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Pac 10 Basketball Preview: Arizona State

Key Returners: James Harden (17.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.2 APG), Jeff Pendergraph (12.4 PPG, 6.4 RPG), Ty Abbott (9.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.5 APG)

Key Losses: None

Key Recruits: ? (Sendek has shown he can get a lot out of less than highly touted recruits)

Arizona State has a legitimate shot to win a Pac 10 title this year, which almost seems absurd when recalling that the Sun Devils finished 2-16 in conference play during the 06-07 season. But even during that first season Herb Sendek was laying the foundation of the current team by bringing in guards Derek Glasser and Jerren Shipp. And somehow, despite the horrendous win/loss record, Sendek managed to lure super recruit James Harden along with another solid recruiting class including Jamelle McMillan and Ty Abbott. In fact, it is this infusion of young talent that has really boosted the program as Arizona State was one of the youngest teams in the Pac 10 with a starting rotation composed of two freshmen, two sophomores, and a lone junior with their entire bench essentially composed of underclassmen.

But in this case youth was served. Sophomore Derek Glasser posted similar overall stats along with improved efficiency, and while Jerren Shipp’s stats fell slightly he was also more efficient in his play while on the court*. Similarly, although only a freshman Ty Abbott led the team in 3 point shot attempts but still managed a very respectable 35% and was second on the team in minutes played. Rounding out the team was Rihards Kuksiks. As the season went on Kuksiks played a more prominent role on the team, and was a very nice compliment to Harden on the wing thanks to his outside shooting ability. Overall ASU has a nice group of role players and replacement players on the bench.

However, regardless of the supporting class the team’s fate ultimately rests on the performance of Harden and Pendergraph. It is no exaggeration to state that Harden was one of the Pac 10’s best players last season. The stat line tells most of the story (including 40% shooting from behind the arc),but what the numbers do not show is his uncanny ability to get to the free throw line, the way he gets the entire team involved, and his high basketball IQ combined with extremely deceptive athleticism. Pendergraph, while not nearly the stat sheet stuffer that Harden is, plays a similarly important role. Pendergraph is essentially the Sun Devils only consistent interior player, and it was not uncommon for games to go bad for ASU whenever he had to sit thanks to foul trouble. The only other player who potentially could be a threat inside is former McDonald’s All American and Duke transfer Eric Boateng, but his play has been inconsistent at best.

If Sendek can overcome the lack of depth in the front court, or somehow develop Boateng or the incoming Taylor Rohde into respectable post players then the team will have few, if any, weaknesses. ASU is already known for its stifling zone defense, and with the return of the entire team its only reasonable to expect that they should be better in every way on both sides of the ball. With both Harden and Pendergraph leaving gone after this year Sendek needs to strike now when the iron is hot if he wants ASU to stand out in the national consciousness and start on the road to becoming a Pac 10 power.

Prediction: 2nd with an NCAA tournament berth

*How can we tell a player is playing more efficiently? Shooting percentages are a basic indicator, but an a better measure is the change player's offensive rating year over year. You can look up any players O rating over about the last 6-7 years at