Adversity is the name of the game in Sun Devils' season
It’s no secret in Tempe or across the Pac-12 that the men’s basketball team is underperforming. The once-preseason-top-20 Sun Devils slipped early and are riding out a three-game losing skid. Four of the team’s five losses have come at Desert Financial Arena, a home-court advantage that opponents have long dreaded (see #1 Kansas in 2018).
The team is conceding offensive rebounds like no other in the Pac-12, averaging a conference-low 7.4 offensive rebounds per game. “We have to exert more effort on second chances,” freshman forward Marcus Bagley said. “Getting defensive rebounds and crashing the offensive boards… [Coach Bobby Hurley] has brought that to our attention.”
The 81-75/OT shootout loss to UCLA could be attributed to fatigue. The team showed flashes of brilliance but had not played a game for three weeks. “Transition defense and rebounding were way better versus UCLA,” Bobby Hurley added. “Obviously not as much versus USC.”
Reasons not to panic:
Remy Martin: Hurley announced Thursday that following a two-game absence following the loss of his grandfather, Martin has rejoined the team. For a squad averaging 11.3 assists (2nd-lowest in conference), Martin brings the ability to orchestrate plays and facilitate the offense. Hurley expressed his optimism surrounding the ball movement in scrimmages this week as Martin rejoins the team.
The gang isn’t all here: Senior transfer Holland Woods, freshman phenom Josh Christopher and junior college transfer Chris Osten are the only three players to appear in all nine games for the Sun Devils this season. The team has played with five startling lineup combinations in nine games; none of the combinations have played more than two games intact. The most successful has been Bagley/Cherry/J. Christopher/Graham/Martin, combined to defeat Houston Baptist University and the University of California.
Holland Woods: “I thought Holland did a good job on Tyger Campbell versus UCLA defensively,” Hurley added. “He’s made an impact more defensively but, in both games, I think he ran the team well.” The senior transfer from Portland State was brought in to defend and push the full-court press. In the absence of Remy Martin, Woods also emerged as a scorer with 18 points against USC while staying true to his intended purpose with 2 steals.
The best is yet to come: Hurley shared a glimmer of optimism Thursday, “I keep telling the guys, we’re right there.” The team has all the tools of a Final Four contender; it just needs to use them. Hurley expands on this, “Dealing with adversity against San Diego State and UTEP, we didn’t have the response. [Against USC] we had the response right…now we have to add some efficiency on offense.”
When to hit the panic button:
If the rebounding doesn’t get better: As mentioned earlier, the Sun Devils are the worst statistical rebounders in the Pac-12. Two of the past three games have been season-highs for rebounding (48 vs. USC and 42 vs. UTEP), so the upward trend is there. Marcus Bagley grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds vs. USC, and whenever Taeshon Cherry (out for what Hurley described as “personal reasons”) and Jalen Graham (recovering from mononucleosis) rejoin the team, they will be expected to do the same.
Assists don’t trend up: The Washington Huskies (1-9) are the only team in the conference averaging fewer assists than the Sun Devils. Part of the lack of offensive efficiency can be attributed to an ever-changing roster, so if Bobby Hurley can keep a starting five for more than two games, the offensive efficiency should meet expectations.
“It’s challenging, but it’s all about trying to stay focused and fighting through adversity,” Marcus Bagley said. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity this year, so I think we’re going to bounce back and find a way.”
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