- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's never too early to look ahead to next season. Over the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 who could make noise on the national stage. Today: the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The idea that a connection to a fruitful coaching pipeline guarantees success has been challenged in recent years.
Some folks assumed Richard Pitino would author an immediate boon in Minnesota based on his father's work, but the Gophers missed the NCAA tournament last year. A solid recruiting class will arrive soon, though. Duke protégés Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins stumbled early at Marquette and Northwestern, respectively, but both programs are positioned to rise.
Those ties help coaches secure interviews and opportunities. But their collective value depreciates in the years that follow if they can't find a groove. The hot shot mentee of a prominent coach suddenly seems like a bust if he's still struggling after a couple of years.
All of this is important as Arizona State proceeds with Bobby Hurley, the former Duke point guard who was hired after Herb Sendek was dismissed. He can't escape the expectations. Yes, he's at Arizona State because he led Buffalo to its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in just his second season as a head coach. But he's also there because he's a splash hire. He's one of Coach K's kids. His father is a high school coaching legend. His brother, Dan, has followed a similar sideline trajectory at Rhode Island. Everybody knows Bobby Hurley.
But will any of that matter next season and beyond?
What the immediate future holds: Hurley will get some time to get comfortable. It's unfair to measure any young coach, according to his on-court success, in his first two seasons. And with the grand shadow of Arizona basketball hovering over the program, Hurley might need a three-year window. That doesn't mean he'll get that cushion, however, from the program's supporters.
But he'll begin his tenure with good news: four starters from an 18-16 (9-9 Pac-12) squad will be back for 2015-16. Shaquielle McKissic, the team's top scorer from last year, is gone. But Savon Goodman (11.2 PPG), Gerry Blakes (11.1 PPG), Eric Jacobsen (8.3 PPG) and Tra Holder (7.0 PPG) return. Obinna Oleka, who missed last season at a junior college in Maryland, is eligible immediately. If only Hurley could say the same about Buffalo transfer Shannon Evans (15.4 PPG in 2014-15) who will miss next season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Last year's Sun Devils defeated Cal twice, Arizona and UCLA. But they lacked consistency. Their defense (79th in adjusted efficiency per KenPom.com) and 66.7 percent clip from the free throw line (259th) didn't help. Hurley hasn't added enough to make anyone believe that he'll change that in his first season, even if the program follows his preferred up-tempo style.
A tough nonconference schedule that includes a true road game at Kentucky won't ease the transition.
But who really cares about 2015-16 with Hurley? He doesn't have to prove anything. He just has to establish a culture and system that facilitates success in the future. He has to overachieve in the recruiting game, which isn't easy with Big Brother drawing the region's top talent to Tucson. And most of that talent competes outside Arizona. The ESPN 100 (2015), ESPN 60 (2016) and ESPN 25 (2017) do not boast any prep players from Arizona high schools.
This is a program that has reached the NCAA tournament just five times since 1981. Hurley was summoned to Tempe to remedy that mediocrity, a feat that former ASU coaches failed to achieve.
There are more obstacles, it appears, than reasons to anticipate a major turnaround by Hurley and his staff in the near future. But he faced significant odds at Buffalo, too.
Hurley can coach. He can lead. He can recruit. He's qualified.
Those are the same qualities some of the program's former coaches had, too.
So there has to be something beyond the norm to elevate Arizona State. That's why Hurley has a Pac-12 job in just his third season as a Division I head coach. His superiors believe he possesses those intangibles.
Only time will tell.
Until then, the Sun Devils can enjoy the Curtain of Distraction.