A new spark was needed in Tempe.
A change of scenery and philosophy could not have been avoided after another post-season disappointment under Herb Sendek. Average play and average results ultimately defeated the former NC State head coach.
Ray Anderson ignited a university-wide revolution in athletics, and Herb Sendek was not in the ambitious ASU athletic director's good books. Bobby Hurley replaced him last April to start the new chapter of a promising basketball program that is still looking for its time.
The former Duke point guard successfully coached the University at Buffalo in a March Madness berth in two years. This sentence alone turned a lot of heads across the ASU fan base. But immediate results were not necessarily awaited, as the program was going through some rebuilding. Success takes time.
Surprisingly, expectations quickly skyrocketed after a few great non-conference wins. Arizona State tallied wins on the road against Creighton and UNLV, and defeated then-ranked #18 Texas A&M at Wells Fargo Arena to top a promising winter.
But the Sun Devils came back to reality as soon as the Pac-12 schedule kicked off. Six losses in the first seven conference games put a halt in these expectations, to remind everybody that the rebuilding process takes time.
Why such disparity? The Pac-12 is insanely competitive in 2016; it epitomizes ASU struggles, yes. But these issues always have been here and Savon Goodman personifies them.
Let's dive into the desert for some explanations.
When Savon Goodman plays good, ASU does too
Of course, teams perform better when all of their players execute at a high level. It could sound a bit naive, but the Sun Devils have shown significantly better basketball play when Goodman is dominating on the court. These are facts, not a cliché.
Remember this promising first half of the season? The 6'6'' forward led Bobby Hurley's squad on many aspects of the game. Physicality, efficiency in the paint and ultimately, winning. ASU defeated NC State and Creighton thanks to his performances on the court. Savon Goodman played his best games against two of the best non-conference teams the Sun Devils faced this year.
The junior scored 21 points (8/15) and caught 16 rebounds against the Wolfpack at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. He then carried the Sun Devils on the road at Creighton with an impressive stat line of 23 points (10/13) and 7 rebounds. In all, Goodman scored more than 8 points in every non-conference game but Kentucky and tallied three double-doubles.
But Savon Goodman's season got off tracks while ASU was getting ready to face UNLV. He ended up being away from the team for four games and came back to kick off the Pac-12 schedule against Arizona.
But he did not come back as the player he is known to be. It was a ghost on the court. Barely any positive activity, and his minutes dropped in favor of the rising ASU forward Obinna Oleka. Goodman had no impact at all on the first three conference games, and the results have been three bad losses against the Wildcats and the Los Angeles schools on the road.
His influence on ASU games since his comeback is worlds apart from his non-conference play. Poor play ensued for a month of competition until Savon Goodman provided a ray of hope this past weekend.
Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
The last weekend of competition showed in a nutshell the positives and negatives of the Sun Devils, epitomized by Savon Goodman.
Arizona State converted an impressive upset of #23 USC on Friday night as the junior forward exploded for 17 points and 6 rebounds. A couple nights later, ASU fell in the second half against a beatable UCLA squad, while Goodman impact was rather notable because of his struggles.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Bobby Hurley's unit can beat anybody with a dominant Savon Goodman on their side, but it is really hard for this team to be competitive when the Philadelphia native is out of his shoes. UCLA and USC games are the perfect example.
ASU against USC :
17/33 2-pt FG (51%), 30 pts in the paint (to USC's 42), 26 forced FTs, 15 2nd chance pts
Savon Goodman 17 points & 6 rebounds (8/10, 1/6 FT)
Nikola Jovanovic 25-15 (11/15)
ASU against UCLA :
10/30 2-pt FG (30%), 27 3-pt attempts, 18 pts in the paint (to UCLA's 32), 0 2nd chance pt
Willie Atwood 6 pts (2/8, 1-5 3pt), Eric Jacobsen 2-2 (1/3), Savon Goodman 3-7 (1/5, 1/5 FT)
Why is Savon Goodman this important for Arizona State?
He is the only one having the stature of a leader inside the paint. Without him performing at a satisfying level, ASU finds itself lacking a crucial presence under the basket. Eric Jacobsen faded into the dark under the new regime, Willie Atwood is a good role player and, while Obinna Oleka showed quick improvement, his defense still leaves a lot to be desired.
But Goodman's inconsistency shows that, as good as he can be, he is in the meantime one of the team's biggest weak links.
A screaming deficiency in the paint
Arizona State's soft spot should not come as a surprise for all the fans in Tempe. The Sun Devils have a big deficiency inside; they are undersized, under-talented, and lacks a crucial depth under the basket. In a tough Pac-12 conference with loaded teams across the league, this situation hurts even more a rebuilding squad.
Savon Goodman highlights every of these issues. Bobby Hurley puts him on the court at the center position, following the "small ball" trend in modern basketball. But most of the Pac-12 teams have a taller center at their disposal. Goodman is not a true center and is severely undersized right under the basket. Eric Jacobsen fits the same trend of a short center, and nobody else is available.
This lack of size is paired up with a shortage of players. Only four players (Atwood, Goodman, Jacobsen, Oleka) can play efficiently inside. It prevents Bobby Hurley from moderating the lack of talent in this basketball team. Indeed, Bobby Hurley still runs the Sun Devils with players from the Herb Sendek era, and talent has been missing on campus since James Harden. Once again, success takes time to come around.
Goodman and Jacobsen are not athletic enough in comparaison to today's talent in the Pac-12. They do not have the necessary toughness to score and prevent buckets in the paint. It will take a few years to reload the squad in talent and obviously, five-star recruit Thon Maker would provide a huge and invaluable help for the Sun Devils.
Savon Goodman is not the reason of Arizona State's struggles. His inconsistency only highlights what the Sun Devils fail to accomplish on the court.