TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson made it official Thursday: This will be his last season in school. He made it very clear that he expects to go out a winner.
Carson, an All-Pac-12 selection who resisted the NBA draft last spring because he likely would been selected just outside of the lottery, has set personal and team goals as high as one of his arching 3-pointers from the wing, only part of the arsenal that led him to an 18.5-point scoring average last season.
All Carson wants from this year is to:
— have more victories than the 22 ASU had its his first season.
— win the Pac-12 regular season title.
— win the Pac-12 tournament.
— be named the Pac-12 player of the year.
— become an All-American.
— get deep in the NCAA tournament.
“We can’t end the year without an NCAA bid,” Carson said. “I think that would be a nice way to end my career.”
No one has ever accused Carson of lacking confidence, and he’s always had the game to back it up. While he may be the only one to say it, all in the program share the optimism that ASU might have the team to meet those lofty expectations. National observers believe that Carson-led ASU could finish in top third of the conference, and some think even more is possible.
The Sun Devils’ only major loss this offseason was small forward Carrick Felix, who set a high standard for team accountability and was athletic enough to be the third player chosen in the second round of the NBA draft.
While he will be missed, newcomer Jermaine Marshall should make up for the lost offense after transferring from Penn State to play his final season with Carson. Marshall averaged 15.3 points a game last season as the Nittany Lions’ main scoring option. With Carson occupying defenses, Marshall could have cleaner, more open looks this season. Carson has missed ASU’s first three practices with a slight tibia injury, but his absence is more precautionary that anything else, coach Herb Sendek said.
Starting center Jordan Bachynski and forward Jonathan Gilling return, and an infusion of transfers and freshmen add depth. Bachynski spent part of the summer playing with the Canadian national team, an experience that helped his game.
“I’m excited,” said Bachynski, who looks to be in the best shape of his career. “There are great things we have to look forward to, and there are a lot of great players on this team that are going to be really valuable to us.”
What would make it a successful season?
“We’re just going to work hard and take it day by day, game by game,” Bachynski said.
But when asked again, he added, “That’s definitely our goal, to make the NCAA tournament.”
The Sun Devils almost got there last year thanks in large part to Carson, the Pac-12 co-freshman of the year with UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad who averaged 5.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds in addition to his scoring. A semifinal loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament coupled with late regular-season losses to non-contenders Utah, Washington, and Southern California and a low RPI rating (97 according to statsheet.com) conspired to keep ASU out of the tournament.
Sendek made a conscious effort to strengthen his schedule this year with that in mind. Gone are the directionals and hyphenates. Central Arkansas, Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Hartford have been replaced by the likes of UNLV (on the road) and Marquette. ASU will meet Creighton in the first round of the Thanksgiving Wooden Legacy tournament and could see San Diego State in the second round. Miami and Marquette (again) are on the other side of the bracket.
The Sun Devils’ nonconference schedule last season was the weakest it had been in four years, since James Harden’s departure.
“We want to schedule so that if we are on that proverbial bubble, the (NCAA selection) committee looks favorably at us,” Sendek said.
“In recent years, they have given very strong signals that they weight of your nonconference schedule is very important. In some cases, it seems to me, it may be even more important than the composite of your entire schedule. They really are putting a magnifying glass on your schedule in November and December.”
Players like the upgrade in competition.
“Maybe not an impediment, but it didn’t help us,” Bachynski said of the 2012-13 season schedule.” But it was what we needed at the time, and it helped us grow as a program. I feel this year we will be lot more prepared going into Pac-12 season.”