Tuesday, February 10, 2009

We're Now on Fanster

Thanks to Blogspot for some great hosting over the past couple years.

However, this will be the last official post, as we've been invited to become the official ASU blog on Fanster.com.

If you get to us VIA the address http://www.pitchforknation.com/, you'll go there directly.

If you continue to get to us VIA our Blogspot address, please update your bookmarks to the address above.

Once again, there will be NO MORE UPDATES on this site. Everything will now be on Fanster, accessed through tier site (www.fanster.com) or our site (www.pitchforknation.com). Make sure your update your bookmarks....NOW!

All the same content, some new wrinkles and all the great people from Fanster.com behind us. Get at us there!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Today's Game: Which One's Prettier?


You decide.

No Glasser, Likely No Kuksiks Tonight

The story of the 2008 ASU football season was the multitude of injuries that racked the Devils throughout the year.

Now, the injury bug is hitting basketball.

Derek Glasser will not play tonight at Oregon State (6:30, FS Arizona) after suffering a neck injury Thursday night at Oregon.

Only a game after suffering a concussion in the 84-71 loss to Washington at WFA, Glasser and Joevan Catron collided, snapping Glasser's neck back and sending him to the floor in pain. 

Like I said earlier, I think it's a good idea to keep Glasser out and let him recover, especially with a head injury. The Devils would rather have him at full strength for this week's Thursday/Sunday set with UCLA and USC.

Rihards Kuksiks also missed the Oregon game while battling some sort of virus and apparently he's not better yet either. The Republic says he's "questionable."

With that, I imagine the starting lineup tonight in Corvallis will look like McMillan-Abbott-Shipp-Harden-Pendergraph, which is a major defensive issue. Shipp gives up four inches to Kuksiks on the defensive wing while McMillan often looks confused playing on top of the matchup zone.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Back On Track...?

Last night, the Arizona State Sun Devils played 20 good minutes of basketball and won a Pac-10 game.

Actually, let's backtrack.

James Harden took over in the 2nd half against an 0-9 Pac-10 team, regardless of where the game was being played, and ASU won a basketball game in which they were moribund in the 1st half and played in spurts in the 2nd.

Either way, the Devils won a game they should have at Mac Court yesterday, and there were good things to take from it, but concerns still surround this team as they head to Corvallis on Saturday.

There's no taking away from what James Harden did last night. There's obviously a reason we all complain and moan when the super sophomore plays hesitant basketball; we wonder why he doesn't take open shots early in games and such, and last night we saw what happens when James plays up to his potential.

The Sun Devils certainly didn't have their legs under them throughout the 1st half. They took ill-advised shots, passed poorly and turned the ball over throughout the first 20 minutes. With Rihards Kuksiks out with an illness and the shorter, less heady Jerren Shipp in his place on the wing, they left good shooters like Tajuan Porter wide open for shots from the perimeter and let Michael Dunigan dominate the paint off the bench. I couldn't help but sit and wonder if the Devils were actually putting themselves in the position of potentially losing to the woeful Ducks.

ASU was getting a steady dose of their own medicine, as coach Ernie Kent picked up on the Devils inability to be consistent from the field. His hybrid 3-2 zone frustrated the Sun Devils throughout the first frame and even held them scoreless for over 4 minutes.

Then Harden showed up.

With Jeff Pendergraph returning to his doldrums of taking poor fouls and spending key minutes riding the pine, Harden stepped up and nailed two key three-pointers to start the 2nd half and turn a precarious 5-point halftime lead into an 11-point cushion before the under-16:00 time out.

From there on, the story of the game was either James being able to hit from wherever he was on the floor. He drove the lane, owned the paint and nailed tear trop treys throughout the 2nd half.

He finally put this team on his back and carried the Devils to victory.

Scary moments late in the 2nd half occured when Derek Glasser obviously reaggravated a head injury and remained down on the floor for about 10 minutes after a collision. I will not be surprised if Glasser sits out tomorrow's game at Oregon State. That was a nasty looking shot; nothing illegal, just two players playing tenacious basketball; from Joevan Catron.

Regardless of his minor flaws and frustrations, Glasser is this team's best floor leader and he needs to be ready for the stretch run against the best the Pac-10 has to offer.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

PFN Live Chat 2 On Its Way

Thanks to all of you that participated in last week's live chat. Sorry we couldn't get to everyone's question but I think that it was an unmitigated success for our first go around.

So, on that note, let's do it again!

Same bat time, same bat day, same bat channel. Next Tuesday night at 6:00 PM. Let's recap signing day and the weekend for the Devils in Oregon and other notes from around the Pac-10.

And maybe more XFL talk.

Until then, submit your questions and comments ahead of time to pitchforknation@gmail.com.

The Rich Get Richer at LB

A widely used axiom in pro sports dictates that getting a player back from an extended absence is just about as good as making a major deal for a player just before a trade deadline.

The difference here is that when you get a player back from injury or the such, you don't have to give anything up.

Such is the case today as Gerald Munns announced that he is returning to the Sun Devils.

Munns missed eight of the Devils final nine games last season due to undisclosed personal issues. He had a tremendous game in the win over Stanford in early September, garnering Pac-10 Defensive POTW honors. He also broke his pinky finger in that game, missed the loss to UNLV and then left the team.

This is what we had to say about Munns' injury and absence last October 1:

"We found out on Monday that Munns would miss the Cal game due to personal reasons, but now we find out this morning that those personal reasons will keep the starting linebacker out for the remainder of 2008.

We respect confidentiality obviously, but there's definitely curiosity around why Munns is gone for the year. He didn't play against UNLV due to pinky surgery and he, like most of his fellow linebackers, was completely ineffective against Georgia. But now, out of nowhere, he's gone for the year.

The only thing that we can hope for is that he gets his personal matters, whatever they are, in order for his own sake. Munns has a lot of raw talent and has the ability to be a very good defensive player."

I stand exactly by that. There's no real reason to press and dwell on why Gerald sat out the bulk of his junior season, but according to Dennis Erickson, "he's back to the old Munnsy;" at least that's what he told Jeff Metcalfe.

This announcement comes at a spectacular time as well; with Morris Wooten gone, ASU severely lacked a major playmaker in this second layer of the defensive front. Now Munns, Travis Goethel, Mike Nixon, Ryan McFoy and Vontaze Burfict are the nucleus of what could be a very good linebacking corps.

Talking Recruiting on The Fan

Earlier today, I did a guest spot on The Fan AM 1060 with Bob Kemp to talk about yesterday's National Signing Day and the 21-member Sun Devils 2009 signing class.

We hear from Dennis Erickson, talk about who could make an immediate impact for the Sun Devils and several of the other players that will play for the Maroon and Gold starting next season.

We'll have a more in-depth look tomorrow afternoon in the Podcast.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Afternoon LOI Update

Let's take a look at what ASU has done on National Signing Day so far, as were now 3 hours from the official ASU press conference.

-Regardless of what ESPNU might be ticking by...they still had him going to USC as of about an hour ago...Vontaze Burfict has signed. Now the legwork to get him eligible probably begins.

-As we talked about in the live blog last night, Burfict's teammate, DT William Sutton, also sent in his letter of intent. You can't do much about his height (6'1") but his size (265 lbs.) as a high school senior and still growing adds bulk to what's shaping up to be a dominating defensive line.

-Other teammates sending in their official LOI's are Saguaro's DT Corey Adams and OL Kody Koebensky (pictured, courtesy of AZCentral.com).

-After a whole lot of waffling over the past few weeks, Walnut Creek WR Diante Jackson shunned Arizona State and a previous verbal commitment to Colorado to sign with Oregon. His speed and athleticism will certainly fit in well with Mike Bellotti's offense.

-There's word floating out there that outside of the 20 LOI's the Sun Devils have received, there's still one player that they're waiting on a decision from. It's a feeling eerily reminiscent of the one we had while waiting for Omar Bolden to commit. Methinks this has to do with WR Randall Carroll, who still as of this second has not signed on the dotted line to his verbal commitment, USC.

-Out of all the commitments received today, Dean DeLeone, LeQuan Lewis, Brock Osweiler and Matt Tucker are all eligible for Spring Practice.

And It's Finally Official

Short and sweet:

Vontaze Burfict is a Sun Devil.

Jeff Metcalfe of the Arizona Republic says he has signed.

Te'o Shuns USC

In what is apparently coming as a major surprise to many national recruiting insiders (but didn't to us here at PFN, because we pretty much called it in last night's Live Chat), Hawai'i linebacker Manti Te'o just signed a LOI with Charlie Weis and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Te'o is considered the top outside linebacker available in this year's recruiting class. Vontaze Burfict is the considered the top inside linebacker.

It's easily the biggest defensive recruit that Weis has landed in South Bend in his tenure there. And it's also something we always love to see at PFN: a giant stiffarm to the face of Troy.

It might be a blessing in disguise for USC though, as we mentioned last night, Te'o is on record saying that he wants to go on his 2-year Mormon mission once he turns 19, which will certainly take him away from Notre Dame pretty much right after his freshman season.

It Has Arrived

From my family to yours, I wish you a happy and healthy National Signing Day.

Remember to celebrate responsibly and never drink and drive.

Either way, I'm working all day today, so I'll try to keep up as much as possible with today's exploits, but I'll certainly come through with an update on ASU's class tonight after Dennis Erickson has his press conference at 4:30 PM.

The kids were obviously keeping an eye on today are Burfict, NorCal stud receiver Dionte Jackson (who has ASU in his final three after giving a soft verbal to Colorado) and WR Randall Carroll out of Los Angeles.

Until this afternoon, I'll tide you over here at PFN with some highlights of five-star linebacker Vontaze Burfict out of Corona, CA. We reported last night that he has committed to ASU after telling USC to buzz off.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

PFN Live Chat #1

And away we go. At 6:00, the floodgates open. If you've got a question, submit it in the box below. I'll make my best effort to answer any questions you've got. If all you've got is a pithy comment, send it too and I'll post it up.


The worst kept secret in West Coast recruiting finally is apparently official.

Michael Becker of the Riverside Press-Enterprise just reported that All-American linebacker Vontaze Burfict has chosen to play at Arizona State. He'll make the official announcement tomorrow.

According to Becker, a representative of Burfict called USC earlier today and informed the football office of his decision.

A lot of this decision will end up being due to academics, as Burfict's eligibility will without a doubt be called into question in the coming months.

Let's talk more about it. Live chat in 50 minutes. Be there.

Condi says No Thanks

In a random sidebar to today's ASU news (and tonight's LIVE BLOG/CHAT at 6:00 PM), we bring you the latest in Condoleezza Rice's post-cabinet career search.

GWB's Secretary of State, who has been linked to jobs in college football and even as a possible commissioner of the National Football League, was apparently a candidate to be outgoing Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen's successor.

Now, the Seattle Times says that it's not going to happen. Instead, Rice will become a teacher at Stanford University.

Hansen will retire on July 1 after 26 years (drunk) at the wheel of the Pacific-10 Conference, and it's going to take a strong willed commish to succeed Tom and fix some of the inane decisions he's made while at the helm.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Night Bits & Pieces

-Whatever confidence in LA that is left about Vontaze Burfict keeping his soft verbal commitment to Southern Cal has pretty much completely waned. Most of it, as expected, is related to the fact that Burfict's academics will prevent him from even being granted admission to USC, regardless of whether or not he's a five-star recruit. In his blog today, Scott Wolf says...

"I'd say it's about 70-30 in favor of ASU right now...he's worried about admission to USC...but there is a special admit program...so I'm not sure he's thinking clearly and might just be listening to his Centennial buddies at ASU."

Of course, the "Centennial buddies" he refers to are RB Ryan Bass, LB Shelley Lyons and LB Brandon Magee, who all also went to Centennial High School in Corona, CA. (Fun fact: OL Zach Schlink also went to Centennial...the one in Peoria, AZ though)

-Speaking of Los Angeles, the Trojans are the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to players getting invited to the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine. They're sending 12 of their players to Indianapolis for America's most glorified physical. The Sun Devils are sending four seniors to the combine: QB Rudy Carpenter, SS Troy Nolan, LB Morris Wooten and OG Paul Fanaika.

In my humble and usually accurate opinion, I think Fanaika and Nolan have the most pro upside and probably will be the only Sun Devils drafted this year. Fanaika's footwork and size make him appealing to scouts while Nolan's (usually) sure hands and good field awareness could make him a player at the pro level.

I'm slightly surprised that Mike Jones didn't get invited.

Here's a list of Pac-10 players making the trip with the players in italic being my pick as the team's best chances to make an impact in the NFL:

Arizona (2): WR Mike Thomas, OT Eben Britton
Arizona State (4): QB Rudy Carpenter, OG Paul Fanaika, LB Morris Wooten, SS Troy Nolan
California (6): TE Cameron Morrah, C Alex Mack, ILB Anthony Felder, ILB Worrell Williams, OLB Zach Follett, DE Rulon Davis
Oregon (7): WR Jaison Williams, RB Jeremiah Johnson, OT Fenuki Tupou, C Max Unger, DT Sonny Harris, CB Jarius Byrd, SS Patrick Chung
Oregon State (5): WR Sammie Stroughter, OT Andy Levitre, DE Victor Strong-Butler, CB Brandon Hughes, CB Keenan Lewis
Stanford (4): RB Anthony Kimble, C Alex Fletcher, DE Pannel Egboh, CB Wopamo Osaisai
UCLA (1): RB Kahlil Bell
USC (12): QB Mark Sanchez, WR Patrick Turner, DE Kyle Moore, DT Fili Moala, ILB Rey Maualuga, OLB Clay Matthews, OLB Brian Cushing, OLB Kaluka Maiava, CB Kevin Ellison, CB Josh Pinkard, CB Cary Harris, KOS David Buehler
Washington (1): C Juan Garcia
Washington State (1): WR Brandon Gibson

Just for the record, USC is sending as many outside linebackers as ASU is sending players. Ouch.

-ASU track and field coaching legend Senon "Baldy" Castillo passed away Saturday at the age of 89. Castillo coached the men's team to the 1977 NCAA title and has a yearly meet, the Baldy Castillo Invitational, named after him. 

-Dennis Erickson and the Sun Devils will hold their annual National Signing Day press conference on Wednesday at 4:30.

A 24-Hour Reminder

The Weekend from Hell

SHAMLESS PLUG: Don't forget about tomorrow's PFN Live Chat, 6:00 PM right here at PitchforkNation.com. Be there!

The good news for Arizona State, at least today, is that Justin Dentmon left Tempe on Saturday night and he's never coming back.

The bad news is that, barring their early departures, Isaiah Thomas and Klay Thompson will be back. Three more times each.

An 84-71 loss on Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena sunk the Sun Devils today from 14th in the nation to nearly out of the rankings. Our beloved Sun Devils now sit at #24 and #23 in the two major college basketball polls and most likely now sit about one loss away from the dreaded "receiving votes" category.

This weekend of basketball was an unmitigated disaster for Arizona State. It was disastrous for several reasons:

1) It resulted in a horrendous shift in the Pac-10 Standings. With UCLA's sweep of the Bay Area, they and Washington now sit tied atop the standings, two full games ahead of Arizona State. USC also manhandled California on Saturday night, moving them to 6-3. The Golden Bears and Sun Devils, both victims of an 0-for this weekend, are tied for 4th at 5-4...Cal of course having the tie-breaker with their head-to-head win...and both now sitting just one game ahead of the Arizona Wildcats. Speaking of the Cats...

2) The Devils lost to two teams that the Arizona Wildcats absolutely rolled. Washington's disgusting defense let the 'Cats put up 106 points on Thursday night. Two days later, Arizona trapped and pressured Washington State into mistake after mistake in the 2nd half as the Wildcats built up a double-digit lead midway through the 2nd half. They used this pressure to neutralize Klay Thompson; in effect, they did what the Devils should have been doing.

3) The Devils matchup zone is now in a state of disrespect. Tony Bennett said it himself after the game on Thursday: why should his Cougars run anything else other than perimeter shots from their outside gunners when he KNEW Arizona State wasn't able to throw anything at them defensively other than their zone? Complete defensive breakdowns in back to back games don't impress the Selection Committee. It then all happened again on Saturday when Dentmon and Thomas found themselves wide open nearly every time they wanted to take a long range shot. The Sun Devils looked tired, confused and frustrated throughout their loss to Washington...a foreign concept to me seeing as that even two years ago, when the Devils were the worst team in the Pac-10, that team even ran the zone better than this team did on Saturday.

4) Arizona State now only currently holds tiebreakers with one team ahead of them...and that's UCLA, who seems primed to take advantage of this ASU meltdown and start to run away with the conference again. The Devils have now lost to Washington, USC and California in the first go around, and if the Devils can't take advantage of their rematch, ASU will find itself in a very unfortunate situation if conference play continues to be as tight as it is right now.

5) Rihards Kuksiks' production has dropped from slim to none. You could tell early on in the WSU game that Rik has lost a ton of confidence in his long range shooting. When our favorite Latvian is not clicking, his shooting motion clearly changes. It goes from a quick, confident release to a slow, deliberative motion. To me, it gives him too much time to think about the shot, and it's what we saw out of him early in his career when I said, on this site, that I thought Kuksiks would be a transfer candidate. The goal is clear for Kuksiks: stop thinking and the shots will fall.

It's now or never for the Sun Devils. There are nine regular season games left for the Sun Devils and five of them are at Wells Fargo Arena. The two games coming up for the Devils in Oregon are, in my mind, must wins.

These games against Oregon State, who the Devils completely smoked last month, and 0-9 Oregon will give them chances to work out these kinks. The games could not be coming at a better time for a team whose confidence is obviously teetering on the brink. And they'd better get it in gear in those games, because visits from UCLA and USC the week after won't give them any chance to try and recover.

SHAMELESS PLUG (again): Let's talk about all of this more tomorrow in the Live Chat, right here at PitchforkNation.com at 6:00 PM.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Decision Saturday Looming in Pac-10

Welcome to the most important Saturday of the Pac-10 season.

By the end of today, all 10 teams in the conference will have played, and around 11:30 PM, we're all going to have a much clearer picture of what's going to happen through the rest of the conference season.

It's very rare that every single game on a conference schedule on any given day carries some sort of actual meaning, and as I perused game previews and trends this morning, it's pretty clear to me that Saturday, January 31 is going to be a pivotal one in the Pacific-10.

The day starts in the Old Pueblo 40 minutes from now as Washington State takes on Arizona on CBS at 11. Both of these teams are coming off upset wins on Thursday; WSU obviously taking down the Sun Devils while the UofA hung 106 on frontrunning Washington. With each team under .500 in conference play and hovering in the bottom half of the standings, this will prove to be a bubble buster for each team's fledgling chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament. A loss for each could prove to be disastrous in the long run. 

At 1:30, the Bruins hope for a home court sweep of the Bay Area as Stanford faces UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on ABC. After heartrending losses at home to Arizona State and on the road in Seattle (where the Bruins are as successful as the kid with braces on prom night). UCLA grabbed a convincing win on Thursday over streaking Cal. Combined with Washington and ASU's losses on Thursday, a win here for the Bruins throw them right back in the race for 1st in the Pac-10. As for Stanford, they've lost four of six since their 11-2 start and desperately need a win on the road today to try and right the ship before the season is lost.

Of course, then we have the big one. Washington visits Arizona State in a battle of 1st and 2nd in the conference. We all know what the stakes are for ASU...there's a huge difference at the halfway point between 6-3 and 5-4. A win also puts them at least into a tie with UCLA for 1st in the conference as well. There's also the necessity to get up off the mat after getting flattened and stomped on by Wazzou on Thursday. For Washington, today is another chance for them to prove they actually do belong in the upper echelon of the conference. It's certain that no one expected the Huskies to be this much of a contender at this point in the season and for that matter, still have their doubters. A win over the Sun Devils on the road will go a long way to cementing them as a serious threat.

In the game with the least bearing yet is still interesting for some reason, Oregon goes to Oregon State at 5:30. Oregon is dreadful and a loss today drops them to 0-9 to start Pac-10 play for the first time since 1992-93 (Fun Fact: Antoine Stoudamire, a cousin ofperennial dumbass Damon Stoudamire, started for Oregon in that miserable year). However, they've won four straight in the Civil War series, so they've got that going for them, which is nice. For the Beavers, they've already surprised everyone by actually winning basketball games this year against teams that arent Cal State Bakersfield and have a chance in finishing the first half of their schedule with a respectable 4-5 record. Nice job, Barack's half-brother!

Finally, the nightcap sees two bubble teams duke it out as California plays USC at the Galen Center. USC barely eked out a win over tenacious Stanford on Thursday night and a win would convince me (if no one else) that they're a legit tournament bid contender. They could also certainly use the win for their record as well; the second half of their schedule includes road games at UCLA, Arizona, ASU, Washington and Washington State. California has been a great story so far this year and a win today puts them certainly in the top four of the conference for the rest of the season.

As for me, I'm pulling doubleheader duty today, as I'll be taking in Washington/ASU at Wells Fargo Arena and then gunning Herbie halfway to Los Angeles to catch America's sweetheart Jochen Hecht and the Buffalo Sabres take on the Phoenix Coyotes. If I'm not too tired tonight, I'll have a recap of today's action tonight.

If I'm deleriously tired, you might end up with a Sabres/Coyotes recap. Either way, prepare yourself for both.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Scott Wolf things Vontaze is gone

Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News is one of the most consistent, fair and accurate USC reporters in Los Angeles. If you don't read his blog, you're missing a ton of great information about the Pac-10.

With that said, I just made my daily stop at his blog and he just gave his update on his confidence level on USC's soft verbal commits.

Needless to say, he's not very enthused about Vontaze Burfict's chances to go to USC.

Out of a very creative (yet odd) ranking system, he gave Burfict "one Euro" out of four on his scale...four Euros means that their LOI is pretty much in the mail.

Says a lot about how much the USC community feels about Burfict being a Trojan anymore.

LA Daily News - Inside USC

No Surprises Here: Hall to UA

If this takes you by surprise, keep walking.

Adam Hall, the stud Mr. Everything from Tucson Palo Verde High School, committed to the University of Arizona, where his dad starred in almost 30 years ago.

Hall scored 38 touchdowns last year on offense, defense and special teams as he saw action everywhere; it's unknown now where coach Mike Stoops will utilize him.

Wherever he's utilized, though, he's sure to most likely be a beast.

More info right here, including video, from our buddy Eric Hess at the Arizona Daily Star.

Still waiting on official word from Vontaze Burfict, however, I have a very strong gut feeling that he'll be committing to Arizona State sooner rather than later. Just a hunch. A strong hunch.

The 1st Ever PFN Live Chat

We're rapidly expanding. Check out the podcast later today for an exciting announcement.

To sweeten the deal, I'm announcing a new feature right now.

Since we'll all be suffering from a Super Bowl hangover next week, I figure we're all going to need an outlet since the focus of all of us will be on (of course) ASU.

So next Tuesday at 6:00 PM we'll be hosting the first ever Pitchfork Nation live chat. I'll moderate and take your questions, but for the most part, I'll sit back and let you loyal readers duke it out and have a tremendous discussion on all things ASU.

I hope you'll join up on Tuesday night. See you there!

This Is What Happens.

When you take a step back and really think about the reasons that #14 Arizona State fell and fell hard to Washington State 65-55 at home last night, the reasons it happened become crystal clear.

There's no sugar coating anything that happened last night. It was an ugly game played by two teams in which it seemed like at times neither squad wanted to actually win.

In the end, it was freshman Klay Thompson that defeated the Sun Devils.

Every time ASU has lost or almost lost, I find myself constantly telling other people "This is what happens when..."

Being a top 25 team carries a lot of responsibility in college basketball. It's not like football where, for the most part, the teams within the rankings stay the same yet fluctuate in their order from week to week. In basketball, two bad losses and two wins by another team can bounce you to the receiving votes category.

Consistent top 25 teams in this game have one thing in common: they do all the little things right. Teams that stay in the rankings don't often make the same little mistakes over and over again and expect them to just remedy themselves.

Last night, every single one of those things that have plagued the Sun Devils caught up to them.

This is what happens when...ASU misses from long range. The usually surehanded Rihards Kuksiks is 3 of his last 20 from outside the arc. It's becoming increasingly clear that Ty Abbott can only consistently hit treys against California. The Devils went 4-for-17 from 3-point land in the 2nd half alone, including a five minute stretch where they missed seven consecutive long shots. At the start of that drought, ASU was up 43-41. By the time Jamelle McMillan missed the 7th in a row, the Devils were down by 8. This was the kind of game where, apparently, ASU was going to live and die by the long range shot and, thanks to 18 bricks, they died.

This is what happens when...ASU doesn't hit free throws. We've griped all season about the Devils missing foul shots, and while the seven misses from the charity stripe wouldn't have made an ultimate change on the final score, making a few of those would have certainly made a difference between it being a nine point deficit late and being, maybe, a 3 or 4 point gap. That changes the entire late game strategy of defense and intentional fouling.

This is what happens when...the matchup zone fails. We all know that the ultimate strength of running any zone defense is to take away a team's offensive inside threat and forces them to take a lot of low percentage shots from outside. Well, what are you going to do when Klay Thompson is 7-for-7 from three point range midway through the 2nd half? Maybe...I don't know...put a MAN on him? After the game, WSU head coach Tony Bennett told the media that there was no reason to expect ASU to change their strategy because he knew Herb Sendek wouldn't deviate from the zone.

As clean and pretty as watching Thompson's stroke was, with every shot he nailed, my frustration grew. He seemed to find himself wide open for at least 5 to 10 seconds on every possession with nary a defensive soul near him. His first miss was a long, uncontested airball. His other miss was an uncontested baseline shot that rimmed out. Every single one of Thompson's threes was uncontested. On a singular possession with about 12:30 left in the 2nd half, it seemed to me that ASU was trying to switch into a man-to-man look to try and contain the hot shooter. When Jamelle McMillan and Jeff Pendergraph tried to execute a switch, they ran into each other and kind of looked at each other for long enough for me to comment, "Are they just going to keep staring?" Luckily, Aron Baynes missed a jumper on that possession.

There has to be something done about this inability to adapt the defensive strategy when an opponent shoots as well as Washington State did last night. The Devils have now been burned more than once by this and it makes for a short run in March if they can't find a way to defend a hot shooter from outside the arc.

This is what happens when...mental mistakes rear their head. I already discussed the defensive lapse that allowed McMillan and Pendergraph to collide. The one other mental mistake that really bothered me occured late in the game while ASU was fouling. With the game still somewhat in reach for the Devils and Aron Baynes, a 77% free throw shooter, at the line, the Sun Devils took a sloppy, lazy lane violation after Baynes missed the front end of a one-and-one. Baynes then sank the next two. That's inexcusable. In situations like that, that can't happen. It doesn't need much more explanation.

Despite all of this, they have to put it behind them, because there's an angry Washington team who just had 100+ points smacked on them by Arizona heading up I-10 and desperate for a win of their own.

A win pulls ASU even at the top of the Pac-10 standings.

A loss puts them two critical games back.

Most important game of the season on Saturday? You bet.

Shameless plug: Look out this afternoon for a new Pitchfork Podcast.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A March Bidding War

If you haven't noticed yet, it's January 29.

Long past the date when America should put on their bracketeer hats.

There are three times in every calendar year where pundits obsess over how many teams from each conference will get into the NCAA Tournament. These are during the release of preseason polls, near the midseason of conference seasons and the morning of Selection Sunday, when more or less the field is set save the official champions of the ACC and the Big XII.

And having the strange, wandering mind I have, while watching Mike Tomlin and Ken Whisenhunt have their press conferences this morning three days removed from Super Bowl XLIII, all I could do was read and reread standings and RPI rankings this morning and try and figure out conference bid totals.

Obviously here at PFN, we've got a very small, almost unnoticable bias toward the Pac-10.

(About as unnoticable as a kick to the crotch.)

But in the interest of full disclosure and honesty, anyone who has watched any Pac-10 basketball this season can easily tell that the strength of the conference is way down compared to previous seasons. We've seen every team in this conference look great and awful at least once this season...except for Oregon...we've seen nothing but concentrated garbage coming from Mac Court this season. On that note, I don't think anyone actually expected Washington to be King of the Hill at this point, nor did anyone really expect Arizona to be 2-5. And then there's Oregon State, which made the Bay Area schools look as easy as Sunday morning a few weeks back.

Let's be realistic here though. Oregon State is not going to make the Tourney. Neither is Arizona. Washington State needs to kick their offense into gear while Stanford has cooled off dramatically after their surprising start.

So that leaves five teams that are going to probably go through the rest of this conference season that will be competing for spots in March Madness: Washington, ASU, California, UCLA and USC.

With that, you have to take a look at the other power conferences (and some of my favorite Mid-Majors) to see how many "locks" they'll have and other teams that will try to muscle their way in. That will definitely have a major impact on how many teams the weakened Pac will send to the dance. Let's go conference by conference:

ACC: Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Clemson are locks right now. You've got upset-minded Virginia Tech, Boston College, always-a-bridesmaid Florida State and Miami still hanging around as well. Let's be realistic and say that the Hokies and Hurricanes muscle their way in, giving them 6 bids.

Big East: There's a reason I call this behemoth the lumbering giant. Marquette, Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Providence and Syracuse look pretty nice right now with their resume and RPI rankings. On the bubble and teetering toward being in are Georgetown, Notre Dame and Villanova. On the bubble precariously are West Virginia and Cincinnati. I have a nagging feeling this conference will get 9 bids.

Big XII: Oklahoma is awesome. Kansas, Texas and Baylor are all but in. Texas A&M, Missouri and Oklahoma State need some big wins down the stretch to beef up their resumes. Beyond any other conference, the Big XII has the clearest distinction between the top and bottom, making it easier to distinguish who is for real and who isn't. It's realistic to say that this conference will get 5 bids.

Big Ten: Like the Pac-10, I haven't seen one team emerge as this conference's dominant leader. Michigan State looks great one night and loses to Northwestern the next. Purdue hasn't been wowing the nation like we expected. And Penn State...PENN STATE...is over .500 after eight conference game, something I'm pretty sure hasn't happened since America kept cool with Coolidge. MSU, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota look nice right now and I can't make a case for anyone else right now, leaving the Elite 11 with 4 bids.

Other conferences: The WCC could send three (Gonzaga, Saint Mary's and San Diego), St. Joseph's, Xavier and Dayton are strong out of the A-14, Northeastern, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason are all legit out of the Colonial, the Missouri Valley could find themselves with three or four again and the Mountain West and WAC each could send two.

Which leads us to the conference that will help the Pac-10's case the most...

SEC: Clearly the weakest out of any power conference up to this minute. Just a year or so removed from Florida taking home back-to-back national titles, can you believe the SEC has ONE team in either of the polls (Kentucky #24 AP) and the only other team even receiving votes is the Gators? Florida and Kentucky might be the only two locks right now out, with South Carolina, Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State making less than convincing statements. Unless another one or two of those teams make a strong statement in February, the SEC might only end up with 3 bids.

Which leads us to the Pac-10. Lucky for our conference, it seems to me that the top four right now in the standings: Washington, ASU, California and UCLA, have made strong enough statements to be with USC being the only strong looking bubble team at this point.

Further strengthening the case of the Pac-10 against the SEC is the general RPI strength of the conference and their individual teams. The Pac and SEC are 5 and 6 respectively in conference strength but are separated by a wider margin than any of the other top five. Also, a sampling of the top six teams in each conference shows a glaring disparity between them:

ASU: 21
Washington: 28
California: 35
UCLA: 40
USC: 54
Stanford: 64

Tennessee: 19
Florida: 29
Kentucky: 50
South Carolina: 62
Mississippi State: 76
LSU: 80

At the top, there's clearly a similarity between Tennessee/Florida and Washington/ASU, but beyond that, the Pac-10 has an obvious edge.

Of course, this all could change tomorrow...next week...late February...but all that matters is what our situation is on Selection Sunday, and it's in the Pac-10's best interest to just keep winning.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Relaunch

As Ricky Ricardo might say to his blushing bride..."You've got some 'splaining to do."

And I guess I do too.

It's been an upward struggle to have any time in my personal life lately. Between the incredible pickup at my actual job (and I hope you've all been still listening to The Fan), some distinct changes in my personal life and some other extraneous circumstances, my beloved Pitchfork Nation has had to take a backseat for the past few weeks.

I once thought that I'd only take a hiatus from writing at PFN when the Arizona Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. That always seemed about as likely as falling into an alternate universe populated by the guys from the Take On Me video.


As I sat next to Tiki Barber and Tony Bruno at the NFC Championship Game and saw, yes, the Arizona Cardinals win the conference title and make a date for this Sunday's Super Bowl, I somehow came to a moment of clarity: the only thing that kept me sane about this entire world of covering pro sports was the fun I had in sharing the rampant thoughts of an insomniac about the Arizona State Sun Devils.

And with that, I'm back. And I promise to never ever ever ever leave you again.

The roundtable will be back. The podcast will be back. We'll have our thoughts on recruiting, next week's National Signing Day and of course everything going on with James Harden, Jeff Pendergraph and the Devils as they march toward...well...March. 

In the mean time...some random meandering thoughts to kick us back off...

-Jamelle Horne is absolutely my favorite basketball player in the whole wide world. If there's a player out there as dumb/entertaining as him, point him way was so I may fart in his general direction.

-I never had an actual inkling that stud Desert Vista recruit Devon Kennard would actually pick Arizona State over USC...not after last season. And while I wish him success on a personal level, I still hope he likes sitting on the bench with 9 others at his position that could be starting and starring at other major programs. Maybe he and Everson Griffin can sit in the dorms at SC talking about how much they don't miss Arizona, possibly even culminating with the creation of a Friends Forever collage!

-If you weren't jumping around your living room as James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph combined to pound UCLA into the ground in the 2nd half, don't ever call yourself a Sun Devils fan ever again. That was a defensive performance unlike any I've ever seen in watching college basketball and ranks easily within the top 5 moments in ASU basketball history.

-I might be absolutely convinced that the ASU women will never lose to Arizona ever again. This year's game at WFA was more of a 40 minute punch line than an actual basketball game.

-Oh, and for the record, I never get a response from Louisiana-Monroe about their schedule change that no one in Tempe actually wanted to confirm. I'm over it. However, it's certainly going to be a CAN'T MISS first two games of the season with Idaho State and the Warhawks coming into Sun Devil Stadium.

I can't wait, and I'm about as serious as a game of schpoople.

Did you expect anything else from me?

Welcome back, friends.