Arizona State Basketball: 5 Keys to Sun Devils’ Red-Hot Start

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Rick Scuteri-USA Today Sports

The Sun Devils are 8-1 for the first time since James Harden left the building. They started the 2008-09 season 12-1 and finished the season 25-10 and were ranked all season long. They defeated Temple in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and lost to the No. 3 seeded Syracuse in the second round.

Prior to that, the Devils have only started better than 8-1 on three other occasions in the past 38 seasons. The 1974-75 team obtained an incredible 15-1 start en route to a 25-4 record and an Elite Eight appearance. This squad was coached by the legendary Ned Wulk and led by Lionel Hollins, the current Memphis Grizzlies head coach.

After facing DePaul on Wednesday night, the Sun Devils’ non-conference schedule has three games remaining against Dartmouth, at Texas Tech and Coppin State. Those teams have a combined record of 8-14. I firmly believe that the Sun Devils won’t have a problem in matching the 12-1 record set by Harden and company.

Their first conference game is against a struggling Utah team so it is ultimately possible that they could surpass the 12-1 record and have the second best start in school history. Their next game is against defending Pac-12 Champion, Colorado—when the season gets real.

Here are the five keys to why they have started so hot and how to maintain this level of play.

Jahii Carson

jahiiThe redshirt freshman phenom does it all for the Sun Devils.

Jahii Carson currently leads the team with 18.6 points per game and 5.3 assists per game. Those numbers are also good enough to rank him fourth in the conference in points and second in assists.

He has notched five 20-point games in nine tries including a 30-point effort versus a top-ranked Creighton team. Carson’s 18.6 points per game ranks him as the third-best freshman scorer in the nation and his 56 free-throws made are the best of any freshman.

He isn’t just the best freshman out there; this also ranks him ninth in the nation among all scorers.

In the past 40 years of Sun Devil basketball, only three players have had more 20-point games as a freshman than Carson, and the season isn’t even one-third completed.

His uptempo style of play is what has changed this team around, and coach Herb Sendek couldn’t be happier with the freshman, as many would be calling for Sendek’s job if this season would’ve followed past season’s misery.

Jordan Bachynski

Fresh off the first triple-double in Arizona State University history on Saturday, Jordan Bachynski is looking to add to his repertoire as he continues his climb deeper into the Sun Devils record books.

The feat by Bachynski marks the first triple-double by a Pac-10/12 team in five years when USC’s Daniel Hackett had the traditional triple with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

His 12 blocks in the game propelled him to the top of the list for blocks in a game in Sun Devil history and second-most in Pac-10/12 history, tied with Stanford’s Brook Lopez.

The junior is seventh in career blocks in Sun Devil history with 111 total and still has nearly two years to get the 81 blocks needed to be the most prolific Sun Devil blocker of all time.

He currently leads the nation with 50 blocks and is second with 5.56 blocks per game. His 12 rebounds against Cal State Northridge propelled him to the most rebounds on the team with 70 total and 7.8 per game.

On the offensive side of the ball, he is a sharp-shooter that leads the team in field-goal percentage and places second in the conference with his .610 percentage.

Bachynski is a monster underneath whose offensive prowess is as deadly as his defense.

Carrick Felix

carrickCarrick Felix electrified the crowd at Wells Fargo Arena last Saturday with an amazing display of dunks to add to his highlight reel.

The fifth-year player who graduated last year has seen many low points in his career at Arizona State and has turned it around this year.

He is second on the team with 15.7 points per game, and his field-goal percentage of .604 is third in the conference.

Felix is tied with teammate Evan Gordon for most steals on the team with 18 total and averaging two per game, which ranks them fifth-best in the conference.

He also leads the team in total field-goals made and three-point percentage which rank fourth and seventh in the conference.

This turnaround can be attributed to Sendek playing an up-tempo game where Felix thrives. I could tell that he was thoroughly enjoying playing the game on Saturday after nailing three circus-style dunks in a two-minute span.

Evan Gordon

The junior transfer student from Liberty University has started all nine games for the Sun Devils this year, even though it seemed as though it might have been a mistake.

Gordon started off slow—incredibly slow—in the first six games.He came alive against Sacramento St. with a career high 29 points off of 8-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc and 8-of-9 from the charity stripe.

From that game forward, Gordon has found his stride and cemented his starting role at shooting guard. He is a tough, gritty player who leads the team in steals with 18 total and two per game, good enough for fifth in the conference.

He is second on the team with most three-pointers made and also second in assists behind Jonathan Gilling and Jahii Carson respectively. He started the season a miserable 7-of-34 from three-point territory but is 12-of-24 in the past three games.

It is comforting to see that Gordon is fitting in and becoming an electrifying player like his brother, New Orleans Hornet Eric Gordon.

Jonathan Gilling

gillingI know it’s shocking to some that I have mentioned all five starters as the keys to the Sun Devils’ success, but it’s true.

Coach Herb Sendek has started the same five players for all nine games this year, and it doesn’t look to be changing anytime in the future. Sendek had 12 different starting squads last year, trying in vain to find a group that worked well together—this year, he has found it.

Jonathan Gilling, the “Great Dane” from Rungsted Kyst, Denmark is fitting in nicely in his sophomore season. The 6’7″ power forward is the glue that keeps everything together on the team.

He leads the team in three-pointers made and free-throw percentage while coming in second in rebounds and steals. His 21 shots from three-point territory is third-best in the conference and his 68 rebounds ties him for ninth-best.

Much like Bachynski, Gilling is a monster on the boards, but unlike Jordan, who hasn’t attempted a shot beyond the arc, Gilling is a master marksman.

Bonus Key: Bench Play

This is as much of a surprise to me as it is to everybody else. The bench play of senior Chris Colvin and true freshman Eric Jacobsen has been incredible.

colvinColvin is averaging just over 20 minutes of playing time with 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Colvin was told before the season started that he was going to be coming off the bench in a sixth-man capacity and Colvin has embraced the role. When you have a former starter coming off the bench, that is when you know you have a good, solid rotation.

Eric Jacobsen was recruited locally and there were a lot of nay-sayers in the community. They all saw why Sendek recruited him when he came off the bench for a struggling Bachynski and scored a career-high 16 points against Hartford.

Jacobsen is averaging 12 minutes a game and makes sure that his shots count, hitting 14-of-22 from the field. He also averages 4.8 points per games and 2.9 assists per game.

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