The emphatic success to start the season, the wins over Kansas State, Xavier and Kansas State and the No. 3 ranking were all surprises to most following college basketball and the ASU basketball program.
Equally surprising, however, is the letdown the Devils have shown thus far through Pac-12 play, holding just a 2-3 record in the conference.
A letdown was sure to come at some point. They weren’t going undefeated throughout the entire season, and ASU senior guard Shannon Evans knew that.
“We just started off so hot at one time and we’re obviously going to start to cool down,” Evans said. “You can’t stay hot the whole season.”
ASU’s ranking has slipped to 6th, its currently tied for seventh in the conference standing and its two conference wins came by a mere five combined points.
The Devils are in a slump.
Opponents have stymied ASU’s high-powered, ‘take any shot from anywhere’ offense by simply adjusting from a man defense to a zone. Also, teams recently started to let the shot clock wind down before attempting a shot, slowing the Sun Devils down as a result.
For Pac-12 teams looking for some way to disrupt ASU’s non-conference rhythm the two strategies started off as experiments, they’ve quickly turned into an integral part of the game plan against the Devils.
After Arizona State fell to Oregon last Thursday, coach Bobby Hurley took the blame for the Devils’ struggles against the zone.
“I haven’t done as well at designing a scheme that will highlight what they can do or give us a better way to attack zone defenses, matchup defenses,” Hurley said.
While talking to the media on Tuesday, he explained how the Sun Devils need to execute against a team trying to slow down the pace.
“We have to keep pressuring the ball,” Hurley said. “We have to get shots. If teams are going deep with the ball, we’ve got to shout the out and then we’ve got to rebound.
“We were giving up too many second-chance point after winding down the shot clock on us, but if we get the stops then we can get out in the open court and make plays early before we have to go against a set defense.”
In both instances, Hurley projects the poor adjustments as things his team isn’t doing to the best of their ability or something he hasn’t set them up for success with, not saying that their opponents were just better.
That’s important because Hurley and the Sun Devils know what wins them games. And while going through this slump, they are quickly learning what losses them games: a lack of rebounding, poor play from their bigs and no presence from their bench, just to name a few.
Here’s how they plan to improve upon those weaknesses:
On the rebounding, Evans said that the guards need to start crashing the boards to aid ASU’s rebounding woes. He mentioned that himself along with Tra Holder and Kodi justice need to “go grab like 5 or 6 a game.”
Down low, ASU forward Romello White has struggled in conference play. The freshman is averaging just 5.8 points 6.4 rebounds a game in conference play, a major drop-off from his season averages of 12.1 points and 7.9 rebounds.
While White adjusts to the Pac-12, the Devils have used De’Quon Lake more. Against Oregon State, he had 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks. On Tuesday, Hurley said just how impressed he was with Lake and if his minutes could increase.
“De’Quon, the way he played the last seven or eight minutes of the game, I couldn’t take him out of the game,” Hurley said. “We need to try and play whoever is giving us the best chance to win that particular game.
“The minutes are going to be determined by who’s playing well and that’s kind of the formula we’ll have going forward with our bench.”
Lastly, when it comes to the Sun Devils bench, Hurley knows it’s all about consistency. “We have the capability of getting it,” he said.
Against Oregon, the unit only tallied eight points. Against Oregon State, they had 27. Lake, along with Remy Martin and Kimani Lawrence have seen fluctuating roles, but as they get more playing time, ASU hopes the bench turns into a unit of stability and consistency.