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September 22, 2008

Head coach: Herb Sendek
Last season: 21-13 overall, 9-9 in Pac-10.
Postseason: Lost 70-57 to Florida in NIT quarterfinals.
2007-08 breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

Backcourt

The Sun Devils used a steady rotation of four young guards last season and each returns. None is a star-caliber player, but with a year of experience together, each should improve.

James Harden was fifth in the Pac-10 in scoring and led the league in steals.

Probable Starting Five
G Derek Glasser, 6-1/Jr.
6.1 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio
G Ty Abbott, 6-3/Soph.
9.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg
G/F Rihards Kuksiks, 6-6/Soph.
5.4 ppg
G/F James Harden, 6-4/Soph.
17.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.1 spg
F Jeff Pendergraph, 6-9/Sr.
12.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg
Top Reserves
G Jerren Shipp, 6-3/Jr.
5.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg
F Eric Boateng, 6-10/Jr.
3.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg
G/F Johnny Coy, 6-7/Fr.
True freshman

Junior Derek Glasser handles most of the point-guard duties and provides reliable ballhandling and decision-making. Glasser, who will be a three-year starter, was third in the Pac-10 in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3-to-1) and seventh in assists (3.9 per game). He isn't much of a shooter or a scorer, but his ability to distribute and create shots for teammates is critical.

Three-point specialists Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks both sophomores are ideal fits for the perimeter-oriented offense that coach Herb Sendek brought to Arizona State two seasons ago. Abbott is extremely dangerous when hot. In two games against California, Abbott hit 15 3-pointers. But Abbott is streaky and shot a pedestrian-like 35.3 percent (76 of 215) from beyond the arc. He needs to bump that number up to around 40 percent. Kuksiks, a native of Latvia, became a starter about midway through Pac-10 play last season and went on to score double-figures in five of six games during one stretch. He needs to do that more consistently and give the Sun Devils about eight to 10 points per game.

Junior Jerren Shipp, who has averaged 25-plus minutes a game the past two seasons, is a solid shooting guard who doesn't excel in any area but doesn't have any glaring weaknesses either. Shipp whose brother, Josh, plays at UCLA likely will be the first man off the bench.

Sophomore Jamelle McMillan and freshman Johnny Coy should be part of the rotation as well, giving the Sun Devils a deep backcourt. McMillan, the son of Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, is a savvy, pass-first point guard. Coy is another good 3-point shooter.

Frontcourt

No player may mean more to his team than swingman James Harden. A five-star recruit, Harden arrived in Tempe last season with enormous expectations and may have exceeded them. Harden was fifth in the Pac-10 in scoring and led the league in steals. Harden also finished second on the team in rebounding and assists.

That kind of widespread production would have made Harden a first-round draft pick, but he chose to stay in school and now is projected as a top-10 pick in the 2009 draft. His decision puts the Sun Devils in good position to gain an NCAA tournament bid. The Sun Devils rely heavily on Harden's ability to create off the dribble. In his second season in Sendek's system, Harden should be a little better in every area and could put together an All-American-type season.

Senior Jeff Pendergraph is another vital piece, providing the undersized Sun Devils with an inside presence. Pendergraph led the team in rebounding and was second in scoring and tied for fourth in the Pac-10 in blocks. But Pendergraph does have a history of getting into foul trouble. He needs to do a better job of limiting unnecessary fouls. When he sits, the Sun Devils are at a big disadvantage on the inside.

The only other post player with experience is junior center Eric Boateng, a transfer from Duke. A role player, Boateng will see minutes backing up Pendergraph.

Offense

Similar to the system Sendek used at North Carolina State, the Sun Devils like to work the ball around the arc and shoot a barrage of 3-pointers. They also will mix in some isolation plays for Harden and some pick-and-rolls with Harden and Pendergraph.

The Sun Devils were one of the nation's most-improved teams last season and have the potential to be significantly better this season. Every scholarship player returns from a young team that had six wins over opponents that went to the NCAA tournament, including a 22-point trouncing of Xavier (who went on to reach the Elite Eight). Harden's return may mean the Sun Devils have the best player in the Pac-10. They also will be playing with a chip on their shoulders: Many felt the Sun Devils did enough to warrant a spot in the NCAA tournament last season. Rival Arizona received an at-large bid despite losing to the Sun Devils twice. Look for Harden and Co. to finish in the top three of the Pac-10 and win at least one NCAA tournament game.

Defense

Arizona State may be known as "Syracuse West" soon; the Sun Devils may have used more 2-3 zone than the Orange last season. Man-to-man defense was a rarity. The zone was so effective the Sun Devils ranked third in the Pac-10 by holding opponents to 41 percent from the field that little will change.

Shoes to Fill

Nobody. The Sun Devils return every player who was part of the rotation.

Must Step Up

Boateng. Interior depth has been a weakness in the past. With Pendergraph's penchant for foul trouble, the Sun Devils will need Boateng to provide some quality minutes.

Impact Newcomer

Boateng. Interior depth has been a weakness in the past. With Pendergraph's penchant for foul trouble, the Sun Devils will need Boateng to provide some quality minutes.

Andrew Skwara is a national basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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