December 29, 2008

Basketball notebook

Arizona State (10-1) plays its final regular season non-conference game Monday at 7 p.m. against Central Connecticut State (5-5) at Wells Fargo Arena. The Sun Devils have moved to No. 17 in the latest Associated Press Poll and No. 14 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Here are some notes on the team heading into tonight's game.

Abbott effect

ASU's 10-1 record to start the season is perhaps more impressive when considering Ty Abbott has made just 19-of-66 3-pointers (.288) through Saturday's game. The Sun Devils are winning despite not having their No. 3 option from last season shoot the ball nearly as well as yet this season. As a freshman in 2007-08, Abbott made a very respectable .353 from 3-point range on nearly twice as many attempts as the next closest player on the team (215 versus James Harden's 108). Abbott is making 1.7 3-pointers per game, down from 2.2 converted 3-pointers last season. Abbott can be very streaky with his shot, and the odds are pretty good he'll hit a hot streak to bring his average above .300 for the season. So in a sense, it's better that he's struggled a bit in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Now, if his percentage doesn't improve, then his value as a player at the offensive end of the floor is diminished, because that is his specialty.

Team shooting

Tying in with the above segment on Abbott, a noteworthy statistical improvement through the first 11 games this season is ASU's team shooting percentage from the 3-ponit line. Despite the line moving backwards, a reality that would figure to lower a team's shooting accuracy, ASU's .396 success rate is ahead of last season's .355 finish. Considering Abbott is off his pace from last season, and he is the team's biggest volume shooter, it makes clear that other players have improved in this area in the off-season and/or are simply on hot streaks right now. It also perhaps could work as a counter-argument to Abbott's early-season slump, but that remains to be seen. What is clear is that Rihards Kuksiks is shooting at a clip closer to what the coaches have expected of him (.500 this season versus .386 last season) considering how pure his mechanics are, and others, specifically James Harden, Jerren Shipp and Jamelle McMillan are doing a good job. In the case of Harden and Shipp, that might be an understatement. Harden is at .479 and Shipp is at .500 behind the 3-point line. ASU is taking and making more 3-pointers than any team in the Pac-10. It is on pace for a school record for converted 3-point attempts.

Bench depth

There have been some rumblings about a lack of bench depth for ASU this season and it's a legitimate concern, but to a point. The reality of college basketball is that the vast majority of teams don't use more than eight or nine players in their regular rotation. ASU's rotation this season is essentially identical to its rotation late last season. It basically uses eight players: five starters, one backup point guard, one backup forward and one backup center. If there was one place where ASU probably wished it had more in the way of capable bench play it's at the four position, in the event it want to go big. But there have been times coach Herb Sendek has played freshman db]Taylor Rohde[/db] has a ninth man and it's been a respectable combination. More depth would be good, certainly, but the bigger boost would be even more talent among the starting group.

Free throws

Success at the free throw line as a factor in a team's success shouldn't be underestimated. ASU leads the Pac-10 by a wide margin, shooting .753 as a team from the stripe. If ASU is an average free throw shooting team, it is probably sitting at 8-3 give or take a game, as it would be averaging about 1-2 fewer points per game. Last year, ASU shot a very good .739, slightly off this season's pace.

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