A year ago, Arizona State’s unprecedented surge to the pinnacle of college basketball was predicated on unsustainable 3-point shooting. Sure, it was entertaining but became predictable once teams began to implement zone defenses against the Sun Devils.
At the end of another strong nonconference slate, ASU is 9-3 with wins over Kansas at home and Mississippi State in Las Vegas as well as a close loss to Nevada on a neutral floor. But it’s unfavorable outcomes against Vanderbilt and Princeton that exposed a glaring flaw of the Sun Devils — perimeter play.
Prior to the season, coach Bobby Hurley was direct in saying he wanted to mold his team into a defensive-minded group. Understandable, considering the one-time Duke product was known to be a tenacious defender.
He recruited freshman guard Luguentz Dort and redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham to ASU, pairing them with returning sophomore guard Remy Martin and senior forward De’Quon Lake to create a formidable defensive unit.
Transitioning has been primarily successful.
The Sun Devils allowed nearly 82 points per game in Hurley’s second season, a number that is now down to 72 while forcing at least 16 turnovers in seven games.
ASU utilizes its size and length to alter shots, create extra possessions and play high-energy, on-ball defense.
However, the upped on-ball intensity has also backfired to a degree. By forcing opponents to play deeper into the shot clock, ASU is conceding more open shot attempts on the perimeter caused by fatigue and poor off-ball defense.
Take the Vanderbilt loss, for example. The Commodores shot 12-of-28 from deep and a number of made baskets were open because of overaggressive defensive rotations, collapsing in the middle or the shooter was not closed out on.
At the 38-second mark, Cheatham is too far underneath to help, forcing forward Kimani Lawrence to chase on the perimeter. He guesses the rotation incorrectly and Vanderbilt guard Maxwell Evans is uncontested from the top of the key.
Fast forward to 55 seconds and a baseline drive draws three Sun Devils, leaving Yanni Wetzell wide open in the corner. And finally, at the one-minute mark, Dort drops too far underneath to help Cheatham and is late to close out Matt Ryan.
Those three sequences are just a few of the instances that show inconsistent perimeter defense. ASU has allowed teams to shoot better than 30 percent from distance just five times this season, including in losses to Vanderbilt and Princeton.
As the conference schedule unravels, defensive adjustments to pressure and off-ball movement remain the most pivotal areas of improvement for the Sun Devils.