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November 11, 2011Ahead of last season's tip-off, Arizona State coach Herb Sendek invited reporters to the film room at basketball's Weatherup Center to watch the previous season's team in a series of cut-ups designed to demonstrate that his program plays free form, up tempo basketball.
Indeed, those on hand saw a great many plays in which the Sun Devils pushed the ball quickly up the court and got shots up at the basket within a handful of seconds after made baskets or change of possession at the other end.
But the very fact that such a demonstration was necessary at all was a problem in and of itself. For if ASU truly played the game at fast pace offensive, wouldn't there be no need to assemble media in an effort to get them to explain it to fans?
Tempo, one would think, should be self-evident enough to those who have spent any significant amount of time watching basketball that it needn't be explained.
This season, it may not have to be.
Sendek has dubbed the first stage of ASU's streamlined offense "Fire," and to a man, coaches and players have hinted that the difference will be noticeable. No need for lessons or lectures, just come on out to Wells Fargo Arena for the team's opener against Montana State Friday at 2:30 p.m. and see for yourself.
So that's what we -- and perhaps 5,000 others -- will do.
The Sun Devils apparently showed it in their Saturday exhibition against Grand Canyon that played to a packed house across town but with the football team playing in Pasadena at the same time, not many were able to provide witness.
But apparently, if the few reports that did emerge from that game are to be believed, ASU did push the ball more aggressively in transition or after made baskets, in large part due to a personnel change that has junior college transfer Chris Colvin taking over the point guard duties.
Even as ASU awaits word on highly touted freshman point guard recruit Jahii Carson's academic eligibility, there have been rumblings -- and that's mostly what it amounts too because practices are closed -- that Colvin is a more dynamic player at the position than the Sun Devils have had in Sendek's tenure to this point.
"He pushed tempo and helped ignite our transition game and secondly he really got in the paint for us," Sendek said, when asked of Colvin's performance in the GCU exhibition. "He breaks defenses down off the dribble and creates shots for himself and others. Those two things probably more than any other stand out, his push in transition and his penetration."
Sendek, who plans to start sophomore combo guard Keala King in the backcourt alongside Colvin, said he's felt the offense has been ahead of his defense through the first few practice weeks of the season.
"I think it gives guys a lot of freedom to play basketball so it's fun to coach and it's fun to play," Sendek said of his tweaked motion offense. "I think we made good use of the pick and roll, I like our spacing, I like our tempo and we're doing a better job of going inside right now, although we got away from that especially early in the game. I'm just looking over the window of the past week but I think we have made progress in those areas. I like what I see because I feel like guys are in attack mode. I feel like they are playing. I feel like they can make plays."
The Sun Devils are also likely to go with a bigger lineup more frequently for the first time in Sendek's tenure, with a true point forward, sophomore Kyle Cain, often playing the position alongside one of ASU's true centers, junior Ruslan Pateev or sophomore Jordan Bachynski. Offensive tweaks have enabled the combination to be used more effectively, and truth be told, with ASU losing its top two shooters from last season, Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks, it doesn't look to be as good of a shooting team on paper.
In order to improve from last season's last place Pac-10 showing then, it stands to reason if the team isn't better shooting, it has to be more effective rebounding the basketball and with its defensive presence on the interior, two areas where it also struggled mightily last season.
To that end, Sendek's tweak allows for more size in its frontcourt, as he attempts to best position his team with the personnel and style he has.
Junior wings Trent Lockett and Carrick Felix are athletes who excel in transition, so easy break opportunities offensively will benefit them greatly. Neither is known to be a shooter, though both are rumored to have improved from range. If ASU's streamlined offense, which brings a lot more screens to the ball handler, coupled with Colvin's ability to break down defenses, yields a lot of open looks at the basket, those players will need to hit a fair percentage from the distance.
We know that sophomore Chanse Creekmur can shoot the ball -- though there are rumblings he hasn't been his usual self of late -- but others have to as well, or ASU will have to become a crash down, offensive rebounding team that uses its size to create second chance opportunities. But Pateev and Bachynski haven't demonstrated they are capable of being impressive rebounders for their size.
That's why so much of the team's success may come back to its ability to get more easy baskets in transition and through its efforts on the defensive end.
In other words, "fire" had better work, otherwise Sendek's squad could struggle for a second straight year and his seat may start to heat up.
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