November is football season, but with Dennis Erickson’s team a source of frustration and armchair angst, perhaps Herb Sendek’s squad can provide a reprieve at Arizona State.
Coming off a 25-win season for the first time since 1974-75 and a second-round berth in last year’s NCAA tournament, the Sun Devils are in rebuilding mode. The team lost 50 percent of its scoring and 45 percent of its rebounding to the NBA in lottery pick James Harden and forward Jeff Pendergraph.
The rest of last year’s roster returns, as does an influx of six freshmen, so perhaps the biggest of many questions entering Friday’s regular-season opener against Western Illinois is how the Sun Devils will adjust and alter themselves to fill those large offensive and rebounding voids.
The answer is still blowing in the wind, or down the Wells Fargo Arena corridors.
A committee approach is currently the easiest explanation for what will transpire these next four months. Senior point guard Derek Glasser is coming off an MVP-caliber performance in March, and one of the most improved players in ASU history (from freshman through senior season). He is the unquestioned leader of this group.
Plenty of experience returns with him in the backcourt, namely juniors Ty Abbott, Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan, plus seniors Jerren Shipp and Eric Boateng up front.
Even there, uncertainty sits. Abbott, coming off a nightmarish season shooting-wise until the March tournaments, had knee surgery and is out until mid-November. Shipp dropped 10 pounds over the summer but hasn’t played significant Pac-10 minutes in two years. The raw-but-improved Boateng hasn’t played consistent minutes ever because of Pendergraph’s presence.
Then there are the freshmen. The Sun Devils are still waiting on forward Victor Rudd to be granted NCAA eligibility, which is expected to happen, but no one knows when. And since he can’t practice with the team in the meantime, he’s well behind the curve.
Guards Trent Lockett and Demetrius Walker are early favorites for significant playing time. Seven-foot, 236-pound Ruslan Pateev is sorely needed inside if he can provide size and rebounding (time will tell if he’s ready to contribute as a freshman), and Brandon Thompson might be second to Kuksiks on the team in terms of pure shooting.
Meanwhile, the Sun Devils could benefit exponentially from a trip to New York City if they reach the Preseason National Invitation Tournament semifinals during Thanksgiving weekend, both for traveling and competitive scheduling purposes. The Sun Devils begin the season with four home games in eight days before a possible New York trip. Outside that trip, only Baylor on Dec. 2 (home), Brigham Young on Dec. 9 (road) and San Diego State on Dec. 19 (home) will provide this roster with a parallel to Pac-10 competition.
ASU coach Herb Sendek likes to say nothing about a season or building a program is linear, and he’s bound to be correct more than once in the coming months.