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ASU Basketball: Full season-preview ahead of season-opener vs Tarleton State

Another new-look squad with Bobby Hurley navigating the portal

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Media Day
DJ Horne (0) poses with guard Desmond Cambridge Jr. (4) during Pac-12 Media Day
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

TEMPE - The sun has risen on a new season for Arizona State basketball.

Following the debacle that was the 2021-2022 campaign for head coach Bobby Hurley and company, this team has been waiting for this day ever since its epic collapse against Stanford in last year’s Pac-12 tournament.

Looking to leave behind a disappointing 14-17 campaign, Arizona State is entering the 2022-2023 season with a fresh taste and a much-needed clean slate with eyes on an NCAA Tournament bid.

While it is a new day in Tempe, it isn’t exactly clear skies. Four of the team’s top scorers from last year in Marreon Jackson, Jalen Graham, Kimani Lawrence, and Jay Heath have all played their final games as Sun Devils. Replacing the main offensive weapons of a team that scored just 65 points a night (second-lowest in the conference) would seem disheartening on paper, but the new wave of hoopers coming to town at least somewhat fills the void.

New faces, different places (in the starting lineup)

With the ever-evolving transfer portal, head coach Bobby Hurley jumped in the open waters prior to his eighth season as the Sun Devils’ head coach. Going without a winning campaign since the cut-short 2020 season, Hurley and his staff looked to change that by bringing in former four-star playmaker Frankie Collins from Michigan, Nevada big man Warren Washington, and a pair of scoring wings in Devan (Auburn) and Desmond (Nevada) Cambridge.

Having been unable to reach his full potential in Ann Arbor, it’s easy to forget that Frankie Collins was the No. 7 ranked point guard in the recruiting class of 2021. Averaging just 11 minutes per-game under Juwan Howard, Collins’s transition to the Sun Devils should get him more minutes of course, but it’s his highly touted playmaking and leadership skills that could take Arizona State’s offense to a new level of efficiency.

“His (Frankie’s) presence has been felt since he stepped on campus,” forward Marcus Bagley said. “He’s a natural leader and a guy that’s easy to follow. I’m happy to have him and excited to get to work with him.”

Collins running the backcourt with a relentless scorer like junior DJ Horne should cause an uptick in scoring that fans didn’t see much of with the duo of Marreon Jackson and Jay Heath a year ago. Senior Luther Muhammad’s leadership and perimeter defense could also help step up the Sun Devils on that end, following a season in which they surrendered 7.4 threes per-game. His knockdown mid-range game will also provide sparks on offense.

On the wings, the Cambridge brothers will bring in the energy and tenacity that the team lacked through much of their woes last year. As a member of an Auburn team that spent three weeks atop the AP poll in 2021, Devan has played in big games before and will bring a newfound fire and desire to both sides of the floor. While he does most of his work inside the arc, brother Desmond has been knocking down threes at Brown and Nevada at a 34% clip for the past four years, averaging 16.4 points over 112 collegiate games.

“They just bring a lot of intangibles,” Bobby Hurley said. “They’re very dependable in practice every day.”

With the combined three-level scoring of the Cambridge brothers, the offensive pressure on DJ Horne should ease and help open up the floor. Jamiya Neal is currently nursing a lower leg injury and has been ruled out for the first few games of the season. When he was on the court last year though, Neal’s athleticism was put on full display and if he can develop on the perimeter, a breakout could be in order for the 6-foot-6-inch sophomore once he returns.

Down low, Alonzo Gaffney and Enoch Boakye both emerged as shot blockers last year, and if they can establish defensive consistency, ASU’s frontcourt will be harder to penetrate. On the offensive side, Nevada transfer Warren Washington comes in to help.

“Warren’s going to be a presence,” Hurley said. “I think we can throw it to him a little inside and he can challenge shots. He’s getting right at the right time.”

This three-man rotation down low has potential to produce both with and without the ball, looking to improve the Pac-12’s worst rebounding team from 2021. It also gives Bagley the opportunity to shift to the small forward position, where he is more comfortable.

“That size is something we haven’t had in the past,” Bagley said. “They’re gonna help us a lot on the boards and it opens up a lot of stuff offensively and defensively.”

“There’s not a lot of place to drive the basketball when you have that kind of length on the court,” added Hurley.

Can Bagley finally breakout?

Possibly the biggest X-factor that can decide this team’s fate is Bagley. The Phoenix-native was expected to play a large role for the Sun Devils a year ago, but suffered what would be a season-ending knee injury in the team’s third game. The former top-40 recruit is entering his junior season having yet to unleash his full potential due to injuries.

Finally healthy, Bagley comes out of the experience feeling not only different as a player, but as a person.

“It’s been a tough time but I learned that I can withstand a lot of adversity and I can grow from it,” Bagley said. “I’m excited to show the work that I put into my body and my game.”

Now back to 100%, the 6-foot-8-inch forward with a guard-like skill set has the potential to be the team’s premier offensive and defensive threat simultaneously.

“(Bagley’s) been healthy and he’s moving great,” Hurley said. “He’s taken his game to a different level the last few days.”

Already with a steady diet of three-level scoring and physical defense, Bagley might be a consistent jump shot and healthy season away from bringing the Sun Devils back to prominence while re-establishing himself as an NBA draft prospect.

The makeup of this season’s roster is well-rounded, with experience and depth at nearly every position on the floor.

“We got a lot of guys coming that’s played a lot of college basketball,” Bagley said.

“Chemistry has built pretty quickly with six new players,” Hurley said. “I like the group overall.”

Cinderella potential

Much of a squad that upset the No. 3 team in the country (UCLA), and finished the 2021-2022 regular season with seven wins in its last eight games. With improvements on the scoring end along with an already solid defensive unit, the groundwork for a bounce-back season is here in Tempe.

Even with a familiar team that added in areas of need, the road back to the NCAA Tournament will be a challenging one. Replacing departed talent and meshing a new squad isn’t easy, but the Sun Devils’ schedule won’t do them any favors.

The Pac-12 conference is once again among the nation’s best this season, with No. 8 UCLA, No. 17 Arizona, No. 21 Oregon, and USC all considered tournament teams according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. With home-and-home matchups against all of those conference rivals, a neutral site matchup with Big East runner-up, No. 9 Creighton, and dates with other tournament hopefuls in VCU and Michigan/Pittsburgh in the Legends Classic, the No. 75 ranked team on KenPom has the proving ground to climb the national ranks. The entire locker room is ready to begin that trek.

“I think we’re right where we need to be,”newcomer Frankie Collins said. “Obviously, there are things to improve on but I think we’re in a good spot.”