We answered some of House of Sparky's questions, and you can find our answers here.
1. Most projection currently have ASU taking one of the last spot in the tournament. How do you feel about the Sun Devils' chances? What record do they need to go in the remaining game to make the tournament?
Tyler Nickel: I think the Sun Devils actually get in the tournament this year and I am not so sure if they are a bubble team, either. They have a very winnable schedule going down the stretch, having beat 5 of the 7 Pac-12 opponents they have already played. They can win a possible 26 games this season, but I think if they get to 24, they will get in the tourney.
2. Freshman Jahii Carson is both the leading scorer and top assist man on the team, while shooting a very good percentage. What's your argument for him winning the Conference Freshman of the Year over UCLA's Shabazz Muhammed? Is he an one and done guy?
Tyler Nickel: Jahii Carson has been everything and more than advertised. As opposed to Muhammad, Carson does not have the type of talent around him that UCLA does. He has to lead the team on a nightly basis and does so with a severe height disadvantage. I absolutely believe he is the better freshman player, the question is whether or not the voters do. Not only is he in the running for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, but I think he could go as far as winning the National Freshman of the Year award. Yep, I said it. With a strong performance down the stretch, look for him to be a finalist for the award.
3. Speaking of the NBA, James Harden has made the leap from being a great star player to being a superstar (although he is likely to lose some publicity for not being in the playoffs). Are the ASU reaping the benefit recruiting-wise from Harden? Does he come back to campus to train at all?
Tyler Nickel: I'm not sure if ASU really benefits from Harden being here... yet. Now that he has ascended to a superstar in the NBA, Coach Sendek can use him and Carson as examples in the coming years, but it has not gone into effect yet. Harden sometimes returns to campus to watch a game or two, but that's about it.
4. The Bears have had pretty good success over the Sun Devils in recent years. Why do you think the Bears have had such a success? Is this year's ASU team playing a different style than past few seasons?
Tyler Nickel: Well, if you were sporting the roster ASU has had over recent years, your team wouldn't fare well against Cal either. It basically just comes down to a lack of talent ASU has had. ASU is playing much different this year than they have in the past. Instead of a matchup zone on defense, they play strictly man to man. On offense, they push the ball up the court more and work at a fast pace with Carson leading the breaks. It has worked out well for them.
5. With the expansion to the Pac-12, Cal and ASU only plays once an year in the regular season. Without a true round robin, is the prestige diminished for winning the conference regular season?
Tyler Nickel: I don't think so. I think the prestige of winning the conference is absolutely still there. Teams like ASU still have to play UCLA, U of A and other top programs twice a year, which can make or break their season. At least ASU and Cal still play each other once, right?
Cal Men's Basketball vs. Oregon (via thedailycal)
6. Who is your #1 player on offense? How would you characterize your offense?
Tyler Nickel: Jahii Carson is the #1 player on offense. He controls the offense's tempo, gets shots for his teammates and can create shots for himself as well.
7. Who is your #1 player on D. What type of D do you like to play?
Tyler Nickel: As I said, the Devils play man to man defense and it has worked well for them. As far as the best defensive player, it's hard to say. Jordan Bachynski leads the Pac-12 in blocked shots with his 7-2 frame, so that is nice to have in the paint. But Carrick Felix is tasked with guarding the opponent's best offensive player on a nightly basis while also being asked to produce on offense himself. He has a great all-around game in that he can block a few shots, rebound the ball on the defensive or offensive glass and steal some passes.
8. What is the team strength?
Tyler Nickel: I would say the team's strength is pushing the basketball up the court. They have tremendous endurance, as Felix and Carson are asked to play quite a lot of minutes. Carson leads the Pac-12 in minutes played at over 36 per game. Yet he shows no signs of slowing down as the season wears on. They continue to outrun opponents and get easy transition buckets.
9. What are the weaknesses of the team?
Tyler Nickel: The weakness is the fact that they sometimes rely too much on Carson. There isn't a whole lot of consistency from the team's other scorers such as Evan Gordon (who has been very hot lately) or Jonathan Gilling. Even Felix can go blank on some nights on the scoring sheet. If they get all of their pieces going at the same time, this team can be deadly. It's really a boom or bust style of play in that regard.
10. What do you need to do to win the game?
Tyler Nickel: Great question. I think it comes down to how well the Devils can assert Bachynski in the paint (which seems to be their x-factor). If he can start drawing the defense in, that leaves Gordon and Gilling to fire away from beyond the arc. Once Bachynski gets going, it really allows Carson to see the floor better and distribute the ball to open shooters.
11. What does Cal do in order to beat you?
Tyler Nickel: If Cal can be physical with Bachynski and keep him out of the paint, which is what we have seen from time to time, that will allow them to cover up ASU's shooters and put a lot of pressure on Carson to do everything. When that happens, the offense shrinks, the guys overexert themselves and they lose games.