Herb Sendek is more Norman Dale than Bob Newhart. He’s a basketball coach, not a psychologist, and he expects his players to continue to work through the disappointment of a program record 14-straight losses.
“It’s not something we’ve had to spend a lot of time addressing,” Sendek said of his team’s mental state. “We don’t spend our energy making sure we’re ready to practice hard. That’s a given. ... Our time and our energy is invested in getting better.”
Anyone doubting that statement should review tape of the team’s first game.
With limited information on the members of his roster and a short getting-to-know-you period, Sendek has been forced to make sweeping changes to his preferred methods. First to go was the complex Princeton offense. Then man-to-man defense.
The Sun Devils now almost exclusively defend from a match-up zone, which is a first for a Sendek-coached team. Of course, this has been a season of firsts for Sendek, who received his first-ever ejection two weeks ago and has lost more than 16 games for the first time in his 13-year career.
The zone has helped to keep the athletically-limited Sun Devils in games. They rank third in scoring defense and fifth in field goal percentage defense.
The zone has proven so pesky (and their offense so inept) that they rank near the bottom of pace and tempo statistics tracked by Web sites such as kenpom.com. That site estimates ASU averages 60.8 possessions per game to rank 323rd in the nation.
The only two major-conference programs clocking in at a slower pace are Northwestern and Georgetown, which both run the methodical Princeton offense.
As a result, ASU has held Pac-10 opponents at least eight points below their conference average six times in 13 games. Not coincidentally, those have been six of the Sun Devils’ best opportunities for wins.
Though it has proven effective, Sendek said he wasn’t sure if he would employ the zone as liberally next year.
“I’ve never coached a zone before. We’ve been 98.6-percent man-to-man,” Sendek said. “It’s been an evolution out of necessity to give us a better chance to be competitive. It’s been a great learning experience.”
Sendek’s next mission is to find a way to get Jeff Pendergraph involved in the offense.
Pendergraph scored just 12 points combined on 2-of-12 shooting from the field in last weekend’s losses to the Oregon schools. He was held without a field goal on three attempts in the loss to Oregon State.
Pendergraph said he hasn’t noticed opposing teams defending him any different except that they’ve tried harder to wear him down of late.
He’s remained effective on the glass, grabbing 31 rebounds including 10 offensive boards in the two games in Oregon.
Now he just wants a win.
“We don’t want to be 'those guys’,” he said in reference to possibly becoming the first team ever to go winless in Pac-10 play.
“It adds to (the frustration) but there’s not really too much to add. We’re pretty much at the peak frustration level.”