What Have You Been Up To?: ASU Sun Devils

Kevin "Kevo" Danna provides the faithful with his preview of the Arizona State Sun Devils, including a look at their season since facing Stanford in January, who has been hot and not so hot for ASU, and the keys to a Cardinal victory as they look to build off their road sweep in Oregon and get revenge for the steamrolling they received in Tempe last time out.

After an impressive road trip to the Pacific Northwest, the Cardinal have moved to just one game below .500 and are standing in 7th place, three spots ahead of where most pundits picked this team to be at the beginning of the season.  However, much work is still needed to be done at home before the Pac-10 tournament in two weeks.  First up - the Arizona State Sun Devils, another team picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference.  What will happen when two of the best coaches in the conference in Herb Sendek and Johnny Dawkins butt heads?  Here's a look at what the Sun Devils have been up to since these teams squared off on January 30:

Since We Last Spoke: 4-1 (2-0 Home, 2-1 Away)

The Sun Devils have proved themselves to be more than a worthy competitor before we played them at Wells Fargo, but it seems as if our Tempe Tussle with the Devils really woke this team up.  They started off with the oh-so necessary split of the Washington schools in the Evergreen State and have won three in a row since with a sweep of the Oregons at home and a road rivalry victory over the Cats in Tucson on Sunday.

These last five games have left Herb Sendek's squad just a half-game out of first place with a 9-5 Pac-10 performance through seven-ninths of the regular season.  One look at that roster and you really aren't blown away by any of the individual stats.  Their leading scorer averages just over 12 points per game.  There is only one guy on the team that averages above four and a half rebounds per contest, and although Derek registers five dimes per, only three other guys get above one dish on average.  When watching this team in action, however, one can see how dangerous they can be.  Their wings move very well without the ball along the perimeter and free themselves up for many an open look at the hoop beyond the arc, where the team shoots over 38% on average for the season.  According to the Pomeroy statistics, 44.3% of their shots are from long distance and 37.2% of their made buckets are three-pointers, numbers that are 10th and 12th in the nation, respectively. 

The attack from no man's land is spear-headed by Junior guard Ty Abbott.  Known by relatively very few coming into 2009-2010 due to the presence of James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph, this guy has flat out EXPLODED in some games this year, and Stanford can attest to that.  In the Tempe Tussle back on January 30, Ty made a living from downtown against the Farm Boys, hitting his first six three-point field goal attempts and quarterbacking the 54-17 run to start the game.  He finished up that game with 29 points and 12 rebounds, easily his best all-around performance of the season.  And he hasn't been a one-trick pony, either.  He might be averaging just 12.5 ppg, but he has scored at least 16 points in nine of his last 12 games and has only dipped below double figures once.  On Sunday afternoon, he was THE reason Arizona State knocked off the Wildcats.  Any time Arizona would take the lead or make a serious dent in the deficit in the second half, it would be Ty Abbott to the rescue with a clutch three.  He also showed that he has an effective shot-fake that can get defenders into the air and pull up and connect from 18 after a couple of dribbles.  So while he is a lights-out shooter from deep, he is willing to put it on the floor to get a better look.

But this team is not a one-trick pony from three-land.  Rihards Kuksiks, Derek Glasser, and Jamelle McMillan all shoot above 38% outside the international line and are great spot-up shooters.  Rihards and Jamelle aren't exactly going to beat anybody off the dribble, but they cannot be left alone because the two can and will make the defense pay.  Glasser adds a little bit more flavor with his ability to shoot off the dribble and connect with a hand in his face.  And, as just about everyone in the Pac-10 knows, this guy can pass with the best of him.  His 136 assists rank first in the conference and his 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio is second only to teammate Jamelle McMillan, who obviously handles the ball a lot less than Derek.

Despite all of their great perimeter play, this team can be beat.  Outside of the four guys mentioned above, they don't really have anyone that is going to beat you.  Center Eric Boateng is a solid low-post defender and a solid rebounder, but his post moves are limited to say the least.  He uses his pivot foot well, but as long as a Trotter or Zimmermann stay down on his up-fakes, Eric is going to have a rough go of it on the block.  Demetrius Walker is an athletic frosh with a lot of potential, but he tries to go one-on-one way too much and ends a lot of possessions by putting up wild and errant shots.  Taylor Rhode is a solid post off the bench who has decent hands and gets his fair share of offensive rebounds, but he is stuck behind Boateng and will see limited action.  So with that, here is what Stanford needs to do to be successful on Thursday night:

Kevo's Keys to Cardinal Success against Sendek's Sun Devils:

•     MAN UP! - Since these guys are great shooters, an extended amount of zone defense will probably yield too many good looks for Arizona State.  But it's more than just playing man against the Devils.  Cardinal perimeter players need to pressure the ball on defense and either tag, split, or switch on all screens around the three-point line.  Ty, Rihards, Jamelle, and Derek cannot get open looks, because they will make the defense pay.  However, none of these guys are going to beat any of our guys off the dribble as long as we stick to our defensive principles.  Force them into a late clock situation where they have to go one-on-one, and I like our chances.
•     Patience on offense - One of the reasons why Herb Sendek is such a great coach is because his guys are well-disciplined, especially so on the defensive end.  The Sun Devils probably run the best-executed zone defense in the conference and they are not going to allow Stanford to get a good look after one or two passes.  It is going to take a good 15-20 or more ticks before something, if anything at all, will open up.  And if the Farm Boys get down early like they did in Tempe, they cannot try to hurry things up because it will just result in bad shots and turnovers.
•     Keep it up, Drew and Jack - The Cardinal swept the Oregon schools not only because of the great "NBA Jam" team of Landry Fields and Jeremy Green (credit fellow bootlegger Wyndam Makowsky and KZSU broadcaster Teddy Steinkellner for that analogy), but because of the great production from the other guys, most importantly starters Drew Shiller and Jack Trotter.  If those two pull another Oregon trip and we get more lock-down defense from Jarrett Mann, Stanford will be in good shape.

Can the Cardinal get back to .500 and make a serious push to wear white on March 11?  Come on down to Maples Pavilion for a 7pm tip-off on Thursday night and then check back on TheBootleg.com for post-game thoughts and analysis!

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