Sun Devils aiming high in Carson's final year
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)
Arizona State made good strides last season, winning 22 games and going 16-4 at home after consecutive losing seasons.
But for all good the Sun Devils did, it wasn't good enough to get them into the NCAA tournament.
They're hoping that will change this season.
With dynamic point guard Jahii Carson back for a final season in the desert and some talented players around him, Arizona State appears to be in position for its first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2009.
''We can't end the year without an NCAA bid,'' Carson said. ''The NIT is OK, but that's not where were want to go.''
Carson will be the player to take them there.
He came to Arizona State as one of the most heralded in-state recruits in school history and the hype only grew when he had to sit out his first season for not meeting academic requirements.
Carson exceeded expectations in his first season on the court, leading the Sun Devils in scoring (18.5) and assists (5.1) while proving to be almost unstoppable going to the rim. He was the Pac-12's co-freshman of the year with UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and set a school freshman record with 34 points against Stanford in the Pac-12 Tournament.
''Certainly, Jahii had tremendous expectations going into his first year with us last season, and one of the things that I was most amazed with was his ability to handle that with grace and poise,'' Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. ''And it just seemed like the brighter the lights, the bigger the stage, the better he played.''
Carson bypassed a chance at the NBA after last season, but has said he will definitely leave after this one is done.
He should have a solid supporting cast in his final year. The Sun Devils have eight newcomers, but have some talent to go with returning players Jordan Bachynski and Jonathan Gilling.
Will it be enough to get the Sun Devils back to the Big Dance? Carson and the Sun Devils sure hope so.
Here are five things to look for as Arizona State heads into the 2013-14 season.
ADDING MARSHALL: Arizona State got a big lift during the offseason when Jermaine Marshall decided to transfer to Tempe. A 6-foot-4 guard, he was Penn State's second-leading scorer last season at 15.4 points per game, along with 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists as a junior. Marshall gives the Sun Devils an experienced player who can shoot from the perimeter and will team with Carson in one of the Pac-12's most dangerous backcourts.
OTHER ADDITIONS: Marshall was the marquee player to join Arizona State this season, but the Sun Devils have several other transfers who could have an impact. Sai Tummala was a junior college All-American last season and Shaquiille McKissic, another junior-college transfer, could be the most athletic player on the team. ASU also added former Michigan State guard Brandon Kearney, who should give them a tough, physical presence on the perimeter.
TEMPO, TEMPO: Sendek likes to push the pace offensively and with Carson, he has the perfect motor. Carson is one of the nation's fastest players with the ball and Sendek accentuates his skills by asking his players to run with him. Arizona State plays with a 24-second clock in practice and tries to get the ball over half court in three seconds, a shot up in 12. The Sun Devils will be fast and fun to watch.
BACHYNSKI'S DEVELOPMENT: Bachynski was a bit rough around the edges when he first arrived in the desert, but has honed his game over the past two seasons. The 7-foot-2 center became the first player in Arizona State history with a triple-double last season and set a Pac-12 record with 120 blocked shots, though he fought bouts of inconsistency. Bachynski added some valuable international experience during the summer while playing for Canada National Development Team.
REPLACING FELIX: One big issue for the Sun Devils will be replacing swingman Carrick Felix. As a senior last season, Felix was Arizona State's best rebounder, defender and a natural leader. Now that he's playing for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, the Sun Devils will need someone to step up. Carson has no trouble leading, even as a younger player, but Arizona State will need others to pick up the slack.