Amid strong start, ASU still seeks consistency

TEMPE, Ariz. — After a 71-63 win over Hartford on Wednesday night, Arizona State is off to a 7-1 start for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

But it looked like the Sun Devils could have dropped Wednesday’s game, as they trudged through the first half and let Hartford hang around for much of the second. The win was another example of the Devils’ somewhat-enigmatic start through the first month of the season, as they have played beyond expectations at times but been not very sharp at others.

What’s behind the inconsistency? Star freshman Jahii Carson offered an honest theory after Wednesday’s game:

“I think we were more hyped coming out at the beginning of the season,” Carson said. “People underestimated us, and we felt like we had to prove a point, make a statement. These last couple games, I think we got a little bit comfortable. I think we got a little bit of an ego coming out, and I just think we’ve got to stick to how we were at the beginning of the season — you know, hungry and just ready to come out and make an impact.

“At the beginning of the season, we were ready to just beat teams and hand it to them. Now, I think that we’re letting off the gas a little bit and just being content with where we are right now, not looking to get better.”

The Sun Devils opened the season strong with a home win over Central Arkansas and then put on an impressive showing at the Las Vegas Invitational, winning three games, including one over Arkansas, and keeping a contest with then-No.14 Creighton close most of the game.

It was an impressive start for a team picked to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12, and the 7-1 record still has surpassed most expectations. But as Carson indicated, the Sun Devils may lack a sense of urgency they will need once Pac-12 play begins after five more nonconference contests.

Coach Herb Sendek would also like to see a few defensive improvements, though he has been pleased with the team’s half-court defense, which he said has only lapsed a couple times.

“There have been a couple noticeable blotches, but I think maybe the best thing we’ve done all season is play pretty good half-court defense,” Sendek said. “Our transition defense has not (been good). Our ability to limit our opponents to one shot and come up with loose balls has not.”

On the other end, Sendek wants to see more efficiency in ASU’s possessions.

“We still have too many possessions where we settle,” Sendek said. “If we can eliminate those possessions where we settle and we don’t get the ball moving, we can improve offensively.”

Sendek also wants — perhaps needs — to see improvement at the free-throw line. ASU went 11 for 23 from the free-throw line Wednesday, but Sendek was quick to note that his team spends a lot of time working on them in practice. ASU’s 65.1 percent mark from the line ranks last among Pac-12 teams.

The encouraging development over the past couple games, Sendek said, has been turnover reduction. After committing 18 turnovers against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, ASU committed 11 against Sacramento State and 10 against Hartford.

There probably aren’t many teams throughout college basketball without things to work on this early in the season, and 7-1 is a pretty good place to be more than halfway through the nonconference schedule. But if the Sun Devils have taken their collective foot off the gas a bit, Sendek may need to get them accelerating again.