Arizona State Basketball: Report Card for Sun Devils Midway Through Pac-12 Play
Arizona State is on a roll.
The Sun Devils (17-6, 6-4) are 12-1 at home and have won four of the past five, including victories over two teams with RPIs in the top 50. Three of their six losses were to teams ranked in the RPI top 20, including two in the top 10. All of their losses have been within the top 100, so they are avoiding "bad losses."
Head coach Herb Sendek's crew defeated Oregon State in overtime on Thursday night, thanks in large part to the play of Jordan Bachynski, who notched his 12th double-double of the season with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Bachynski's seven blocks set the all-time Pac-12 record for career blocks with 279. "It was huge," Bachynski said in the postgame press conference, per Jake Anderson of the TheSunDevils.com. "I am honored to hold the title. It's because of guys like Bill Walton who laid the foundation before me that I can have the record."
With 10 games down and eight remaining, the Sun Devils face a tough 11-day stretch hosting Oregon and Arizona and then traveling to Boulder to take on Colorado. Two out of the three are "must-wins" in order to keep their tournament hopes alive.
Here are the midterm report card grades for Arizona State's starters and key backups.
Jahii Carson leads all Sun Devils and ranks third in the Pac-12 with 19.3 points per game, adding 23 on Thursday night for his ninth game of 20 or more points. Carson has been on fire as of late, averaging 23.4 points per game over the past five games.
Carson also leads the team in assists, averaging 4.7 per game, sixth best in the conference. In addition, despite being a 5'10" point guard. he is third on the team with 4.0 rebounds per game.
The consummate court general, Carson was able to motivate a team that suffered mightily from the free-throw line (.620) as well as beyond the arc (.142) in regulation. The sophomore is making a push down the stretch when it is most needed.
Prior to Thursday night's game, it's safe to say that Bachynski was in a slump.
The senior center, who had been averaging 12.7 points and 11.6 rebounds through the first 17 games, went to averaging 6.8 and 7.2, respectively, over the next five games. Thursday night's dominant performance has returned him to nearly averaging a double-double per game at 11.6 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Bachynski ranks second in the Pac-12 in rebounds and fifth in field-goal percentage at 58.6 percent. His 4.3 blocks per game also leads the conference as well as all of Division I. His 98 total blocks on the season are more than 243 teams playing at the Division I level.
The 7'2" big man has obvious NBA appeal, and his blocks-per-game average is on par with NBA greats Shaquille O'Neal (4.57), Alonzo Mourning (3.77) and Tim Duncan (3.75).
The graduate transfer student from Penn State has been huge lately. After recovering from a groin injury that held him out of the Arizona game and limited him for the next two, Marshall is back and firing on all cylinders.
Marshall is averaging 23 points over the past three games, including clutch three-pointers in overtime wins over California and Oregon State. His 58 percent from beyond the arc over the past four games has willed this team to victory three times over that same stretch.
A 46.2 percent shooter from three-point territory on the season, Marshall leads the team and places fifth in the Pac-12 Conference. Marshall is also the team's best shooter from the free-throw line.
He is second on the team in scoring with 15.8 points per game and was Thursday night's leading scorer, a feat that he has accomplished six times this season, including tying with backcourt mate Carson twice.
Shaquielle McKissic, the senior out of Seattle, Wash., has a backstory of jail time and homelessness prior to coming to play at Arizona State. He was the heir apparent to take over Carrick Felix's spot at the wing, yet Coach Sendek wasn't fully sold coming into the season.
McKissic started the first four games but lost his starting role to freshman Egor Koulechov for the next seven. He earned it back through tough play and gritty determination. McKissic is now averaging 8.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
McKissic has yet to hit the 20-point plateau this year, but he has led the Sun Devils in scoring twice with 19 against Grambling State and 18 against UC Irvine. The big man has also led the team in rebounds six times, three of them by himself.
Jonathan Gilling has been a roller-coaster player in his three seasons in the desert playing for Coach Sendek. The 6'7" junior out of Denmark had a solid sophomore year, but his productivity has fallen off in the 2013-14 season.
Last year, Gilling averaged 9.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game. This year, he is only averaging 7.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game. One area of improvement has been his long-range shooting. He has bettered his average from .367 to .430 mainly because he is taking fewer shots.
Gilling has had great games, hitting 7-of-7 from downtown in back-to-back games against Arizona and Colorado, and he has had bad games, hitting 3-of-14 in the past three games.
Coach Sendek has started Eric Jacobsen over Gilling in the past five games, enabling him to be a spark off the bench in the sixth-man role. The switch started on the right track with Jacobsen and Gilling doing well, but both have struggled in the past three games.
It may be time to switch them back. Gilling has the ability; it just seems as though his confidence is shaken.
Rotational Starters and Bench
Aside from the traditional starting five, three players have earned starts this season. Egor Koulechov has started seven games in the early part of the season for Shaquielle McKissic, and Eric Jacobsen has started the past five for Jonathan Gilling. Brandan Kearney started the Arizona game for the injured Jermaine Marshall, struggled and hasn't seen much in the way of playing time since.
While Koulechov and Jacobsen haven't contributed much, if at all, in the past month, it has been junior Bo Barnes who has stepped it up coming off the bench. Since getting his minutes bumped up by Sendek, Barnes is averaging 7.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game.
Barnes is also hitting 56 percent of his shots taken from three-point territory and 63 percent from the field. He has seen fewer minutes in the past two games, but he is too much of a spark plug for Sendek to keep down for too long.
David A. Bowers is the featured columnist for Arizona State Athletics. Follow him on Twitter @asudave.
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