Thursday, January 31, 2008

L.A. Weekend

ASU faces off against the #5 UCLA Bruins tonight at 8:30 in Los Angeles. The game is televised on FSN AZ but is on tape delay so if you want to watch it you have to wait until 10:30pm (unless you have FSN Prime Ticket and can watch it live) and hope you don't hear the final score beforehand. Otherwise you can listen to it live on the radio on 960AM.

ASU's trouble with talented big men will again be tested tonight as Kevin Love and his averages of 17.3ppg and 11.3rpg take the court. While the Devils haven't been able to stop post players in conference games, the problem with UCLA isn't just Kevin Love, it's everyone. The Bruins are incredibly deep and have lots of scoring options. UCLA has at least five players that can score twenty points on any given night.

Darren Collison is a complete player, Josh Shipp is a better version of ASU's Jerren Shipp, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a versatile, extremely athletic wing, and Russell Westbrook is one of the best guards in the country that no one is talking about. I love watching Westbrook play as he's a great floor general, a capable scorer, and a great defender. Defensively, UCLA is one of the best in the country and Collision, Shipp, and Westbrook each have over 25 steals on the season.

Last year ASU held a ten point lead over UCLA in the second half at Pauley Pavilion but surrendered it in a 67-61 loss. For ASU to have a chance to win this game, the Devils will need intensity throughout the game without giving up the scoring runs that killed the team in the last three games. ASU also needs a big night out of Jeff Pendergraph and Ty Abbott to help take pressure off of James Harden. Hopefully ASU can even get an inspired game from Jerren Shipp as he faces off against his older brother.

I've also been wondering all year why UCLA has featured jerseys (and endzones) with a different colored "C" in the "UCLA." As it turns out, the "C" is supposed to commemorate the fact that UCLA is the first school to reach 100 NCAA championships. The "C" represents the Roman numeral for 100. Thought I'd pass that on to you. You are very welcome.

On Saturday, ASU meets USC in a game that should prove to be much more winnable than tonight's game. that game features another freshman phenom in O.J. Mayo. After watching him play a few times, I think the hype around Mayo is overblown. He takes too many bad shots and doesn't really make his teammates better. I guess he'll fit right in with a lot of NBA stars next year. That game is also at 8:30pm and will be live in FSN AZ and 620AM.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Devils Drop Third Straight

ASU lost another one point game to Washington State last night, making it two in a row against the Cougars. The most frustrating part for me wasn't the officiating, or the no call at the end, but rather that the game was ASU's for the taking and we didn't take advantage when opportunity presented itself.

ASU led for most of the first half and held a four point lead with 17 second left and a chance to push the halftime lead to six or seven. James Harden is dribbling up top, a ways back from the three point line and watching the clock tick down, waiting to make his move. Eric Boateng then decided that this would just not do and pitched a tent in the lane and took a nap, receiving a three second call. WSU then took the ball and scored with no time remaining, cutting the ASU halftime lead to just two points. Why, do you ask, was Boateng fighting for post position when Harden was clearly running an isolation play for the last shot? Well that's simple, Eric Boateng was playing in a different game all night. I knew things would not go well when I was watching him practice his post moves during pre-game warm-ups. I know he hasn't been playing long and I feel like I've given him more of a pass than most people have but he couldn't even beat the imaginary defender in his head with the post moves he was practicing before the game.

The key to beating the Sun Devils this year is getting Jeff Pendergraph in foul trouble. The Pac-10 has some great coaches but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the more time Boateng is in for Pendergraph, the better chance you have at beating the Devils. That being said, I do still like Boateng. Maybe I'm just a softy but I always give big men more of a chance than guards. I think most people do. It's that whole potential thing that gets people like Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown selected first overall in the NBA Draft. With that aside, Boateng was awful on Saturday. He's had some decent games this year and has shown some growth but yesterday was a step backwards. Right after that three second call, he was caught badly out of position on defense and Harden had to come to the rescue again and make a block from behind to keep the player from scoring. Unfortunately, they ended up scoring anyway on the inbounds play.

Another frustrating thing was our lack of balance on offense. Harden is the only one that stepped up to the challenge and we get too comfortable letting him handle the entire scoring load sometimes. At the same time, I'm going to contradict myself here because there was a stretch where after giving up a bunch of Derrick Low threes and giving WSU a double digit lead, Harden scored on three straight possessions and cut the lead to six. Harden was sitting on 21 points with over 11 minutes to play and it looked like he was going to set a new career high and lead an impressive comeback. Then for some reason he quit penetrating, we started taking bad shots, and Harden didn't score for 5 minutes. This also coincided with Pendergraph sitting on the bench with 4 fouls, allowing the defense to focus solely on Harden. That being said, Harden's ability to draw fouls was ignored during those five minutes and we wasted precious time passing around the perimeter as the clock ran down.

Trailing by 7 with 2:30 left in the game (if my memory serves me correctly), you have to figure that Washington State is going to use up the entire shot clock on each possession and that the Devils should anticipate getting only 3 more possessions. Only then did Harden begin penetrating again, going to what had worked all game long. The defense did its part as well and got lucky that a couple of Cougar shots rolled off the rim and that ASU could cut the lead and have a chance to win the game.

Was he fouled? In my opinion, yes. Harden said he believed he was fouled but wasn't making excuses. I don't really like seeing games decided on fouls but on your home court, I think you should get the benefit of the doubt (some call that home court advantage) and get a foul call when someone who had been getting that call all night is hit in the lane by two different players. Yes the officiating was suspect all night, with odd calls away from the ball and strange no calls in the paint, but the officiating didn't cost ASU the game.

The Devils desperately need a third scoring option and Ty Abbott needs to step into that position. I'd like to see him penetrate more rather than just sit outside the arc and chuck up bombs. Sure he's dangerous and potentially game changing out there but he can slash better than anyone save Harden on this team but we so rarely see this. Having more than one wing that can attack the rim opens up the rest of the offense. Jerren Shipp has disappeared offensively and I'm not sure why Derek Glasser lost his starting position and a bunch of playing time when he was playing so well before, especially at the end of games. Hopefully we can sort this out soon and pick up at least one win on the road against UCLA, USC, and Arizona because losing six straight would be devastating to any postseason hopes.

The Devils play next on Thursday at UCLA at 7:30pm.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


It was going to take an extremely gutty performance down the stretch for either ASU or Washington State to pull tonight's game out. In the end, it was the Cougars experience, depth and pinpoint three-point shooting that proved to outmatch the youthful Sun Devils.

Washington State pulled it out 56-55 in a game in which, despite ASU's 2-14 performance from outside the arc, the Devils showed the old grit and hustle we're used to.

That said, I'm disappointed in you.

No, not the team.

I don't care what you think about the questionable no-calls on the few basket interference infractions (the third, by the way, was NOT). I don't care if you think James Harden was fouled on his drive with two seconds left. I don't care if you thought the offensive foul on Harden in the last minute was bush.

Your opinions are your opinions and they're respected. It was a horribly officiated game.


I held my tongue after the USC game when fans littered the south end zone with bottles and other debris after a few questionable calls. I can't do it this time.

If you missed it, a storm of rally towels, cups and water bottles (a few full ones, at that) rained down onto Ned Wulk Court at the end of the game. One of them hit WSU's Kyle Weaver just above the eye and he had to be physically helped off the floor. Another nailed Devan Harmeling on the temple during the handshake line. Kudos to Jeff Pendergraph and several of the bench players who noticed that it had happened and ran over to Weaver to check on his condition.

This is unacceptable behavior, Pitchfork Nation. I LOVED the atmosphere in the building today; in my five years of attending ASU basketball, that was the 2nd loudest I've ever heard it inside Wells Fargo Arena. I want it to be that way during every home game.

But the actions of a few members of our loyal fan base ruined it all at the final horn.

It was a loss. It was terribly officiated. I'm mad too. But you can't do anything about it.

TJ will have the game recap soon.

Devils Hit Crossroads

Tonight's game is a big one. Coming off of two straight losses, ASU needs a win against #6 Washington State before hitting the road for three tough games against USC, UCLA, and Arizona. Tonight is the start of the toughest four-game stretch of the season for the Devils, and the team must take advantage of the home court if post-season dreams are to become reality.

After a poor shooting night (a season low 32.1%) filled with turnovers against an unranked Washington team, ASU will face one of the toughest defenses in the country in Washington State. The Devils counter with a highly ranked defense of their own so expect this to be a low scoring game. The last matchup between these two teams ended with a 48-47 Cougar victory as a Christian Polk buzzer beater rolled around the rim before falling out. During that game, ASU held the Cougars to just 12 points in the second half. If ASU can regain the shooting touch we've seen all season, this game is very winnable.

In the last two losses, ASU has struggled in defending talented big men. Brook Lopez and Jon Brockman both burned ASU in the post. While Washington State is led by guards Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver, they still have capable big men Aron Baynes and Robbie Cowgill who are both 6'10". This could give ASU some match-up problems but I don't anticipate those two being the ones to beat us.

I think that this is a game that ASU should be able to win. I think that the Devils can bounce back from consecutive defeats and use a supportive home crowd to post another impressive victory on the schedule. Luckily for Sun Devil fans, coach Herb Sendek has 14 wins over top-10 ranked opponents. The success ASU has seen this year also follows the recipe laid out by Washington State's Tony Bennett last year. Excellent defense, great shot selection, and shooting free throws at a high percentage. This should be an interesting matchup as the Cougars are dominated by upperclassmen, while the Devils' youth is well documented. I think ASU can pull out a victory tonight before heading to L.A. for a tough twosome.

Tonight's game is at 5pm, televised on FSN and broadcast on 620AM.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Harden a Game Time Decision

From what I hear, James Harden is still ailing from a groin injury obtained in Saturday's game against Stanford. Harden has reportedly been slow in practice and coaches will make a game time decision as to whether or not he will play in tonight's game against Washington. No word yet on Saturday's game against Washington State.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Devils Handed Tough Loss

ASU's 10 game win streak was finally snapped Saturday night at Stanford. After leading by 10 at halftime, ASU faced foul trouble and poor shooting in the second half to pick up the first conference loss of the season.

This loss showed the importance of Jeff Pendergraph to this young Sun Devil team as he picked up his fourth foul with 17 minutes left in the game and ASU was outrebounded 26-9 in the second half. The story of the second half was the 10 minute absence of Pendergraph and the Devils' inability to score for long periods of time. Giving up several runs to a talented Stanford team created problems for ASU as Brook Lopez was able to dominate the post without Pendergraph in the game. ASU also shot only 26.3% percent in the second half which is a pretty good indicator of how the second half unfolded.

In this type of game when one of the stars is limited in playing time, the Devils really need the role players like Jerren Shipp to step up and perform. On that note, James Harden injured his groin on Saturday night and from what I hear, the injury is pretty serious and his availability for Thursday night's game is questionable. Without Harden, scoring will be tougher and will need to come from Pendergraph, Abbott, and someone like Shipp. The trouble with groin injuries is that if you come back too soon they tend to linger for a long period of time. If he can't go on Thursday night, hopefully he can make it against the tougher Washington State on Saturday. Either way, Harden's health later in the season is more important that rushing him back for a couple of games now.

ASU plays Washington at home on Thursday at 7pm and can be heard on 620AM. The Devils play #6 Washington State at home on Saturday at 5pm and can be seen on FSN AZ or heard on 620AM. The Washington State game marks the beginning of 10 straight televised games for the Devils.

Friday, January 18, 2008

ASU Goes 4-0 in Pac-10

In what may have arguably been the best game of the year, the Sun Devils knocked off the Cal Golden Bears 99-90 in two overtimes. The three headed monster of James Harden, Jeff Pendergraph, and Ty Abbott combined for 78 points, 19 rebounds and 9 assists.

The question so far in conference play has been who the third weapon will be after Harden and Pendergraph. Abbott took the call and ran with it last night to the tune of 25 points, 9 boards, and 5 assists with seven 3-pointers. While I would normally object to anyone attempting 16 treys in one game, knowing how Abbott can catch fire and how he's been able to hit the clutch ones so far keeps me from questioning the shot selection.

Pendergraph had another great game with 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks in a game where he faced what may have been the best competition in the post he's seen so far this year. In the early part of the year I thought that people projecting him in the first round of the NBA Draft were way too optimistic but he has stepped his play in the conference games so far and played very well. I still think he should be back next year but he's living up to the expectations.

And then there's Harden. After another quiet half where he only had 2 points on two shots, he blew up for 25 in the second half and overtimes and the national media still hasn't said a word about him. I guess that's cool as he seems like a guy that's completely fine with being under the radar then embarrassing anyone trying to defend him.

ASU faces a tougher test Saturday night against Stanford at 8pm on FSN AZ and 620AM.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Baseball: U of A, ASU ranked #1 and #2 respectively by Perfect Game Crosschecker, a division of Perfect Game USA, came out with their top 100 teams in college baseball for 2008. Topping the list were #1 Arizona and #2 ASU. A complete list can be found here. For all your college baseball news, I suggest reading The College Baseball Blog.

Midseason Report

At the beginning of this season many had high hopes for ASU's Men's basketball team. I was one of them. No one expected the team to be 13-2 and ranked #22 in the AP Poll though. Sendek's Devils stormed through the non-conference schedule, only slipping in the season opener and in the first true away game. Excitement in Tempe is high, and rightfully so. ASU hasn't seen a men's basketball team like this in years. But hang on a minute. Thursday is the beginning of a very tough stretch for the Devils with the first road game in six weeks and 9 of the remaining 15 games away from Wells Fargo Arena. The road was not friendly to ASU last year and will be a true measuring stick to how good this team really is.

ASU faces Cal on Thursday and Stanford on Saturday and has a chance to solidify its standing atop the Pac-10 standings with wins. Both teams should present a big challenge as both feature multiple talented big men. Cal is led by Ryan Anderson, the Pac-10 leading scorer, and Devon Hardin who is among the best bangers in the conference. Stanford features the 7 foot twins Brook and Robin Lopez who are both capable defenders and potential scorers. Seeing how Jeff Pendergraph matches up in the post when he'll likely be double teamed will make a difference in both games. Additionally, James Harden's ability to score by driving will be tested by the trees in the middle. ASU's supporting players will have to step up big on this road trip. Like I said, these two games will tell us a lot about our Devils.

The Cal game can be heard on 960 AM at 8:30pm Thursday and the Stanford game can be seen on FSN AZ or heard on 620 AM at 8pm Saturday.

I know I've been sleeping on the Women's team and that's just unfair because they've been carrying the torch for ASU basketball for years now. I'm going to start trying to get some updates on them here as well. Go Devils!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Men's Basketball Cracks Top 25

It's been 13 years since ASU's Men's Basketball team has been ranked in the Top 25 and it feels good to be back. Halfway through the season, the Sun Devils have surpassed expectations by racing to a 13-2 start and leading the Pac-10. Check out the rankings and the story yourself.

A new podcast will be coming soon with a true insider to the team that should give us a interesting look at the squad. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"It's War Now"

So are the words of Jawann McClellan. When asked after the game how this win affects the rivalry, he responded with the words you see in the title. The Devils are finally earning the respect of opponents and media after starting off 3-0 in conference play and 13-2 overall. Herb Sendek's Sun Devils currently sit alone atop the Pac-10 standings. Sure it's early, sure we haven't played the top teams in the conference yet, but we've earned the right to celebrate a bit. After watching a lethargic coach with subpar talent for years, it's so easy to get behind this team and this coach and start dreaming of March and what could be.

And what a year to be a Sun Devil, huh? The rise of the football team, the surprise play of the basketball team, top 10 baseball and softball teams, TWO national championships in women's track and field. Add on to that the Suns leading their division, the FBR Open coming to town, and that thing called the Super Bowl just down the road and it's hard to imagine a much better sports scene in the Valley right now.

But anyway, how about that game?!

Despite the second-worst half of play all season (opening half vs. Illinois was worse), including making only 3-of-18 shots to start the game, the Devils were able to persevere and pull out the tough victory in overtime, thanks to an amazing second half by James Harden and key plays by everyone else. Harden scored 22 in the second half and OT, and only one of his field goals came from behind the arc. The rest were on a display of acrobatic drives and free throws, and considering how he was being hacked in the lane and came up limping several times, he amazes me a little more each game.

Sure Harden finally looked like a freshman during the first half, as he stopped attacking after being hacked the first few trips into the paint with no fouls called. He even made a few mistakes and missed his first two free throws, but give him credit for being coachable and adjusting because he owned the second half.

One of the most fun things to watch was the exchanges between Harden and defender (or lack thereof) Daniel Dillon. The Arizona defender was draped over Harden all night and was in his ear during the first half. In true competitive spirit that was a bit Jordan-esque (too early?), Harden used his talent to shut Dillon up, then had a few words of his own. After hittting a three pointer, Harden backpedaled down the court along with Dillon while holding up three fingers and smiling the whole time. This along with some other good-natured trash talking is fun to watch from a player with as much skill as Harden.

Luckily, Harden wasn't the only one making big plays for the Devils. Pendergraph stepped up in the second half and had the huge tip in at the end. Ty Abbott had the huge off-balance 3-pointer coming off a screen the cut down the lead, and Eric Boateng had a big block late in the second half.

So my buddy Chris and I were trying to decide what Sendek was telling the team at the half, and we agreed that it had something to do with playing horribly in the first half on offense and still being down by just 7. Given that, ASU had every opportunity to come back in the second half and take the game. After the teams came out of halftime, Pendergraph and Harden were aside from the team talking to each other and you knew the second half would be a different story.

We also saw Christian Polk for the first time in a while due to early foul trouble by Ty Abbott and Polk also hit a big 3-pointer to contribute. I also did some investigation and found out why Polk hadn't been playing much of late. Part of it is due to the great play of Ty Abbott. Another part is because Polk had reportedly been goofing off in practice, trying to act like an And 1 baller and not paying attention, and earned his way into Sendek's doghouse. Cutting edge reporting from yours truly.

It was also great to see a sellout crowd and a student section that extended into the upper deck. Great support from the Sun Devil faithful and this should continue throughout the season. The atmosphere was electric and definitely helped the team pull off the comeback.

Overall, ASU made the necessary adjustments on defense to limit the Wildcat scoring and was lucky that many of Jordan Hill's shots rimmed out. That, and a healthy dose of Harden's scoring in the second half gave ASU the win. To be completely honest, I'd like to see more motion in the ASU offense but that's just nitpicking. If it ain't broke...

Photo from a blackberry of me storming the floor!

Note to self, Blackberries aren't good for taking pictures.

By the way, major BOO to Pro-Em security for throwing WR/OF Michael Jones out of the game. ASU should be ashamed of not letting their star receiver partake in the action with his friends.

Other than that, it was a great night.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Well, that doesn't happen very often.

Remember in 2004, when Matt Miller dropped a pass from Sam Keller at Arizona Stadium? On 4th down, with ASU trailing 34-27 and a trip to the Holiday Bowl on the line?

Arizona felt that pain when Chase Budinger missed a wild three-point attempt with four seconds left and down by three.

This by far is the biggest win for Arizona State men's basketball in decades. You can point to the last win over UA (January of 2002, but noone's counting...), the win over Memphis in the 2003 NCAA tournament or others...but this is a statement.

ASU basketball...god forbid...might just be on the map. See you in the top 25 next week. T.J. will have the in-depth recap for you, and I'll have a column about it over the weekend. I know I haven't chimed in much about basketball yet and I apologize, but in the Holiday Bowl hangover and that pesky subsequent "going to work every day" thing, my posting has slowed down.



Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sun Devils vs. Wildcats

Wells Fargo Arena plays host to the big matchup on Wednesday night between ASU and U of A at 7:30 pm. Seats are bound to fill up fast for the biggest game of the season as ASU has actually garnered more votes than the Wildcats in the most recent AP poll. I don't know when the last time that happened was. The Devils are riding an 8-game winning streak while the Wildcats are coming off a 10-point home loss to Oregon.

This game represents ASU's best chance at defeating Arizona in years. So far this year the Wildcats have played much like ASU's football team, meaning that they have fallen behind early in games by double digits and fought back for victories. This may be a problem against ASU's stout defense. ASU is allowing only 56.5 ppg, good for 8th nationally in scoring defense, and should give the Wildcats fits.

Another plus for the Devils is how they matchup against U of A's players. Nic Wise and Jerryd Bayless run the point for the Wildcats (Bayless should be back from his recent injury) and will run into the defense and careful ballhandling of Derek Glasser and Jamelle McMillan. Some people may think that Bayless could run through our guards but look at the fact that ASU has yet to fall victim to any PGs so far this season (Drew Lavender and Tajuan Porter did nothing against us). Our PGs play underrated defense and are backed up by the stifling zone defense. Also, Glasser is 8th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.15.

Arizona's point guard is flanked by wings Jawann McClellan and Chase Budinger. While Budinger is as good as advertised, I've never been impressed by McClellan. He plays solid defense but is the worst shooter among their top six. Budinger will have probably have a good game as he can score in a variety of ways and is an excellent jump shooter. He is good at scoring off screens but since ASU will not play man on him he'll have to knock down shots from outside. If Bayless can penetrate and kick the ball back out if the zone collapses on him, Budinger will get some open looks. Otherwise, he'll have to shoot from beyond the zone.

Inside, Arizona has received great play from forward Jordan Hill, who has been the biggest surprise on the team to me. Hill is shooting 65% from the field and has been a solid presence in the post. However, if he gets in foul trouble Arizona's other post players are less than stellar. Bret Brielmaier, Jamelle Horne, and Kirk Walters are combining for only 8.2 ppg and 7.6 rpg. ASU's Jeff Pendergraph and Eric Boateng have been great this year at drawing fouls in the lane and this could cause a problem for Arizona's post players (Boateng can't make a free throw but the fouls he draws still benefit the team).

With the great play of James Harden (by the way, I stated his age incorrectly in the podcast..he just turned 18 four months ago, making him the youngest palyer in the Pac-10...making his play even more impressive), Pendergraph, and Glasser, the Devils should matchup favorably against the Wildcats. If Ty Abbott and Jerren Shipp can contribute in the way they had been in non-conference play (like the Xavier game, for example) then the Devils could win this one running away. The tough thing is that you never really know what will happen in rivalry games. If Arizona falls behind by a large margin in this one as they have done this year, then the ASU defense may prove to be too good for a Wildcat comeback.
The game starts at 7:30pm and will be broadcast on FSN and on 960 AM.

Be sure to also check out the latest edition of the Pitchfork Podcast which is posted below. See you at Wells Fargo Arena. Go Devils!

Tuesday Roundup

Want to start off the post by saying congratulations to Cory Davies of Chandler for winning the pick'em contest. Cory was the only entry to reach 12 wins, going 12-3 with upset picks West Virginia and Kansas. Enjoy the gift card Cory. PitchforkNation's own Nick Saia took second.

If ASU basketball was a stock, Seth Davis of says you should buy. (SI)

It looks like the Chicago Bears are perfectly fine with letting Wildcat Lance Briggs go, with Sun Devil Jamar Williams filling in his role at outside linebacker. (Chicago Tribune)

Zach Miller was the most productive rookie tight end in the NFL this season. (Rototimes)

Ike Diogu is struggling in his comeback after a torn calf injury in early November. (Indy Star)

Dirk Koetter to Hawaii? (Hawaii Warrior Beat)

It looks like Georgia might be the #1 team in the country headed in to Tempe on September 20th. (ESPN)

Former ASU quarterback Dax Crum is expected to sign with Wyoming this week. (Wyoming Tribune-Eagle)

Monday, January 7, 2008

Pitchfork Podcast

The latest edition of the Pitchfork Nation podcast is now up for your listening enjoyment. This podcast is shorter than the last one so it's easier to listen to. I'm going to try to keep them shorter in the future to make them more user friendly. Here's the link:

Pitchfork Podcast - Episode 2

Special thanks to guest Bobby Studer for his outstanding commentary and insight. Listen and enjoy!

Also, I might throw a more extensive preview of the ASU vs. U of A game up here on Tuesday but for now you can listen to Bobby and myself discuss that game and the state of ASU basketball.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Gerell Robinson Highlight Reel

Gerell Robinson of Hamilton High School committed to Arizona State yesterday, after breaking his earlier commitment with the Wildcats and shunning the heavy recruitment from Notre Dame. He publicly rejected the Irish live on their flagship station yesterday, surprising everyone. We are officially now loaded with wide receivers for Rudy Carpenter to underthrow.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Devils Down Ducks

Ah, the power of alliteration.

ASU trailed most of the game against Oregon but used defense and free throws in the closing minutes to pull out an impressive 62-54 victory. James Harden came up with big play after big play at the right time and Derek Glasser played his best game of the season. I thought I'd make some observations from the game.

- Attendance was listed as 7,690 but it had to be more than that. The game featured what appeared to be the biggest crowd of the season with the lower bowl mostly full and a significant number of people in the upper section. For a lot of schools this would be considered abysmal but for ASU it's a big step toward program respectability. The larger student section was mostly full as well which leads me to believe that once school starts back up it could be possible that a student section seat may be hard to come by, especially against better teams if we keep winning. Guess you'll have to start showing up earlier.

- I'm starting to develop a man-crush on James Harden. He just does so many things right as a freshman. In the first half when ASU was down by six and having trouble getting a bucket, Harden forced his defender into fouling him behind the 3-point line as the shot clock expired...two possessions in a row. That's six free throws. Deficit gone. He also hit a huge pull-up three as the shot clock expired late in the second half that gave ASU the lead for good. Also, I can't talk enough about his ability to drive and draw fouls. One other thing that really impressed me throughout the game is that he appears to be taking on a stronger leadership role. He repeatedly pulled aside Ty Abbott (couldn't hit a shot) and Jamelle McMillan (turnover trouble) to offer what I'm guessing was encouraging words or advice. He also kept a cool head late in the game when an Oregon player got in his face after fouling him. Derek Glasser got fired up over that but Harden simply grabbed Glasser and walked to the free throw line to seal the game. Love it.

- Jeff Pendergraph played really well in the second half. He scored 8 points early in the second half and he continues to play much better when established early in the offense. I'm not sure at this point how he'll match up against bigger defenders that he'll face later (Kevin Love, Jon Brockman, Lopez twins, etc.) but he does a good job of drawing fouls and shoots free throws quite well.

- Derek Glasser was HUGE late in this game. His experience from last year really shows. I don't think he'll be letting go of that starting position anytime soon. Glasser finished with 10 points (7 in the last 3 minutes), 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals. He played great defense on Tajuan Porter, who I thought might be too quick for Glasser, and came up with a huge steal and layup in the last 2 minutes to widen the gap in the score.

- Our defense continues to be great. It's going to win us a bunch of games this year. ASU held Oregon to 30 points below its scoring average, and the defense helped negate Ty Abbott' s bad night. Abbott scored 7 points early then didn't hit a shot the rest of the night, finishing 3-of-11 from the field, including 1-of-9 from distance. Oregon was scoring easily in the post at the beginning of the game by pounding it into Maarty Leunen which was a concern for me as he continued to be isolated against the much smaller Jerren Shipp but ASU made the proper adjustments and it ceased being a problem. Just hope we can continue this against some of the better post scorers in the Pac-10. ASU was aided by the fact that Oregon shot only 11% from three for the game but the Devils didn't fare much better (only 5-of-20 from deep) so I guess it evens out.

- This game was a three man show for the Devils and if Derek Glasser can continue to play at such a high level, then ASU will be very dangerous when Abbott and Shipp are more involved. Both players were non-factors offensively in this game, but the stellar play of Harden, Pendergraph, and Glasser overcame this.

The Devils play again at home on Saturday at 2pm against Oregon State. The game will be televised on FSN and on the radio at 620 KTAR.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Pac-10 Basketball Preview

After finishing the non-conference schedule with a 10-2 record, the road is about to get a whole lot tougher for the Sun Devils. The Pac-10 is loaded this year with deep teams and loads of new talent. Although there is a beyond-noticeable bias toward the ACC from the folks at ESPN, this year's Pac-10 lineup demands the respect of the media and the polls and should be considered the best basketball conference in the country. With 5 teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including two teams in the top 5, and Arizona State and Oregon receiving votes as well, the conference has the chance to put 7 teams in the NCAA tournament this year (5, maybe 6, is more realistic). Now the best case scenario from a viewer's standpoint would be that with so many good teams, they all beat each other up all year making each game exciting and hardening them for tournament play. Or...the top couple teams could dominate the conference and earn their way to a top seed come tourney time. Right now I'm leaning toward the latter. With the Pac-10 season kicking off on Thursday, I thought I'd take a quick look at each team, excluding Arizona State.


With Lute Olsen gone for the season, Kevin O'Neill has taken on the coaching duties and has led the Wildcats through a tough early schedule to a 9-3 record with losses to Virginia and both Kansas and Memphis on the road. U of A has also beat a Top 10 Texas A&M team and the same Illinois team that beat ASU at the Maui Invitational. Arizona may not be as deep as they have been in past years but they still have plenty of talent and enough experience to knock off anyone in the conference.

Best Player: This one is a toss up between freshman Jerryd Bayless and sophomore Chase Budinger depending on the game. Bayless leads the team in scoring, assists, and 3-point percentage while Budinger does enough things consistently right to hurt you if you don't give him enough attention.

Against ASU: January 9 @ ASU, February 10 @ Arizona


Cal has a 9-2 record but hasn't really beat anyone significant and has losses to Kansas State and Utah. Cal is a high scoring team with its strength being the post. Sophomore Ryan Anderson (6'10", 240 lbs.) and senior DeVon Hardin (6'11", 250 lbs.) lead the Golden Bears and anchor the defense as both average over 9 rebounds per game and Hardin averages almost 2 blocks per game. Also featured on Cal's roster is former Arizona high school standout Harper Kamp, who went to Mesa's Mountain View high school. Kamp has been a sharpshooter off the bench all year long and is averaging 6.4 ppg on 71% shooting from the field.

Best Player: Pac-10 scoring leader Ryan Anderson. While Hardin is the experienced senior who can dominate the post, Anderson is averaging 22.2 ppg and 9.4 rpg while stretching defenses all over the place. Anderson is a 6'10" forward who can play the post and also shoot from outside. Anderson has taken and made more 3-pointers than anyone on Cal's team, while shooting 41% from outside.

Against ASU: January 17 @ Cal, February 16 @ ASU


While the Ducks lost star Aaron Brooks to the NBA last year, Oregon still brings loads of talent to the table as all 5 starters average double figures in scoring. Oregon is a smaller team height-wise but is extremely athletic and can run up and down the court better than anyone in the conference. Seniors Malik Hairston and Maarty Leunen lead the team in scoring but 5'6" sophomore Tajuan Porter is the dangerous firecracker that can light up the scoreboard on any given night. This year's team is still a bit of a mystery as losses have come at the hands of a talented Saint Mary's team and back to back losses to Nebraska and Oakland.

Best Player: Malik Hairston. The 6'9" Hairston is a player with a complete game who leads the Ducks in points, blocks and is shooting 52.4% (!) from behind the arc. While being the most consistent offensive weapon, Hairston is also the team's best defender.

Against ASU: January 3 @ASU, March 6 @ Oregon

Oregon State

The Beavers' non-conference schedule was weaker than ASU's crappy one and they still only came out 6-6, including a 17-point loss at home to Tennessee Tech. Basically this team sucks.

Best Player: Who cares.

Against ASU: January 5 @ ASU, March 8 @ Oregon St.


I think this team might be getting a little too much credit at this point without having really proved anything yet. The Cardinal team is led by the 7-foot Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who roam the post and play solid defense and shoot a high percentage because of their constant height advantage. Other than that, I'm not that sold on the twins, considering the similarity to the last set of 7-foot twins to go through Stanford, Jason and Jarron Collins.

Best Player: Brook Lopez has only played in 3 games because he just became academically eligible but he has averaged 19.3 ppg and 7.3 rpg to lead the Cardinal.

Against ASU: January 19 @ Cal, February 14 @ ASU


The country's most prestigious program has returned to prominence with excellent coaching and lots of talent. This team really has a little bit of everything. Freshman Kevin Love is a beast in the post, guards Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook (who no one is talking about for some reason) are among the best in the conference, and wings Josh Shipp (brother of ASU's Jerren Shipp) and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute form a very athletic supporting cast. Add in stellar coach Ben Howland and this team is more than dangerous. All five starters average double figures in scoring and the defense is allowing only 53.8 ppg.

Best Player: This one really depends on the game because any of the starters could lead the team on a given night (which they have...all 5 starters have been the leading scorer in at least one game this season), but most people would say Kevin Love, who is averaging a double-double as a freshman. I'm going to go against popular opinion and pick Darren Collison. Completely solid player with lots of experience who can do a little bit of everything very well.

Against ASU: January 31 @UCLA, February 28 @ ASU


An interesting team to say the least. The O.J. Mayo circus stumbled into the lap of Tim Floyd (who is not given enough respect as a college coach...nobody could have won with the NBA teams he inherited anyway) and Mayo has stepped comfortably into the college spotlight. I still thinks he shoots too much (scored 32 in the season opener but the team lost by 15 to Mercer) and is too cocky but he usually backs it up. Mayo is leading the team in scoring with a 19.5 ppg average and is supported by fellow freshman Davon Jefferson and sophomores Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson.

Best Player: O.J. Mayo. The excessive, early media hype and his history of showboating has some worried about discipline problems but so far he has played well and has faded a bit as other freshmen like Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, and Eric Gordon have taken much of the spotlight. Catch him while you can though because there's no way he'll be back in South Central next year.

Against ASU: February 2 @ USC, March 1 @ASU


A team that has dropped off a bit with the departure of star players to the NBA but still capable of pulling off some upsets when shooting well. The Huskies are led by the trio of Jon Brockman, Ryan Appleby, and Justin Dentmon. Brockmon is averaging a double-double, including a Pac-10 leading 11.1 rebounds per game and Appleby is a 3-point assassin shooting over 54% from distance.

Best Player: Jon Brockman. Just a solid post player with the exception of his free throw shooting and not much of a shot blocker. I always thought he was better than Spencer Hawes yet Hawes goes in the NBA lottery and into eventual obscurity. Go figure.

Against ASU: January 24 @ASU, February 23 @ Washington

Washington State

The highest ranked team in the Pac-10, this team surprised everyone last year with its great season. That success has carried over to this year as the Cougars have started off 12-0. The formula for Washington State's success is very similar to what has helped ASU regain competitiveness. The Cougars shoot the ball at a high percentage and play stifling defense while minimizing mistakes. Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver lead the scoring and the role players do all of the little things to pull out wins. While they haven't really had tough competition up to this point, they should play well thoughout the conference. Oh yeah, their defense allows only 49.7 points per game. That's VERY good.

Best Player: Kyle Weaver. Just look at his numbers: 11.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.8 spg, and shoots over 50% from the field. He does everything on the court...and does it well.

Against ASU: January 26 @ ASU, February 21 @ Washington St.

Predicted Finish
2. Washington State
3. Arizona
4. Stanford
5. USC
6. Arizona State
7. Oregon
8. Washington
9. California
10. Oregon State