November 28, 2008

Analysis: Best win of young season for ASU

Arizona State's (4-0) dominant 84-56 win over Charlotte (1-4) Thursday in the opening round of the Anaheim Classic was its most impressive performance of the young season. Here is an analysis of the good, the bad and the important to note from ASU's perspective in the win over the 49ers.

The good:

Senior post Jeff Pendergraph's activity level was very high, markedly more so than in the first three games of the year. It was clear early on the way he was chasing down rebounds and moving around defensively, contesting shots and being very aggressive, that he was going to be much more effective. It's true that because Charlotte wasn't consistently doubling him, he was able to take advantage and get more looks at the baskets on the block, but even if that wasn't the case this would have been a better effort. Also, it was impressive how ASU was doing a very good, consistent job trying to find him for the easy baskets in the secondary break, and he was establishing good position, hustling to the spot underneath the hoop.

ASU did a much better job knocking down open shots tonight. 50 percent from 3-point range for the team is excellent. The team got a lot of open looks and also for the most part took good shots relative to time and situation, and in the flow of the offense. That's a very good development. Also, it was a team effort shooting the ball. Five players hit 3-point shots, and James Harden was not one of them. No player took more than four 3-pointers and yet the team made 8 such shots. There was a broadening of the scoring responsibility from perimeter players.

Ball movement in the offense was improved, but still not great. Three games in a row, when ASU has gone to the flex component of the offense it has led to the easiest looks at the basket from the mid-range and in, including several point blank shots at the basket. The sets are still not working as they are designed and the motion offense has been hit or miss, even though it was improved against the 49ers.

Defensively, ASU really had Charlotte flummoxed. The team had no clue how to handle the matchup zone for almost the entire game. Rarely are you going to see more NBA range 3-point shot attempts from a team than we saw from the 49ers. 5-of-26 from long range, and most of them were challenged. ASU did a great job identifying the Charlotte shooters, especially Anderson and Coleman. The advance scouting on this team was done by Dedrique Taylor, and he clearly did a great job and the guys executed it quite well. Anderson was extremely bothered by the close outs on his shot attempts. We didn't see the breakdowns on the baseline or in the short corner like we saw in the last couple games.

The bad:

ASU didn't handle ball pressure well, particularly when facing full court press. Charlotte's pressure defense was actually quite good. It was varied and seemingly random, which caused real problems. Derek Glasser and Jamelle McMillan are not particularly athletic point guards, so they can be taken out of sync in this fashion, or be forced into bad decisions and that happened in this game late. Also, Rihards Kuksiks did a poor job in the backcourt against pressure.

ASU continues to give up way to many offensive rebounds. This is particularly the case from the weakside on long caroms, which typically come off long shots on the strongside. The base edge defender in the ASU zone needs to better identify who is slashing to the basket from his backside. One of the traditional weaknesses of a good zone is weakside rebounding. ASU isn't a big team, so that actually exaggerates the weakness. It's going to be a real issue in the Pac-10, as it was last season. But the good part about it for ASU is that usually teams are taking bad shots when those types of caroms happen, so it's a dual-edged sword.

There is a glaring emerging issue with depth. Considering ASU won this game going away late, it was a bit surprising to see that only seven players sae more than 10 minutes of game action, and one of those players, McMillan, played just 10 minutes. Eric Boateng played just six minutes and Taylor Rohde four minutes. Three starters played 34 minutes or longer. That's a lot of floor time in a 28-point win. It will be interesting to see how starters rebound in a 24 hour period for Friday night's game, and also if that will foreshadow a potential problem in Pac-10 play.

The important to note:

If Charlotte shoots the ball the way it's capable of doing, the game is much closer late and has a totally different feel. ASU did a good job contesting shots, yes, but this was a bad shooting effort even so. The 49ers also missed a lot of point blank looks and mid-range opportunities. All of that together made the game look extremely one sided and perhaps gave a false sense of how well ASU played. It was a better performance, maybe even a good one. But it wasn't a very good game, certainly not close to a great game by the Sun Devils.

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