State of the Devils: Assessing ASU Athletics heading into the New Year

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 25: Quarterback Manny Wilkins
TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 25: Quarterback Manny Wilkins /

As we embark on 2018, ASU athletics is an interesting state with both basketball programs succeeding and football program going through numerous changes.

Arizona State Athletics’s 2017 calendar year was the epitome of a rollercoaster.

Todd Graham’s final season in Tempe ended at a mediocre 7-6 with an especially disappointing showing in the Sun Bowl against NC State.

Bobby Hurley’s hardwood heroes captured the attention of the Valley by sprinting out to a 12-2 start with a fun brand of hoops and a great mix of youth and experience.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all smiles for the Sun Devil faithful.

Arizona State baseball experienced their worst season in the program’s storied history.

Volleyball once again struggled to compete in the highly competitive Pac-12; it’s hard to believe the team is only two years removed from being ranked in the Top 25. Let’s dig into the specifics of each ASU sport.


Arizona State football’s season began ominously. With low expectations, and Todd Graham unsure of his future with the team, the Sun Devils finished the regular season with a 7-5 record and tied for second in the Pac-12 South including a great win against then No. 5 Washington.

In the end, this wasn’t enough for Athletic Director Ray Anderson firing Graham and quickly replacing him with Herman Edwards.

Graham’s impact on the program will improve with age. Graham’s success included team GPA improvement, penalty reductions and new athletic facilities.

Edwards will have a nice foundation to work with, but he must improve recruiting if the program wants to take the next step.

Anderson’s desire for a perennial Top-15 team won’t happen overnight, and the Sun Devil faithful must be patient with the process. I’m skeptical on if Edwards is the right guy to lead the program to loftier heights, but until then the press conferences will be fun.

Men’s Basketball:

Bobby Hurley has something amazing brewing in Tempe. After two under .500 seasons to begin his tenure, Hurley has catapulted ASU to a 13-2 record and established a very enjoyable brand of college basketball.

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Senior leadership from Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice provides ASU with unparalleled experience that will play bigger as the calendar turns to March.

A tough conference opening loss to Arizona should prove to be a minor speed bump and the rematch Feb. 15 in Tempe should be another close contest.

ASU has given the fan base a quality team to cheer for, and with successful recruiting, the potential to have sustained success. Anderson must do all he can to ensure Hurley stays in Tempe for a long time.

Women’s Basketball:

Charli Turner Thorne’s team has been the most consistently successful program on campus. After starting the 2017-18 season with low expectations, the Sun Devils have cracked the Top 25 and are poised to make some noise in the Pac-12.

Losing Sabrina Haines to a torn ACL in December hurts the team, but the frontcourt has stepped up in her absence, as Kianna Ibis and Courtney Ekmark have impressed in the non-conference games.

The key to ASU’s success the rest of the way will be maintaining their stifling brand of defense as they currently allow a conference best mark of only 52.9 points per game. Turner Thorne’s continuity as coach has been the steadying rock Anderson hopes to install in all of his coaches.


This is where the bad news begins. 2017 was the worst season Sun Devil baseball experienced in program history.

Numerous departures from upperclassmen that didn’t get along with Tracy Smith dampened the optimism of the team that had one of the best recruiting classes in the country.

Smith understands that this is a prove it season for both himself and his team. With low expectations, ASU could sneak up on some Pac-12 teams but are far less talented than conference powers Oregon State and Stanford.

New pitching coach Mike Cather will look to mentor the young pitching staff and try to improve on the team’s abysmal 5.53 ERA in 2017.

Anderson noted the success of most of the school’s athletic programs at Edward’s introductory press conference; one name he failed to mention was Tracy Smith. A major improvement and a tournament appearance may the only thing that can ensure Smith is leading this team beyond 2018.


Another program in transition, to put it nicely. ASU Volleyball is only two years removed from being ranked and being viewed as a force in the Pac-12.

Now with three head coaches in three years and limited recruiting success, ASU is searching for answers. A winless conference season is embarrassing for any athletic program as the talent wasn’t there to compete in the conference but ending the season with a 20-game losing streak is unacceptable.

Head coach Sanja Tomasevic missed most of the season while on maternity leave and the program is now in her hands to build ASU back to being competitive.


There’s something special brewing with Sun Devil hockey. Head coach Greg Powers is challenging his young team with matchups against college hockey’s elite programs including Providence, Air Force and Michigan Tech.

The willingness to compete with the power programs gives ASU respect across the country and puts them in position to build a powerhouse out west. Powers has done a tremendous job building the program, if he continues to recruit well the sky is the limit for hockey in the desert.


The overall direction of ASU Athletics heading into 2018 is positive.

The progress of men’s basketball is very encouraging and Hurley has the team ready for a rise to the national stage.

Football will be a work in progress as Edwards deserves three years before a true judgment can be made.

Anderson has a big decision to make regarding Smith as I think a big season from the baseball team will be the only thing that will keep him around beyond 2018.

Next: ASU Basketball: Sun Devils survive in Salt Lake City

The success of basketball and football are how college athletic programs are viewed. Anderson has basketball in a great spot but now it’s time to see if his bold hire of Edwards will bring ASU to the heights he aspires.