ASU Hoops Preview

Over the last several weeks has brought you a comprehensive breakdown of the upcoming 2002-2003 basketball season in the Pacific-10 conference. Included in this analysis were the projection of team records, and post-season individual awards. The tenth and last section of this multi-part series looks at the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Team Analysis

The 2002-2003 ASU basketball season is a pivotal one in Rob Evans' tenure. Coach Evans has a .500 record in his first four seasons as coach of the Sun Devils, but this year's team is expected to do much better than finish with an equal amount of wins and losses. The Pac 10 media has picked ASU to finish fourth in the conference, putting pressure on the Sun Devils to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since the Mario Bennett-led squad made it to the Sweet 16 in 1995.

Positional Analysis

The leaders on this year's team will be seniors Tommy Smith and Curtis Millage. Many onlookers believe the difference between a 6th place finish in the Pac and a 3rd or 4th place finish will be the play of these two. Some questions still have to be answered. Can Tommy Smith avoid the foul trouble that has plagued him since his freshman year, while simultaneously picking up some of the scoring and rebounding slack left by the departure of Chad Prewitt? Can Curtis build upon a strong junior campaign by hitting his outside shot more consistently and hitting some of the big baskets Chad Prewitt hit last season? Also, can Millage give the team quality minutes at the point guard position when the need arises? As each player begins to answer these questions, the outcome of the Devils' season will become clearer.

Obviously, no team's hopes depend solely on the play of two individuals. Basketball is definitely a team sport, and Rob Evans' team begins this season with a group of capable players to compliment Tommy and Curtis. The next most important factor in the Devils' success may be the play of point guard Jason Braxton. JB must become more of a threat from outside on the offensive end of the floor, or teams will play a sagging zone that clogs the middle and leaves the sophomore and his 37% field goal percentage with open looks all season. ASU saw this defense many times as the season wore on last year and had trouble effectively attacking the zone. In addition, Jason must improve from the free throw line, or Coach Evans will have to sit him at the end of close games with the Devils ahead and other teams looking to foul ball handlers. Finally, JB's assist-to-turnover ratio needs to improve from last year's freshman-like 1.1 average. When Braxton is not in the game, Kyle Dodd must provide solid minutes leading the team and being a disruptor on defense. Historically, Kyle has had a difficult time matching up with the stronger point guards of the Pac 10. He has protected the ball well, but many say that is due to a lack of aggressiveness in his game. The team will need KD to create more opportunities for his teammates while playing solid defense. Finally, Dodd also needs to improve his free throw shooting, or Millage may have to run the point at the end of games in order to keep the ball in the hands of solid free throw shooters.

Freshman Ike Diogu will start at center. He is physically mature for someone who is only 18 years old and has strong post moves on the offensive end of the floor. However, the Sun Devils will need more defense and rebounding from Ike than offensive production. For the Sun Devils to be successful, Diogu must provide a strong presence in the paint and on the boards on the defensive end of the floor. If Ike can play solid defense while averaging 8-10 points, 6-8 rebounds, and a couple blocks per game, he should easily satisfy what the Devils need from him in order to win. During the times when Ike is on the bench, look for Justin Allen or Chris Osborne to play the center position, depending on match-ups and productivity. Osborne is capable of banging with stronger post players and is a better athlete and rebounder. Allen can take his man outside and force him to leave the front of the basket, leaving the lane open for Sun Devils to get to the bucket. Both must play steady, consistent basketball when they are in the game, especially on the defensive end.

Justin Allen may also see some time backing up Tommy Smith at the power forward position when the opposition's power forward is too big for Shawn Redhage, or Allen Morrill (assuming Morrill does not sit out the season). The Devils may have trouble against more athletic power forwards when Tommy is out due to the loss of Serge Angounou to season-ending injury, and the uncertain status of Allen Morill. Shawn will also get his minutes and will put pressure on the opponent to guard him out on the floor, or else watch his mid-range jump shot continually tickle the twine. Strong, athletic power forwards may give the Sun Devils problems this season. Tommy is athletic enough to keep up with any opponent, but he is still on the thin side and may continue to be foul prone. When Tommy sits, Coach Evans will have to assess match-ups to see whom to insert into the game. Most of the backups at this position are either athletic players who probably lack the muscle to bang with a solid post player or bigger guys who will have problems guarding athletic opponents in space. As mentioned above, Tommy's foul trouble could be a huge factor in the effectiveness of the power forward position.

Redhage, and Morrill are also candidates to see minutes at the small forward position. This position is the only one for which the coaches are still trying to identify a starter. The two main players in the hunt are Jamal Hill, Donnell Knight, after the injury to Angounou which will likely keep him out for the year in a redshirt capacity. The likely starter is Hill, with Knight and Redhage seeing significant minutes as back-ups. This is another position in which the Sun Devils may have issues. Hill will provide a solid offensive threat on the wing, but may be too slight to effectively guard some of the stronger or taller small forwards the Devils will face. The best overall combination of size and athleticism is probably Knight, but his inconsistencies are well documented and as of yet nothing has happened to prove that he will become a more consistent, aggressive player. This position will likely be manned based on the match-ups. Hill will play when scoring is needed and Knight when the need arises to guard a taller athletic wing, and Redhage will likely see much of the remaining time, with Morill a possibility as well. Kenny Crandall may also see time at this position in very specific situations, such as when a three-pointer is critical.

Although he will probably start at small forward, Jamal Hill will likely slide over to the shooting guard position when Curtis Millage is not playing. Coach Evans really does not have a lot of options at the shooting guard position. The lack of depth at this position hurt the Sun Devils last season when Curtis was out of the game, so having Hill as a back-up is a big positive for the team, although it could leave a void at the small forward position if others fail to step up. Once again, Kenny Crandall can also play this position, if necessary, but will most likely only do so in very limited circumstances like shooting teams out of zone defenses.

The Schedule

ASU has a fairly demanding non-conference schedule this year to compliment the always-treacherous Pac 10 schedule. After two exhibitions and a game in Tempe against Morehead State, the Devils pack their bags for the Maui Invitational, where they will face the Kentucky Wildcats in the first round. Other strong opponents include --Default For Purdue is to ignore-->Purdue (in Las Vegas), BYU, and Utah. These games, combined with other potential match-ups against strong opponents in Maui, Las Vegas, and in the Holiday Classic make the non-conference schedule a tough one, but one that should prepare the Sun Devils for Pac-10 play as well as boost the team's all-important RPI (Ratings Percentile Index) via the schedule of strength component.

Once January rolls around, conference play will start. The conference season starts with the Devils traveling to Oregon for the usual Thursday and Saturday games in Corvallis and Eugene. The Ducks are strongly favored to finish in second place behind Pac 10 favorite Arizona. The third spot is up for grabs, with ASU, UCLA, USC, Stanford, and Cal all having a realistic shot at securing that spot. In a favorable scheduling quirk, ASU does not have to go out of state any two consecutive weeks during the Pac 10 schedule. This should help with the teams focus and stamina.


The Sun Devils have the pieces necessary to make some noise in the Pac 10 and outside the conference this season. In conference, a 10 or 11 win season is possible. ASU must sweep schools without inferior talent - WSU, UW, and OSU – while splitting with teams with comparable talent – Stanford, Cal, UCLA, and USC. Any wins other than these will be tough to come by, but would really cement the Devils' place in the Pac 10 and the NCAA tournament.

ASU also plays 11 non-conference games. The Devils must beat Morehead State, Lafayette, and BYU at home. Additionally, the Devils should win both games in the Holiday Classic. Two wins in Maui would also be a big step toward the NCAA Tournament. Finally, wins on the road against Utah and Purdue are not probable, but a split would really put the Devils in a good position heading into conference play. Earning 8 or 9 victories in non-conference play is very attainable, and anything less than that figure put ASU's quest to participate in March Madness in big jeopardy.

Overall, ASU should end up with anywhere between 18 and 20 wins (10-11 wins in conference). Anything less than that would be considered sub-par and winning more than 20 game or 11 conference games would be a pleasant surprise and remarkable achievement. 10 wins in the Pac-10 should earn at least a fourth place tie, and that coupled with an improved RPI should be good enough for a birth in The Big Dance.

Sun Devil Source Top Stories