Much of the conversation about Arizona State men’s basketball coming into the 2021-22 season centered around its roster makeover. Nine players and three new assistant coaches were representatives of a near total program reset. Growing pains were expected.
On Wednesday night against Washington State, the Sun Devils’ eighth game of the season, the team played as if it was just acquainted minutes before tip-off.
The final score was a nearly incomprehensible 51-29 in favor of the visiting Cougars, somehow more palatable than the halftime score of 18-10. It was the worst offensive performance for an Arizona State men’s basketball team since 1946.
“This was the most ineffective performance I’ve been a part of probably ever, as a player or coach,” a dejected Bobby Hurley said. “Just disappointing. Epically bad.”
The historically poor night commenced with the Sun Devils dropping into a quick 10-0 deficit after a 4 for 5 start for the Cougars.
From there, the game devolved into something elementary. In a span that lasted from one media timeout with 16:00 remaining to the next with 11:48, neither side scored as much as a point in one of the worst offensive stretches of Pac-12 basketball in recent memory.
By the time Sun Devil guard Luther Muhammad broke the drought with a jumper, the team was just 2 for 10 from the field. By halftime, the Sun Devils were 4 for 24. Their opponents had shot 7 for 29.
“We scored 10 points. That’s dreadful, really dreadful,” Hurley said. “And still down eight? We could play that bad and still be down eight? That had to be encouraging for the second half, but we were not able to be much better.”
In all, the Sun Devils finished 12 for 57 from the field. 36 of their 57 shots were from beyond the arc, and the team made just three of them. Two belonged to DJ Horne, whose 12 points on 13 shots led the team.
Marreon Jackson was the only other Sun Devil to have double-digit shot attempts. More indicative of the rest of the team’s performance, he went 1 for 10.
“There’s just a lot of stuff that we’re doing that’s not usual for us,” Jackson said. “All summer this is not what we’ve been about. Things have to change ASAP.”
Nothing is coming easy for the Sun Devils, and perhaps a good place to start looking for something to change would be free-throw shooting. On Wednesday, the Sun Devils went an abysmal 2 for 8 from the line. It was a 0 for 6 mark through the first 20 minutes.
As the misses racked up, the boos from another sparsely attended game at Desert Financial Arena rained down.
“I don’t have complaints,” said Hurley of the boos. “They buy tickets and they have the right to do that. They deserve to boo me and they deserve to boo whoever they feel deserves criticism of this.”
It’s difficult to blame the entirety of the loss on Hurley, but as the coach of the team, that is where the buck must stop. He had the remaining months of the spring, the entire summer, and months in the fall to assemble a coaching staff and a roster and mold it into a team.
He completed the first task with flying colors. So far, it appears the second is still a work in progress.
There were multiple air balls shot from the Sun Devils in the second half. It’s indicative of two things.
First, the Sun Devils don’t appear to have much of a plan when they open into an offensive set. As a result, the shot clock winds to its conclusion and whoever is left with the ball has to haplessly throw the ball at the rim and pray for a rebound.
Second, other possessions are erased by egregious shot selection. Shot Quality, a Twitter account that uses an algorithm many Division I schools subscribe to, says there are over 300 teams who take better shots than the Sun Devils. But an algorithm isn’t necessary when guards are attempting baseline hook shots against seven-footers or jacking up contested isolation 3-pointers with plenty of time on the shot clock.
“I think it’s pretty self-explanatory,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot going on right now, but we can’t keep dwelling. I feel like we’re dwelling on our record and our losses right now.”
That record stands at 2-6, and the sand in the hourglass seems like its falling faster than ever before on a basketball team at Arizona State coached by Bobby Hurley.
Washington State broke from their funk in the second half and eclipsed 50 points by the end of the game. They advanced to 6-1 and have a win under their belt as conference play opens up.
“I’ll give credit to Washington State’s defense,” Hurley said. “I thought it was outstanding.”
Eight games in, the Sun Devils have already reached the Rubicon. History will show how this team reacted. Was this the moment where the Sun Devils threw their hands in the air and admitted defeat? Or did the team have the necessary tough conversations with each other and begin to play to their potential?
The ninth game will tell us quite a lot about what the remainder of the season will look like. The team will travel to Oregon on a five-game losing streak, and the game will tip off at 5 p.m. on Pac-12 Network.