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ASU men's basketball's rebounding woes continue to hinder team's success

The Sun Devils have been outrebounded in all but one game this season

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ASU forwards battle for a loose ball during the Sun Devils' 68-61 loss to Colorado on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe.

After losing an 80-79 nail-biter in its most recent game to Oregon State, ASU men's basketball has now lost four consecutive games, dropping to 4-6 overall and 1-3 in conference play. 

The Sun Devils, who were ranked No. 18 in the nation in the preseason, have yet to live up to high expectations, including possibly capturing a Pac-12 championship.

While the absences of key players throughout the season, such as senior guard Remy Martin, freshman forward Marcus Bagley and sophomore forward Jalen Graham, have not helped the team overcome its struggles, ASU continues to be burdened by one persisting issue: its lack of rebounding.

The numbers 

The Sun Devils have been outrebounded in all but one game this season — their season-opening game versus Rhode Island.

Through 10 games, ASU is currently averaging 31.6 rebounds per game and allowing opponents to grab 40.6 rebounds per game, an average rebounding margin of minus nine, which is the 10th-worst mark among Division I teams.

For comparison, UA is currently averaging 41 rebounds per game while allowing just 31.1, a rebounding margin of plus 9.9, tied for ninth-best among Division I teams.

ASU head coach Bobby Hurley has noticed the team’s rebounding struggles and has emphasized improving in that area in practices. Although his team has kept games close while getting outrebounded by 10 or more, he noted that "If we are in single digits on the backboard, then we'd either have won or been highly competitive in those games."

"We were still right there with USC despite getting outrebounded by 20," Hurley said. "The Villanova game we were (minus 16). So, all these numbers don't put you in a great position to have success."

The departure of Romello White

ASU's rebounding struggles may be compounded by the departure of former forward Romello White, someone who Hurley said in a Zoom press conference in May he "anticipated being back," adding he was "a little bit blindsided by his departure."

After his final season with the Sun Devils was cut short due to COVID-19 concerns, White declared for the 2020 NBA Draft, removed his name from the draft and eventually transferred to Ole Miss.

During his time at ASU, White was a three-year starter who averaged seven rebounds per game and led the Sun Devils in offensive rebounds in each of his three seasons. In the 2019-20 season, White grabbed 8.8 rebounds per game, the second-best mark in the Pac-12.

Although it is nearly impossible to predict how White would have affected ASU's rebounding numbers this season, it is possible to look at how he has affected Ole Miss' numbers.

The Rebels are currently averaging 37.5 rebounds per game while allowing 33.5, a rebounding margin of plus four, the 90th-best margin among NCAA Division I teams.

White has certainly helped the Rebels gain that positive margin this season as he is currently ranked second on Ole Miss in rebounds per game with 5.5. However, White has struggled on the glass in recent games. White averaged 7.3 rebounds per game through his first eight games, but he has only averaged 2.8 in his last five.

Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis noticed White's regression and called for him to be more physical in January on a Zoom conference with reporters.

"He's been a great guy to coach, but he's not rebounding it like he did at Arizona State," Davis said. "Romello White needs to do better as far as being physical and dominating and closing games out. Romello's not the lone ranger on our team, either, we've got to have other guys to do that (rebound). And I think Romello's the first one to admit that he's got to rebound it better."

Guards need to aid in rebounding effort

With the departure of a true rebounding big in White, Hurley said he wants to see more of a team effort, specifically from his guards.

"When you're talking about guards that are dynamic, that are playmakers, that's not necessarily in their nature to want to instinctively rebound," Hurley said. 

Hurley praised the efforts of senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. and freshman guard Josh Christopher, who average 4.1 and 5.3 rebounds per game, respectively. But Hurley added, "If we could get somewhere close with some of the smaller guys chipping in more, I think we can close the gap" in the team's rebounding margins.

Bagley is the team's leading rebounder, averaging seven per game. Although Bagley was quick to point out the team's "small roster," he added that rebounding "isn't always about how big you are."

"I feel like we can definitely do better, we can definitely clean it up," Bagley said. "We already have a small roster and being without our starting big man, Jalen Graham, makes it even tougher on us."

Bagley is striving to become more vocal to hold his teammates accountable on the glass in the same way Hurley and other coaches have emphasized the issue in practices.

"I haven't really been a vocal guy, but I've talked to a few of the coaches and they want me to step up and use my voice a lot more," Bagley said. "Anybody can be a leader in this locker room, so it's all about holding each other accountable and being there for each other."

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