January 20, 2008

Sun Devils need support for Pendergraph in post

With only two post players in its eight-man playing rotation, the No. 25 ranked ASU men's basketball team will likely continue to have trouble rebounding and defending against physically superior teams if junior forward Jeff Pendergraph can't stay out of foul trouble.
Because their limited options on the low-post -- Pendergraph and sophomore Eric Boateng are the only legitimate options -- coach Herb Sendek continually has relied on smaller players to be his windex-men.

The unlikely duo that have been cleaning the glass, are senior Antwi Atuahene and sophomore Jerren Shipp.

Both guards have been playing on the bottom of the ASU 2-3 zone defense, with the main focus of getting larger players off of the boards, particularly on the weakside. And both have had success at various points of the season.

Shipp grabbed 10 rebounds in the Sun Devils' 99-90 double overtime win last Thursday at Cal, while Atuahene brought his experience and leadership, starting in both games on this past road trip.

Clearly, neither of the two will be able to pick up the slack in terms of providing defensive presence in the interior when Pendergraph is out of the game, which makes Boateng's development on both ends of the court even more important to ASU's success.

Saturday's 67-52 loss at Stanford was a prime example of Boateng needing more seasoning in case of Pendergraph finding himself on the bench in foul trouble.

It probably wasn't the best matchup for Boateng - considering that all of his quality minutes were spent going against a potential NBA lottery pick in Stanford center Brook Lopez.

Lopez scored 16 of his 19 points and grabbed 14 of his 16 rebounds in the second half alone, when primarily matched up against Boateng.

But that wasn't the only trouble Boateng had against the Cardinal.

With ASU running a hybrid Princeton-style offense, Boateng has been forced to catch and pivot with the ball from the free throw line extended, something he clearly is not fully comfortable with. Against Stanford, Boateng led the Sun Devils committing four turnovers, several of which were traveling violations.

Even if Pendergraph wasn't in foul trouble, the development of Boateng is crucial to the postseason aspirations of ASU.

When facing bigger lineups, which will happen in most of conference games, playing Pendergraph alongside Boateng is something coach Sendek has been hesitant about.

Against Cal, which tried to play three post players in regulation and in overtime with the intent of trying to dictate a size advantage, Sendek played Pendergraph and Boateng together sparingly and was pleased with their performance.

Though he said that the circumstances would dictate if the two would play together, Sendek hasn't always gone with the idea of adjusting his lineup according to the matchups against his opponent.

Like Golden State Warriors head coach Don Nelson, Sendek has had relative success playing small ball, and making his opponent react to his personnel moves.

On Saturday, the team went to an open post offensive set to bring Stanford's post players out onto the floor. It worked extremely well.

Due in part to the offensive moves by Sendek, Stanford coach Trent Johnson kept a small lineup against ASU for the most part. He only played the Lopez twins together for a short period of time in the first half, and the Sun Devils led by ten at halftime.

That type of success may not, however, be consant.

Whether they purposely go with four guards and a post player in order to create mismatches or try to bring Boateng along with selective minutes, ASU will need to address their size issue as they go deeper into conference play and beyond.

With talented teams like UCLA and Washington State able to go with bigger frontcourt lineups featuring two post players on the floor simultaneously still on the schedule, the Sun Devils will very likely again find themselves in a predicament like the one they faced against Stanford.

The only question is - will they be able to continue dictating matchups - or will they have to matchup with the other team.

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