Syracuse is set to play Arizona State on Sunday at 12:10pm EST. Before we get there, ASU blog House of Sparky was kind enough to answer some questions about the Sun Devils and get us up to speed.
And just in case you're wondering who Sparky is, he's the mustachioed mascot of ASU.
Sum up the Arizona State season if you can. Did ASU meet, beat or fall below expectations?
Fans of the team knew that the stars were aligning for 2008-2009 when Kevin Love, OJ Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, and the Lopez twins all declared early for the 2008 NBA Draft. Derrick Low, tormentor of ASU dreams, graduated from Washington State, and Brandon Jennings decided to go play professional hoops in Europe instead of for the University of Arizona.
Most importantly, James Harden decided to stick around and hone his craft for another season. To be honest, ASU slightly underperformed this season. We should have won the Pac-10 with our vast talent. The Sun Devils are a streaky team that goes on winning streaks that abruptly end with a 3 game losing streak.
ASU went 0-4 in the regular season against Washington and Washington State, but swept UCLA and Arizona. We finally broke through and beat Washington in the Pac-10 Tournament, but at times we faltered in big moments. Choking away the Pac-10 Tournament Championship was a painful experience to endure.
From a player development standpoint, our biggest improvement has come from Derek Glasser, who has shown a knack for delivering clutch plays late in games. He beefed up his resume today with some key free throws late in the Temple victory. Rihards Kuksiks has improved his defense and is stroking the three nicely.
But altogether, ASU missed out on the Pac-10 regular season title by losing winnable games. If James Harden can actually show up on Sunday, ASU will be a very rugged team that will be difficult to beat.
Herb Sendek. Like what you've seen so far?
Herb is a "cerebral coach." He's not funny, but he knows exactly what needs to be done to get the most out of his team.
Sometimes, he confuses me. He takes too long to make defensive changes, and his offensive schemes do not always impress. He has, however, motivated the team to play tenacious defense and to look out for each other.
He is a good recruiter, and is slowly building a respectable team in this town. Rome wasn't built in a day, but Herb is took us from a doormat to a force in 3 years, and I can't argue with that success.
Rate the Sun Devils' performance against Temple.
B is my vote. I have to look at it from an entire team perspective.
Derek Glasser performed as well as he could, earning an A for his guts. Jeff Pendergraph played well in the post and played a ton of minutes, which is essential with a bench as thin as ours. Our backup center, Eric Boateng, is made of paper maché.
James Harden, on the other hand, looked like a role player instead of a game changer. He can't have another game like that if we expect to even keep the game close against 'Cuse.
Dionte Christmas was able to score a ton of points, but we shut down the rest of the Owls. With so many weapons, the Orange might be able to take us to task. Hopefully Paul Harris is okay, but I would prefer not to see him on Sunday.
If there's one player Syracuse should be scared to death of, it's...
Jeff Pendergraph. No player shows more emotion on the court than Pendergraph does. He has been at ASU for four seasons, being the best player on a terrible team for his freshman and sophomore campaigns, only to find himself as the secondary scorer in the James Harden show.
Now that he has finally found himself in the NCAA Tournament, I don't think he will leave without giving it everything he possibly can. He was inconsolable after the Pac-10 Championship game, saying that he "didn't want to say anything crazy" when asked about his emotions.
If there's one player Arizona State is probably scared to death of, it's...
Jonny Flynn. He has a great juke and a sweet finger roll, and our zone not be able to contain him. His decent stroke from outside and his slashing ability is a scary combination for us to face.
Besides, Derek Glasser isn't well known for being a shutdown defender; thankfully we play the matchup zone to minimize that.
ASU didn't get a lot of credit from folks to be able to make it out of the first round. What's your expectations for their performance in the tourney and how far do they have to go for it to be considered a success?
Getting out of the first weekend is the crux of my expectations. Anything past the sweet sixteen would have to be considered a bonus, especially if we ran into the Oklahoma Sooners and Blake Griffin.
Seeing Syracuse in our bracket was a painful sight. After watching the Big East tournament, I knew they were a great team with a lot of talent. Can we beat Syracuse? We all realize that is a possbility. Would I rather be playing the Missouri Tigers in the second round? Absolutely.
Either way, good luck on Sunday. Go Devils!
Thanks for the input and good luck to you guys as well. Keep an eye on House of Sparky through the weekend for updates on the Sun Devils.