November 27, 2008

Classic should provide early season barometer

Arizona State coach Herb Sendek constantly measures his team's performance against its potential, and as such, there is no opponent more formidable than the one it sees every day of the year, be it in skill workouts, practices or games.

But the Anaheim Classic, which begins for the No. 14 Sun Devils with a Thanksgiving game against Charlotte (1-3) at 7 p.m., should prove to be a better "barometer," as Sendek put it, of exactly where this team stands.

Despite being 3-0 on the young season -- a record that includes two blowout home wins over inferior opponents -- Sendek hasn't been particularly pleased with how his group has played thus far.

There has been shaky play at point guard, with Sendek benching his opening night starter Jamelle McMillan in favor of Derek Glasser after just one game; an abundance of missed wide open jump shots, noticeably problematic in a 4-of-21 performance from the 3-point line against Pepperdine; sequences of poor rotation in the team's matchup zone; and mediocre play from senior Jeff Pendergraph, a vital player to the Sun Devils' hopes this season.

The biggest area of concern is on offense, where ASU has looked out of sync at times, and anything but a scoring juggernaut, often relying too much on star James Harden in the points column.

"It's a little different this year than my freshman or sophomore year," Glasser said, when asked about the offensive issues. "We'll run a set play and then we'll go into a motion. I think as the season goes on we'll get better and better with it. I think we're doing OK. Once we learn each other a little better and how we're going to play within the new motion, I think we'll get better."

Improvement over time is necessary, of course, but as the Sun Devils found out all too well last season, what happens to a team in November and December can cause big headaches in March.

So don't blame Sendek if he's approaching the Holiday as, well, just another game day. He has much to do and time is of the essence.

"It's kind of like Rocky, right?" said Sendek, referring to the classic movie. "For you, it's Thanksgiving, for me it's Thursday. We will most certainly be thankful, though. We will have a grateful heart, but hopefully we will have some really good defensive stops."

Charlotte may have the worst record of any team ASU has played to this point in the season, but it also may be its best opponent yet. The 49ers have lost their three games by a combined five points, including a one-point heartbreaker to 5-0 Clemson.

"We know we're dealing with a very talented team," Sendek said.. "At this point records aren't all that revealing. In large part it's a function of your schedule and in their case a possession or two either way. We're not going to be fooled by their first couple of games in terms of wins and loses."

The 49ers are a different type of team than ASU has faced thus far, according to Sendek.

"They're very athletic and they really try to make the game frenetic," Sendek said. "They try to cause chaos. They use multiple defenses. They're very random, it seems, in their trapping. They want to prey on your ball handling weakness if you have any."

Through four games, Charlotte has had a different scoring and rebounding leader in each game, a sign of their balance at both ends of the floor.

If the Sun Devils do advance, they will likely play Baylor in the second-round Friday, a team that returns all five starters from last season.

"You get a chance to play three games in (four) days, similar to conference tournaments so it prepares you for that," junior guard Derek Glasser said. "The competition is always good in preseason tournaments, it kind of lets you know where you stand early in the year."

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