The Arizona State men’s basketball team is about to wrap up its non-conference schedule. With two games left until the start of Pac-12 play against the Washington schools, the Sun Devils are sitting at 9-2.
Right now, ASU is not garnering a whole lot of national attention. Other than point guard Jahii Carson, its players aren’t in the spotlight. This might be a mistake.
For the most part, this ASU squad has settled into a pretty nice groove. They have well-defined role players, an adequate bench, solid coaching and legitimate play-makers at the important positions. Now, they just have to make plays.
It is very clear that the ASU offense goes through two people: Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski. Point guard and center are critical positions to a basketball team. The Sun Devils are in good shape at both. Carson is regarded as one of the nation’s best pure point guards. Bachynski has recently been talked about as being good enough to make an NBA roster as a reserve post player.
In watching the first 11 games, it’s clear that the ASU offense relies on both Carson and Bachynski to initiate or create scoring opportunities. Carson is the catalyst, while Bachynski is the inside threat that requires a lot of attention. This opens up scoring opportunities for everyone else.
Essentially, every team ASU faces will have to be ready to “help out” on Carson. This means they’ll have to expect that Carson will beat his man and penetrate the middle. This, of course, requires the defense to rotate and stop Carson, leaving other offensive players open.
The same goes for Bachynski. Although he’ll never penetrate, most defenses will not be able to play him straight up, one on one. They’ll have to collapse on him when he gets the ball, or at the very least, run another defender at him when he starts to make his move. Again, this will leave other offensive players open for the inside/outside game.
So, ironically, the key to success for ASU falls to the role players, namely Jonathan Gilling, Jermaine Marshall and Egor Koulechov. They absolutely must knock down the open shots that they will undoubtedly get. In fact, if you watch their games, that is exactly how the season has unfolded for Sun Devils. In their two losses, the role players struggled shooting the ball.
You could go one step further and put more emphasis on Gilling. With all due respect to his skills, for now, he is primarily a shooter and nothing more on offense. It appears that how Gilling goes, so goes ASU’s offense. If he is hitting his open three-point looks, the Devils seems unstoppable and can score 90 points on any night. If not, they struggle to score 70 points and sometimes look confused on where else to score. Gilling’s shooting is ridiculously critical to this team’s success.
This observation is in no way meant to overlook the role and contributions of Marshall. He is in the same mold as Gilling — knocking down open shots created by Carson and Bachynski. But Marshall has shown some ability to penetrate and finish around the basket. He seems to somehow quietly get 14-18 points per game whether he’s hot or cold.
The other factors in this discussion are, of course, the reserves. Can backup center Eric Jacobsen effectively spell Bachynski? Can Calaen Robinson and Chance Murray give quality minutes in relief of Carson? The answers to those questions will also have a huge impact on how the rest of the season goes for the Sun Devils.
The only other true coaching decision that must be made soon by coach Herb Sendek is whether to continue starting Koulechov over Shaquille McKissic. McKissic is making a case for more minutes and even starting again. He’s got great athleticism and a nice touch. It’s just a question of how he fits in with the other starters.
In the end, hopefully, ASU can count on Carson and Bachynski to be the impact players that they are. And then it’s a matter of the role players stepping up and doing what their team needs. If that happens, the Sun Devils will be a tough team to beat in the Pac-12 conference.