Arizona State is the best story in college basketball. The Sun Devils were picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 in the preseason polls, and now sit at No. 3 in the country at 10-0. They’re one of four undefeated teams left in college basketball.
ASU again proved its might on Sunday by rallying to beat Vanderbilt, 76-64. Take a look at this shot chart:
That’s right: no mid-range shots. Everything for Arizona State is either at the rim, from three-point range, or from the foul line, where they drained 21 of 28 attempts.
Mike D’Antoni was once considered a maverick for his smallball, threes-and-layups approach. Now it’s how NBA basketball is played almost exclusively, and it’s becoming increasing popular at the college level, too. This is the secret to Bobby Hurley’s remarkable turnaround of the program as much as anything else.
Arizona State floods the floor with dynamic guards
The Sun Devils win by playing small and fast with lineups that often include four guards.
Senior Tra Holder has become an unlikely National Player of the Year candidate after dropping 40 points on Xavier and averaging a team-high 21.6 points per game. He’s paired with point guard Shannon Evans, who followed Hurley from Buffalo, and is now averaging 18.6 points and five assists per game.
Some coaches would bristle at starting two 6-foot-nothing guards in the backcourt, but it works for Arizona State because both players can create offense off the dribble, shoot from range and get to the basket. That’s just the beginning of ASU’s wave of talented guards.
Senior Kodi Justice is putting up career numbers across the board. Freshman Remy Martin broke out against Kansas by putting 21 points and five steals and the then-No. 2 team in the country. He's playing starters minutes off the bench.
The three seniors are each shooting above 40 percent from three, and Martin is at 38.5 percent from deep right now. That combination of quickness and shooting ability is the biggest reason for the Sun Devils turning into one of the country’s best offenses.
ASU’s offensive improvement under Hurley has been remarkable
In Hurley’s first year, Arizona State went 15-17 and finished No. 95 in offensive efficiency. In his second year last season, they again only won 15 games, but saw the offense jump to No. 55 in America.
Now? The Sun Devils are fifth nationally in offensive efficiency. That’s an incredible rise for a program with very little recent hoops history.
The two biggest keys are ASU’s ability to hit threes and get to the foul line. They're attempting free throws on 51.7 percent of their field goals, which ranks No. 3 in the nation according to KenPom. Last season they were only at 31.9 percent.
The shooting improvement is also unmistakable. The Sun Devils are hitting over 40 percent of their threes as a team.
All of this is a staple of D’Antoni’s offense with the Houston Rockets, who are now off to an NBA-best 24-4 start. It’s only fitting that team is led by Arizona State’s most famous alum: James Harden.