It’s beginning to feel like the good ol’ days for Arizona State basketball boss, Herb Sendek.
The Sun Devils will be off to an 8-1 start if they can knock off Cal State Northridge this afternoon. It would be just the fourth time in 38 campaigns that an ASU team has achieved that kind of start to the season.
The last time was when the 2008-09 season was beginning. That year, the squad actually went 12-1 and then went on to finish 25-10. It was the second of three straight 20-win seasons that Sendek recorded after arriving in Tempe from North Carolina State.
That year the Devils made it all the way to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, their only trip to the Big Dance during Sendek’s six years at the helm of the Pac-12 program. Their other two ventures into the post-season, during that three-year run of 20-win seasons, were to the NIT.
But the bottom dropped out the past couple of seasons as the Devils went 12-19 and then 10-21 last year.
This year, the excitement has returned with the addition of Jahii Carson, the freshman highlight reel from Mesa High School, to run the point. The youngster, who sat out last year after an eligibility snafu sidelined him at the start of the season, is scoring 18 points a game and spread 43 assists throughout eight starts. His 18 points are the fourth-best among the nation’s D-I freshmen.
Sendek couldn’t get the line-ups to jell last season, due in large part to the lack of a true point guard, but this year he and his revamped coaching staff have the offense firing on all cylinders. He added Eric Musselman and Larry Greer, both with extensive NBA experience, to his staff this year – and then put 7’2″ Jordan Bachynski under the bucket to add the intimidation of height they were also missing last year.
(*Update: Bachynski became the first ASU player in program history to record a triple-double, finishing with 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 blocks to help the Devils to a 87-76 win over Northridge. Carson led ASU scorers with 21 points and Evan Gordon had 20.)
So far, the Sun Devils are averaging 78 points per game. That’s even better than the 73.7 Sendek’s Wolfpack averaged during his final five seasons at North Carolina State. He took that team to five straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
Ah, the good ol’ days – plus an extra four points a game.
Cal State Northridge is also enjoying one if its best starts in a long time. Its six straight wins to open the season was its best opening in 30 years. The Matadors are 7-2 coming into the game with ASU.
The Matadors play in the Big West Conference, where they lead the league in offensive rebounding, with 14.6 per game, and steals (9.89 per game). And they have a deep bench, with nine players averaging 13 minutes or more a game. So they’ll be riding fresh horses most of the game to wear ASU down.
Cal State can put the points on the board. The Matadors are averaging just over 85 points a game, have scored 90 or more twice, and are coming off a 120-point performance in a win over Vanguard.
That’s where the recent elevation of Carrick Felix‘ game will help. The senior swingman has had a couple of double-double performances in the last two games against Hartford and Sacramento State. He’s averaging 19 points and 9.5 rebounds a game to go with Carson’s 18 points and five assists per outing.
And Bachynski should record his 100th career block against the Matadors, moving him into seventh place on the all-time ASU list in that category. His presence in the middle should help keep Cal State from reaching its usual 80 points.
The Sun Devils have won all four times they’ve played Cal State Northridge, but it’s been eight years since the last time they met, when ASU squeezed out a 67-66 win. This is a different Matador team, one that’s capable of running up a lot more points.
But it’s also a different Sun Devil team – one which has returned to the good ol’ days and is on a roll.
(Photo: ASU Athletics/ Steve Rodriguez)