|Arizona State coach Herb Sendek is on thin ice this year but the Sun Devils have a talented enough backcourt to improve on last year's 10 wins. (US Presswire)|
Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils
Last year: 10-21 overall, 6-12 Pac-12 (10th), didn't qualify for the postseason
Coach: Herb Sendek, (7th year, 98-95; 19th overall, 352-253)
Projected starters: PG Jahii Carson, Fr. (first season) SG Evan Gordon, Soph. (14.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.6 apg); F Carrick Felix , Sr. (10.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.3 apg); F Jonathan Gilling , So. (7.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.7 apg); C Jordan Bachynski , Jr. (6.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.2 apg).
Top newcomers: Jahii Carson isn't exactly a newcomer, but seeing as he'll play in an actual game for the Sun Devils this year, he gets top billing. If he plays up to his ability by the end of the year, he could get even better billing. Although he was cleared by the school, Carson failed to qualify for the NCAA out of high school, but the former No. 8-rated point guard in his class is ready to blossom in front of a hometown crowd. He practiced all year with the team, and that extra court time will pay dividends.
Carson will be joined in a very talented backcourt by former Liberty guard Evan Gordon, who earned Big South All-Freshman team honors after averaging 14.4 points before transferring, and former Hawaii guard Bo Barnes, who made more than 50 3-pointers for the Warriors.
Key loss: The biggest issue for Sendek during a two-year slide has been his inability to retain talent. Last year, the Sun Devils lost Keala King in January. Now, Trent Lockett has said goodbye. Lockett transferred to Marquette for his senior season to be closer to his ailing mother, who was diagnosed with cancer. The 13.0-point-per-game scorer was well-liked and spoke fondly of the ASU coaching staff, but his absence will certainly remain on Sendek's mind.
What you need to know: The Sun Devils have fallen from the conference elite and in a hurry. James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph are no longer roaming the classrooms of Tempe. But Carson could turn into a star under Sendek's tutelage, and Arizona State could have the best backcourt in the conference outside of Berkeley. The Sun Devils need to get more production from their front court if they hope to improve more than marginally.
Mark the calendar:
• Nov. 23 vs. Arkansas (Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational): The inter-conference matchup should be a good barometer for the Sun Devils early in the year. The Razorbacks are no longer the class of the SEC, but they'll do. They'll have to. Arizona State's non-conference schedule is a marshmallow.
• Jan. 6 vs. Colorado: The Buffaloes had a surprisingly strong freshman season in the Pac-12, and like the nonconference matchup with Arkansas, the Sun Devils will discover a lot about themselves against Colorado.
• Jan. 19 vs. Arizona: The in-state rivalry has fallen off as one program has surged and one program has sagged. But the Wildcats have brought out the best in the Sun Devils at times, and perhaps we're in store for another good battle.
Biggest question: Will Sendek get better buy-in? Arizona State players haven't quite followed their talented coaches lead, but Sendek knows how to coach. Carson seems ready to take on the role of leader and floor general, and his ascension could be the key to Sendek's future.
Best-case scenario: The Sun Devils rally around their coach, push the tempo better than Sendek squads of the past, and Carson becomes one of the league's top point guards. Arizona State doesn't have the bigs to compete with the big boys, but an NIT berth would be a step in the right direction.
Worst-case scenario: The Sun Devils' unimposing non-conference schedule can either be a boon or a burden, as early struggles would shatter Arizona State's confidence. Without any momentum, the Sun Devils stumble into Pac-12 play, then get buried early and Sendek is sent packing.
Reality: Despite its talented transfers and nifty newcomer, Arizona State was predicted to finish 11th in the conference for a reason. Not a good one. They'll struggle to win 14 games, but that may be enough to show progress for Sendek to retain the gig.
Season opens: vs. Central Arkansas, Nov. 10, 7:30 p.m. ET (Pac-12 Network)