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Sun Devil basketball struggles with half-court offense, losing six out of seven past games

ASU basketball's reliance on their strong defense has accustomed them to fast-break offense, leaving them with a half-court offense that is still developing

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ASU graduate student forward Alonzo Gaffney (8) shoots at a game against Stanford University on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024 in Tempe. ASU lost 71-62.

Sun Devil Men's basketball seems to be riding a seesaw. Just over a month ago, the team was on its way up, and now it's on its way back down. The squad has now lost six out of the last seven games.

Part of the problem is the lack of half-court offense. ASU has developed into a defense-first team, and with this mindset, they can create looks in transition. The team is fast, bouncy and skilled in fast-break offense. But when the opposing squad gets back on defense or stops the transition offense, the Sun Devils don't seem to be very comfortable in their half-court offense.

One thing that can really help a team with half-court play is a presence in the paint — someone who can catch the ball and drag the defense down to create open shots for perimeter guys. The team can also use someone who makes the defense sag down in case he gets a look inside, which puts the man they are defending in lighter coverage.

Last year the Sun Devils had Warren Washington to help with that agenda, and now they have Shawn Phillips Jr., a sophomore center. With Washington having had more experience as a senior for ASU, and Phillips only being a sophomore with an injury for part of the season, the Sun Devils haven't had the luxury of consistency down low.

Head coach Bobby Hurley described the half-court offense as a "game-to-game" evaluation. He said that guys look for the hot hand or they pass the rock to guys who maybe haven’t had a chance at a bucket and get them going. He then went on to describe player by player what he likes to do for the half-court offense.

"For us, Frankie, Jamiya, kind of breaking guys down off the dribble, to hit the paint and make plays," Hurley said. "Adam, coming off screens looking to shoot the basketball, Jose in a variety of ways to get the ball in his hands, good things have happened for us, Zo (Alonzo) roaming and playing off those guys. I mean that's been our best offensive formula lately."

Junior guard Frankie Collins and graduate student guard Jose Perez are the team's two leading scorers.

When it comes to Collins, he usually likes to get a steal and a transition bucket, but in a half-court offense, he acts as the general. He looks to facilitate and get his guys buckets, but he also creates for himself off the dribble or pulls up from deep for a three. After the team's close loss against UCLA, Collins talked about the offense he envisions.

"I think we're being unselfish and just playing together," Collins said. "I think we understand when to play in transition and when to slow it down and run the set so that's also good."

Perez is a guy who can get out in transition but gets his most consistent buckets by backing down a smaller guard defender and hitting them with a shot fake, a step through, a spin move or even just big-bodying them to the basket. He walked through his mindset when he got the ball in that position after the team's win against USC.

"If it is a one-on-one matchup, and people are trying to get the ball out of my hand, find the open guy, and if it's one-on-one ... there's probably nobody in the country that can stay (with me) one-on-one," Perez said.

Another thing that is now somewhat essential to a complete half-court offense is a downtown presence, which ASU lacks. They currently rank No. 321 out of the 351 D1 basketball programs in 3-point percentage at 29.84%. 

Now that the Sun Devils are playing teams for the second time around, opponents know that ASU is more aggressive on defense and prefers transition, so they may put emphasis on taking care of the ball. This would force ASU into half-court sets.

Hurley said that for the half-court offense to be successful, the first step is analyzing the defensive strategy the other team is utilizing, either man-to-man or zone.

He also said that if the opposition sets up in man-to-man, they have roughly 30 different sets they could run but they only have a few sets for a zone defense. Hurley noted that they rely more on a motion offense when it comes to zone defenses. He also said that the team has been practicing attacking both defenses this week during practice.

To combat the struggle in half-court sets, they utilize defense and transition. ASU currently forces 14.18 turnovers per game, which is 55th in the D1 standings. They also rank No. 38 in steals per game as a team, led by Collins who is third in the country for average steals. Also, the Sun Devils rank No. 21 in the country in fast break points a game with an average of 14.82.

ASU now heads up to higher elevations where they will take on Colorado on Thursday and Utah on Saturday, both teams are undefeated on their home floors.

Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Alysa Horton and Caera Learmonth.

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