After getting off to one of the best starts in ASU basketball history and flirting with the possibility of playing in the NCAA Tournament, the Sun Devils are in no better shape than when the season started.
In fact, they are worse off.
Once again, the "X Factor" of the preseason is Jahii Carson. Last year, everybody was wondering if Carson was as good as the hype and if he could elevate the team to new heights. This offseason, nobody is questioning his ability, they are questioning his desire to stick with the program.
Carson was as good as advertised; he led the team in points (18.5), assists (5.1) and minutes per game (37.2). He also finished second in free throw percentage and third in steals and field goal percentage. His efforts were also tops in the league, leading the Pac-12 in minutes while finishing second in scoring and third in assists.
He was named All-Pac-12 first team and Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year finishing with three 30+ point games and 15 additional games of 20 or more points. Every one of his 30-point games were away from his home court of Wells Fargo Arena.
That was all in the past. The biggest question is his future.
Carson submitted paperwork early last week for draft protection from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, giving him an evaluation of his NBA potential without declaring for the draft.
The committee, made up of NBA executives, will provide feedback to Carson, allowing him to make a decision about his future before the NCAA's April 16 deadline for withdrawing his draft application and keeping his eligibility.
Carson's mother, Vanae, told Doug Haller of AZCentral.com that her son planned to explore his NBA options. But because of the NCAA’s rules regarding early draft entry, she also said there’s a good chance Carson returns for his sophomore season. Reason: There’s simply not enough time to assess Carson’s stock.
It seems unlikely that Carson will forego his college career and declare for the NBA draft, yet even if he does stay, can the Sun Devils improve over the 2012-13 season?
The heart and soul of the team, Carrick Felix, played his final game as a Sun Devil and leaves a gaping hole in the front court. Two incoming sophomores who received little playing time last season have a long way to go to fill Felix's shoes.
Eric Jacobsen, the 6'10", 245 pound forward from Chandler, Ariz. averaged 7.3 minutes per game and made little impact, scoring 1.7 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from the charity stripe. His large frame underneath enabled him to pull down as many offensive rebounds as defensive.
Another local product, Kenny Martin, a 6'8", 220 pound forward from Glendale, Ariz. played sparingly and only produced 2-of-11 from the field including a paltry 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.
2013 freshman recruit, Egor Koulechov, from South Florida High School in Weston, Florida is ranked a 3-star prospect by Rivals and 247 Sports. The 6'5", 190 pound small forward will most likely be a backup for Jonathan Gilling.
Jacobsen will also be needed to back up center Jordan Bachynski now that senior Ruslan Pateev has graduated. In short, the front court is very thin—scary thin.
The backcourt of Carson and Evan Gordon will be a great starting duo, but beyond them, the bench is relatively sparse. Carson and Gordon were first and third last season in minutes; look for them to be first and second in 2013-14.
The time has come for junior transfer student, Bo Barnes, to step up and play the sixth-man for coach Herb Sendek's squad. Returning seniors Jarrett Upchurch and Dave Whitmore both averaged just over a minute in cleanup time last season and will be non-factors in the upcoming season.
Incoming freshman Chance Murray committed to Arizona State last September and is ranked a 3-star recruit by both Rivals and 247 Sports. The 6'3", 180 pound guard from Price High School in Los Angeles will be a welcome addition to the Sun Devil backcourt as he is ranked No. 160 on the 247 Sports Top 247 and the No. 14 recruit from talent-rich California.
All things considered, Arizona State's 2012-13 season was light years ahead of what people expected and that is due largely to the play of Jahii Carson and the renaissance of Carrick Felix. With Felix gone and Carson on the fence, the Sun Devils could quickly return to the bottom of the Pac-12 if the bench players don't improve.
Coach Sendek's seat is now officially on fire.
David is the Featured Columnist of Arizona State Athletics for B/R. Follow him on Twitter at @asudave.