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ASU Women’s Basketball: Top 3 questions ahead of season debut

Air Adair is cleared for takeoff

Syndication: Arizona Republic Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

The 48th season of Arizona State women’s basketball will begin Monday with the Sun Devils hosting Northern Arizona at Desert Financial Arena.

The curtain will rise on another campaign, and the Sun Devils have a new occupant in the metaphorical director’s chair.

Natasha Adair will begin her first season as head coach, taking over for the venerated Charli Turner Thorne, who retired at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season after a successful 25-year run.

“For nearly three decades, I’ve had the honor and privilege to coach and develop women student-athletes and am grateful for the opportunity to continue to do so here at ASU and in the Pac-12,” Adair said during her introductory press conference.

“From the moment I stepped onto campus, I knew this was the place for me to build and grow our women’s basketball program to a national power. We truly have it all.”

A new era at the helm is at the top of the list for storylines pertaining to this iteration of the Sun Devil women’s basketball, but there are other rich topics to follow as this season takes off. For the sake of brevity, that list has been whittled down to three burning questions for the 2022-23 Sun Devils, and here they are:

Will Air Adair land the Sun Devils back in the NCAA Tournament?

Every team likes to set goals. Each goal lands on a spectrum that ranges from ‘expected’ at one end to ‘elaborate’ at the other. Making it to the NCAA Tournament used to be an annual event for the majority of the Turner Thorne era, but in the last two seasons the Sun Devils failed in consecutive tries for the first time since Michael Jordan was playing for the Bulls.

Adair’s mission this season is to build a foundation for growth in what is now her program. An admission to the NCAA Tournament would be a heck of a way to start, but also leans closer to the ‘elaborate’ end of the spectrum than it has in years past.

You got to crawl before you walk, and one of the ways Arizona State can start inching its way in the right direction is by cutting off the pernicious losing streaks that torpedoed last year’s season.

The Sun Devils were not in bad shape at 4-3 in conference play following an emotional conquest of Arizona in Tempe on February 11. Then, the bottom fell out like a wet paper bag. The team would not win again, owning five losses and one forfeiture, and ended the season as losers of its last seven games as far as the record books are concerned.

An earlier three-game losing streak didn’t help matters either. If Adair is to take the Sun Devils back to the NCAA Tournament this season, she will have to ensure the trials of the season are remedied with urgency, and navigate the team back on track.

Will there be a change in play style from Turner Thorne’s teams?

Short answer to this is yes. This will be a makeover from the Sun Devils team many have become accustomed to seeing. Turner Thorne’s teams relied on the defense to set the tone and used a conservative but practical offensive approach.

Adair’s teams at Delaware wanted to turn games into track meets with intermittent dribbling. She acknowledged the departure from the Turner Thorne ethos prior to the season.

“My teams score 70-80 points a night and that’s different. A lot of it has been in the off-season, where there has been conditioning,” Adair said.

“But also, players want to play in an up-tempo system, fans want to watch an up tempo team, they want to get after it. I think what they’ve really liked is the freedom in which they’re allowed to play.”

Adair believes teams are primarily susceptible in their transition defense. She wants the Sun Devils to thrive in controlled chaos on the break. It may take a year or two for her to instill the proper personnel to complement her system, but there is a new direction for the Sun Devils starting against NAU.

Who is a newcomer that will make the biggest impact?

I’m going to cheat a little here, since Meg Newman isn’t really a first-year Sun Devil player. But I will qualify my answer by reminding you that Newman has not recorded a minute on the court for Arizona State due to an ACL injury suffered prior to the 2021-22 season.

But if Newman is back at full-strength and primed for this season - she did get a full timeline of recovery because of when her injury occurred - take notice as a fan and watch out as an opponent. This was an athlete who was one of the jewels of her recruiting class. A Top 40 player overall and No. 6 at her position.

Her high school career was decorated with personal accolades and her team at North Central High School in Indiana was downright dominant. She mentioned to the IndyStar upon her commitment that during her visit she broke down in tears of joy.

That’s the player you want to construct a program around. With no prior NCAA basketball experience in live games, it will likely take a few games for Newman to adjust to playing at this level. But if the rehab went over smooth and she continues on her trajectory set before the injury, this could be a memorable Sun Devil career.