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Pac-12 Basketball Team Preview: Can Star Guard Play Turn Arizona State Into Conference Contenders?

Will year three of the Bobby Hurley era get Arizona State over the .500 mark?

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State Sun Devils

  • Last Season: 15-18 (7-11)
  • Head Coach: Bobby Hurley (3rd Season)
  • Projected Media Poll Finish: 6th (146 Points)
  • Leading Returner In Scoring: Tra Holder (16.2 PPG)
  • Leading Returner In Rebounds: Tra Holder (3.7 RPG)
  • Leading Returner In Assists: Shannon Evans II (4.4 APG)

The Skinny

If Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak is known for his implementation of “big man culture” to his Utes program, it only makes sense that Arizona State’s head coach Bobby Hurley has the foundation of his program built around it’s outstanding guard play. After all, Hurley was one of the greatest guards to ever hit the floor in college basketball history and since entering the coaching profession, he’s been a consistent developer of talented back-court pieces.

And yet, as Arizona State enters what is now year three of Hurley’s tenure, the fiery and competitive coach may finally have the best guard tandem that he’s ever coached at his disposal between the senior duo of Tra Holder (16.2 PPG) and Shannon Evans II (15.0 PPG). The question is now, will Hurley’s impressive individual pieces be able to lead a hit-or-miss Sun Devils program to consistent victories?

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Arizona State
Shannon Evans II is one-half of a top-heavy Arizona State back-court.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Before even looking at the roster, the inquiry of Hurley’s program should be how much they’ll make improvements at the defensive end of the floor, where Hurley’s “in-your-face” and gritty style simply hasn’t trickled down to his players. Last season, Hurley’s team held opponents to less than seventy points just six times all-season long and on two occasions, they still would go on to lose in match-ups against Davidson and California. Overall, the Sun Devils regular allowance of 80+ points per contest to opponents (without the offensive firepower to match) simply has to change.

Where Hurley also hopes he’ll see a new emphasis on his team is in terms of scoring personnel, where some fresh faces need to emerge as reliable options. Kodi Justice, a 6’ 5” senior guard, is a knockdown three-pointer shooter who helps space the floor around Holder and Evans II. If Justice can continue his hot shooting ways and add a bit more consistency to his off-the-dribble game, he may work flawlessly with four-star prospect Kimani Lawrence and Ohio State transfer Mickey Mitchell, who becomes eligible in the second half of the season, to give Hurley some much-needed depth at the wing spot.

Other key talents for Arizona State will include fellow four-star recruit Remy Martin, a much-heralded point guard from California’s Sierra Canyon High School, and Spanish big man Ramon Vila (2.6 PPG). Redshirt freshman forward Romello White is expected to also to help one of the league’s worst front-courts, that severely needs to improve in rebounding if the Sun Devils want to make some strides in the conference fight.

Player To Know: Tra Holder (SR)

With Torian Graham now having departed Arizona State for good, the ever-improving Tra Holder will now take over the reigns in the Sun Devils’ back-court, where most of the team’s offensive approach will be administered from. With limited front-court options, most of the “star player” role will now fall on the shoulders of Holder, who proved himself (at times) a season ago to be more than capable of the role. Where Holder’s game is sometimes overshadowed is his ability to rebound for his size (6’ 1”) and his skills as a distributor, which will need to come through this season for the Sun Devils. Arizona State is weak up-front, meaning any contributions they can get from Holder outside of just purely scoring, will be icing for Hurley’s group.

NCAA Basketball: Cal. State - Bakersfield at Arizona State
Can Tra Holder get the Sun Devils over the hump in the Pac-12?
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Key Non-Conference Games

  • 11/14 v. San Diego State
  • 12/8 v. St. John’s*
  • 12/10 at Kansas