Up next for ASU basketball: Major reconstruction

Jonathan Gilling will likely be a focal point of Arizona State's offense next season after serving as sixth man and 3-point shooting specialist this year.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Although the last few weeks left a sour taste, Arizona State had a remarkable season while making the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. 

Jordan Bachynski set school and Pac-12 records for blocked shots that may not soon be surpassed. Jahii Carson was the only player in the Pac-12 to average 18 points and 4.5 assists per game this season, his second on the all-league team. Jermaine Marshall is second in the Pac-12 with 82 3-point field goals and had a knack for clutch play. Shaquielle McKissic found himself guarding the opponent’s biggest wing threat more often than not in the final month of the season.

It was a special group, and the Sun Devils will miss those four. 

But time marches on, which is both the magic and the mystery inherent in college athletics, and Arizona State faces a major rebuilding process moving forward in a conference that again has shown itself to be one of the best in the country despite the lack of notoriety it receives from the so-called cognoscenti. Maybe the Easterners just cannot stay up that late.

Arizona, UCLA and Stanford advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen this weekend, and the Sun Devils beat two of them at home this season while going 16-1 at Wells Fargo Arena, the most victories and second-best winning percentage in school history after the 1974-75 team that was 14-0 at home. ASU beat a team ranked as high as No. 2 at home for the first time in its 69-66 double-overtime over the then-No. 2 Wildcats, a game in which Carson added an exclamation point with a chin-up on the rim after his basket in the final second.

The Sun Devils (21-12) won 20 games for the second year in a row and fifth time in coach Herb Sendek’s eight seasons, going 2 for 2 since former NBA coach Eric Musselman and former NBA scout Larry Greer joined the staff prior to the 2012-13 season. Musselman’s resume alone should make him a sought-after commodity when jobs comes open this spring, but it probably would take just the right situation for him to leave.

On the surface, it appears ASU will need a masterful coaching job to run its 20-victory streak to three seasons, considering the loss of four starters, some of whom will leave for the NBA.

ASU does have pieces to build around, however, in 6-foot-7 forward Jonathan Gilling, 6-10 forward Eric Jacobsen and perimeter reserve Bo Barnes.

Gilling, who will be a senior, has done a little bit of everything is his three seasons at ASU, winning the job at big forward after injuries and defections his freshman year and starting the entire season there in 2012-13. He willingly accepted the role as a sixth man early in the conference season this year and played some of his best games down the stretch. Gilling was as reliable a 3-point shooter as the Sun Devils had, making 43 percent of his shots from that range and 19 of his final 35. It is also instructive that Gilling is the trigger-man on the Sun Devils’ inbounds plays, where his decision-making was invaluable. ASU will create ways to get Gilling open next season, and he could be a top option on offense.

Jacobsen entered the starting lineup in place of Gilling for a taller frontline, but even that did not help the Sun Devils correct their season-long rebounding deficiency. They out-rebounded Pac-12 foes in only six of 19 games and were last in the league in rebound margin. Texas scored the final nine points of its 87-85 NCAA Midwest Regional victory last Thursday on second-chance points. The Longhorns’ final two hoops were fluky — one came after an airball and the other after a shot so off-target that it did not touch the rim — but the fact that Texas got to the glass was the issue. 

Jacobsen showed nice post moves but had trouble finishing this season, something more experience should rectify. Six-foot-9 freshman recruit Connor MacDougall of state champion Corona Del Sol High and 6-10 junior college recruit Octavius Ellis will have a chance to work into the lineup with 7-2 Bachynski gone.

Barnes provided spark and grit after earning playing time in the second half of the conference season, and he made 20 of his final 47 3-point attempts. Sai Tummala also showed 3-point range.

With Carson and Marshall getting most of the minutes at guard, the battle for backcourt roles will could be a free for all. Holdovers Calaen Robinson, Chance Murray and Brandon Kearney, freshman recruits Tra Holder and Kodi Justice and JC transfers Gerry Blakes and Roosevelt Scott will be in the crowded competition. Blakes played for former ASU guard Quincy Brewer at San Bernardino Valley College. He averaged 16 points a game in 2012-13 and 20 points a game last year.

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