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Foul trouble, lack of tourney experience may hurt Devils

Unless you’re Herb Sendek – and we’re guessing the Arizona State men’s basketball coach is much too busy to read the sports pages these days – you already have looked ahead.

Don’t feel bad. It’s human nature. A national championship is only six wins away, so it’s understandable to fantasize. “If we beat Temple, we can beat Syracuse. That puts us in the Sweet Sixteen, and then . . . ”

Sendek constantly preaches the importance of “staying in the moment” and focusing solely on Friday’s first-round NCAA Tournament contest against Temple. But Sendek is already in South Florida, so let’s break away and think ahead.

Here are the main reasons ASU will or will not reach the Sweet 16.


• Start with the man himself. It’s not even Thursday, and Sendek already has mentioned “preparation” 247 times. If basketball is his religion, film study is his form of worship. And you know what? It works. Including conference and postseason tournaments, Sendek is 19-5 in tourney openers. That’s impressive.

• Have you watched this No. 13? James Harden, it turns out, is really good. Forget his scoring. Harden doesn’t have to score much to make an impact. In the Pac-10 Tournament final against Southern California, he scored only 10 points. But he also had eight assists. He is ASU’s puppet master.

• Jeff Pendergraph is often taken for granted, which is a shame because he’s blossomed into a solid player and outstanding leader. The best part about his game: He’s actually better away from Wells Fargo Arena. In 18 road and neutral games, Pendergraph averaged 15.8 points and 8.4 rebounds. He shoots 68 percent from the field and 83.6 from the foul line, both team highs.

• The supporting cast is, well, supporting. Ty Abbott finally ditched his slump, scoring in double figures three consecutives times for the first time all season. If Abbott plays well, ASU is dangerous. The Sun Devils are 11-1 when he makes more than one 3-pointer. Then there’s Derek Glasser. Raise your hand if you saw this coming from the junior point guard. Liar.


• Not one person outside of the coaching staff has NCAA Tournament experience. Temple, on the other hand, danced just last season. Former ASU coach Bill Frieder said a team has to take its best stretch of the season, a time when everything was going right, and then increase that effort in the NCAA Tournament. Will ASU realize that in time?

• Remember Rihards Kuksiks? It’s understandable if you don’t. The sweet-shooting forward hasn’t been himself lately. He was 3 of 12 from 3-point range in the Pac-10 Tournament, averaging 3 points. ASU can get other things (like rebounding and defense) from other players, but the Sun Devils need Kuksiks to fill it up.

• This draw stinks for ASU. First the Sun Devils have to fly 2,355 miles across the country. Then they open with Temple, an experienced 11th seed that has faced Tennessee, Xavier, Clemson, Kansas and Villanova. And if the Sun Devils win, they likely get Syracuse, a team that won’t be intimidated by their zone simply because the Orange face one every day in practice. That’s tough.

• Depth is a little overrated in college basketball, but the Sun Devils still have issues. On a good day, they go eight deep, but guard Jamelle McMillan (groin injury) remains a concern. The word is, he’ll play, but it’s doubtful he’ll be 100 percent. If the Sun Devils get in foul trouble, they could be in trouble.

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