Entering the season, the ASU men's basketball team had one of the more shallow rotations in the Pac-12, relying heavily on its backcourt and freshmen. But as the season went on, the rotation has became even tighter, with fewer minutes allocated to non-starters.
Senior guard Torian Graham has chosen to look at the bright side of the situation and focused on what ASU can control: winning.
"It's good because we're all in shape and we all look forward to playing high minutes, I would think," Graham said. "We're just trying to put it together and win games, honestly. If us playing heavy minutes is what we've got to do to win games, then just take on it."
With preseason injuries and ineligibility rulings, the Sun Devils front court options were scarce. However, the stable of energetic guards was able to mitigate the damage around senior forward Obinna Oleka early in the season.
Head coach Bobby Hurley rolled out four-guard lineups to space the floor offensively in hopes of creating mismatches — especially with freshman phenom Sam Cunliffe, who was able to make a difference on both ends of the floor.
The rotation worked itself out early in the season, as five guards — Cunliffe, Graham and juniors Kodi Justice, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans — split time as part of what was, at times, an eight-man rotation.
Suddenly, in December, Cunliffe left the program, creating a hole in the lineup.
Freshman forwards Ramon Vila and Jethro Tshisumpa could not sustain consistent floor time at the start, meaning Cunliffe was on the floor over 25 minutes per game, mostly starting in what could be described as a forward role.
"The timing of it wasn't great because we had our best win of the season,'' Hurley told reporters Dec. 15. "It means that other guys have to step up and the guys that are playing and have been playing big minutes have to do even more."
With Cunliffe gone and four guards starting, junior guard Maurice O'Field was called on for more minutes to start Pac-12 play and saw time in each of ASU's first four conference games. But then he didn't travel with the team to Tucson or Los Angeles. Then he was gone.
While O'Field's numbers (0.7 points and 0.5 rebounds per game in 47 total minutes) didn't stand out, he represented another capable player that could give the starters respite – especially during the grueling Pac-12 schedule.
Following O'Field's departure and a game in which he played all 40 minutes against USC, Holder said his preparation does not change when it comes to playing more minutes.
"Get in the ice tub," Holder said. "Do a little bit of conditioning, not too much, but just to stay in shape."
Holder said practices hadn't been as long or as arduous, so it's up to the players to get the treatment needed to maintain their health while playing nearly entire games.
And that's what the Sun Devils are left with. Of the 13 players listed on the opening day roster, two are no longer with the team, two (freshmen forwards Vitaliy Shibel and Romello White) are out for the season and one (sophomore forward Andre Adams) hasn't played since before Christmas.
But with just five games remaining before the Pac-12 Tournament, ASU can't afford to hold anything back, so look for even more minutes for the Sun Devil starting five the rest of the way.
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