In the win over Arizona in Tucson, Glasser made the Wildcat defense look foolish as he scored nine points that all came in crucial moments and dished out eight assists.

Rihards Kuksiks – (5.4 PPG, 37% 3PT)

Season Overview – Started the season on bench worked his way into some minutes and eventually became a steady starter and contributor. The Latvian native has unlimited range and his inside game and defense both improved considerably as the season progressed. He also showed flashes of being a good passer, especially in the back door cuts.

Best Game – In the upset over Stanford, Kuksiks had 15 points which included a couple three's and a big dunk late in the game over Robin Lopez in which he completed the three-point play.

Jerren Shipp – (5.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG)

Season Overview – For a player that was thrust into a lot of minutes as a freshman and playing out of position this season as a sophomore, Shipp was invaluable to the success of this team. His hard work on defense and aggressive play off the bench may be the most underrated contributor to the season's success.

Best Game – While he didn't always fill up the stat sheet, Shipp's presence was felt in other ways. In his finest performance of the season, Shipp lit up the scoreboard with 17 points and pulled down seven rebounds to lead ASU over Xavier.

Eric Boateng – (3.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG)

Season Overview – The ‘Big Boat' came over as a transfer from Duke and was expected to team up with Pendergraph inside and create problems for every defense they faced. Ultimately, it didn't work out quite that well. Boateng struggled to adapt at first, lost the starting gig and had to work his way back. His game improved as the season wore on and towards the end he was providing valuable minutes in relief of Pendergraph and has become a crowd favorite.

Best Game – In the win over Stanford, Pendergraph fouled out in regulation and Stanford had two of the best big men in the Pac-10 in the Lopez twins as they headed into overtime. Boateng was a beast in the paint and played like a man among boys as he rebounded well, blocked some shots, had a crucial out of bonds save, and hit the clinching free throw all in a five-minute span to ensure the upset.

Jamelle McMillan – (2.6 PPG, 2.1 APG)

Season Overview – A highly-recruited point guard out of Seattle, the son of NBA great Nate McMillan was a great asset off the bench for ASU. His tenacious defense and great floor awareness may have been often ahead of his offense, but his confidence on the other end of the floor rose in the later portion of the season.

Best Game – In a huge trap game against Oregon State, McMillan took the Devils on his back and scored 12 points and pulled down 5 rebounds to avoid a major meltdown. Also, while we are here, let's not forget his sweeping left-handed lay-up against Arizona that was in essence the game winner.

Christian Polk – (3.5 PPG, 85% FT)

Season Overview – After being the top scorer a year ago, Polk saw his minutes dwindle as Harden and especially Abbott took minutes away from him. Polk has decided to transfer and while it may not come as a huge surprise to many, Polk will be remembered by the Sun Devil faithful as a player who fought through a tough 2006-07 season and never quit last year.

Best Game – Polk played well this year against Illinois, LSU, and Florida Gulf Coast but let's replay an old song and go back to his game-winner against Iowa last year on the same day that ASU beat Arizona in football, which capped off a great day to be a Sun Devil.

Antwi Atuahene – (1.6 PPG, 1.2 RPG)

Season Overview – The team's lone senior will be remembered for his solid minutes off the bench and his three seasons of hard work that he put into the ASU program.

Best Game – On senior day, Atuahene was the only honoree and got the start. In his first few minutes, he got a steal, dished an assist, and hit a three. Not a bad way to go out. Kraidon Woods and Steve Jones

Season Overview – Jones and Woods played sparingly this season but both are hard-workers that will get more opportunities next season. Jones, a junior walk-on, one of the team leaders, and is renowned for his hustle and is a fan favorite. Woods is a freshman with a ton of upside and should get a lot of minutes next season.

Biggest Surprise – 21 wins. No one in their right mind saw 21 wins out of this ballclub before the season started. With landmark wins over Xavier, Stanford, Oregon, and a sweep of the hated Arizona Wildcats, this team had no quit in them and flummoxed opponents with a stifling defense and a knack for hitting big shots on offense.

Biggest Disappointment – The NCAA Tournament snub cut real deep. As college basketball fans, we listened and watched intently as ESPN's crew and experts from around the nation all agreed that ASU was deserving a bid only to find out that teams like Baylor, South Alabama, and worst of all, Arizona did receive bids. It was tough to swallow but the NIT did allow a few more home games and that allowed for more fans to come out and witness for themselves that Herb Sendek and his team are going make ASU a program on the rise.

Looking Ahead – Even before this season, everyone was already saying that "next season" will be the year we make some noise. Well, next year is now approaching and there should be some considerable noise made. With the Pac-10 likely to lose some elite players and the growth of a team that loses only one senior, the Sun Devils are primed for a big season in 2008-2009.

Incoming freshmen are the sharp-shooting swingman from Missouri, Johnny Coy, and a local product out of Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, forward Taylor Rohde. Although the final schedule has not yet been determined, I will make my prediction for 2008-2009 right here and right now: 24 wins, Elite Eight – you heard it here first!

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