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ASU Basketball: A new emphasis on defense

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The Sun Devils expect to defend at a high level this season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Four-Syracuse vs. Arizona State Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-18 ASU basketball season was one to remember. A senior-heavy roster with a prowess for making deep jump shots catapulted their way into the hearts of ASU fans.

An undefeated non-conference record and a No. 3 ranking had many wanting more. Now with the new season just on the horizon, a new roster looks to put together back-to-back successful seasons.

But don’t expect too similar of a style of play, there’s a new emphasis for head coach Bobby Hurley’s squad.

“Our defense looks a lot better,” Hurley said. “I’ve seen big improvements from that end of the ball and that’s been great to see so far in practice.”

A reason for the optimism is the new length and size ASU posses this season. Returning guard Remy Martin was a defensive star for the Sun Devils last season, and he now pairs with highly-touted freshman recruit Luguentz Dort and transfer Rob Edwards.

The backcourt trio don’t have the same offensive talent that the Guard U regime of Shannon Evans II, Kodi Justice and Tra Holder used. But in the offensive heavy Pac-12, a new emphasis on defense could lead to an increase in winning.

As the calendar turned to 2018 and the conference gauntlet commenced, ASU really struggled to contain the many talented big men in Pac-12 play. Enter Zylan Cheatham and Taeshon Cherry to give the Sun Devils a front court presence they’ve lacked in previous years.

Cheatham, a transfer from San DSU, has embraced a new leadership role with ASU after sitting out last season, but was able to practice with the team to increase camaraderie.

“He’s just a natural leader,” said Hurley about his new big man. “He’s got a great approach to how he comes to work everyday, very enthusiastic. He loves the game, loves to compete, and he’s a natural communicator.”

Communication is key in running a successful half court defense, and Hurley believes Cheatham’s ability to get his message across to his teammates will work wonders for ASU.

“In our defense, or just getting his team going he’s very vocal and someone you can count on,” said Hurley. “I love that part of our team, when you have guys that are willing to be unselfish and communicate it helps your team.”

ASU’s front court will also improve when three key players heal from injury. Cherry, De’Quon Lake and Mickey Mitchell each are recovering from injuries but are expected to be ready before the season tips off.

Lake and Cherry are getting closer to being cleared, and Mitchell is still healing.

Sun Devil basketball will now host their Mill Madness event on Friday night. Both the men and women’s roster will be in action Friday night to give a bit of a preview for the 2018 season. The event will begin at 8:30 p.m. and will take place on the corner of 7th Ave. and Mill Ave.