It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. During the next few weeks, we will give you a peek of what’s ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some others expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: Arizona State.
Bigger is better. Size matters.
Let’s go ahead and exhaust every cliché because, for Arizona State, they are all true. The Sun Devils were too small last season -- too small to defend and ultimately too small to compete in the Pac 12. Reality hit in the form of conference play, when coach Bobby Hurley’s first season in charge skidded from a pleasant 11-6 start to a 15-17 finish.
With only one player (Eric Jacobsen) taller than 6-foot-7, Arizona State simply couldn’t handle players inside. The Sun Devils were demolished, as they allowed league foes to score 1.11 points per possession. They ranked 231st in the nation in scoring defense and a telling 170th in rebounding margin.
Hurley, schooled by Mike Krzyzewski, his father and the hard knocks of his own life, is no fool. He went out and recruited big guys -- lots of big guys. Three of this season's four incoming freshmen are 6-foot-9 or bigger. But Hurley didn’t gobble up just anyone; he got talented bigs who can contribute immediately. Romello White and Jethro Tshisumpa are ESPN 100 players. White is a power forward and crafty scorer, while Tshisumpa is already a defensive stalwart with a big, college-ready body. The third, Vitaliy Shibel, is a very good, lefty stretch 4 who came to the U.S. (from Ukraine) only a year ago.
As for the fourth guy, he’s smaller than 6-foot-7 but is arguably the best of the bunch. Small forward Sam Cunliffe, ranked 41st in his class, is a terrific scorer with very good long-distance range.
Together, those four give Hurley more to work with than he had a season ago. Transfers, injuries and suspensions conspired to deprive the coach of a full roster for almost the entirety of the season. Roster turnover and discipline issues aren’t necessarily unusual for coaches at new programs, but the 2015-16 Sun Devils seemed, at times, to be using a revolving door.
Two of the guys who hit the doghouse are gone entirely now. Andre Spight opted to leave midseason, while Savon Goodman, a onetime four-star recruit, announced in March that he would transfer.
Torian Graham, who managed to get suspended while sitting out as a junior-college transfer, is returning. Graham, who originally committed to NC State, was a high-powered scorer at Chipola College in Marianna, Florida. Shannon Evans, who followed Hurley to Tempe from Buffalo (who wouldn’t?) is also eligible to play this year. The point guard averaged 15.4 points and 4.6 assists in his final year for the Buffs.
Those two, along with Tra Holder and Kodi Justice, will give Hurley backcourt options. Meanwhile, forwards Obinna Oleka, who averaged 9.6 points and six boards last year, and Andre Adams, who missed all of the past season after tearing his ACL a second time, will solidify the frontcourt.
All of this, of course, is why Hurley was hired: to get recruits and to inject some fire and life into the Sun Devils program. Perhaps he went a little overboard in his first Pac-12 game, in which he was tossed midtirade, but the explosion certainly shook the cobwebs off the program.
He backed up the fiery talk with some action. His freshmen class ranks 15th in the nation and third among Pac-12 schools.
Best of all, it’s a big class -- and size does matter.