FLIGHT PLAN: After Crashing in Eugene, Coach Hurley & ASU Basketball Have Two Shots at Redemption
By Peter Bouloukos,
March 2, 2019 4:40 PM

A plane is scheduled to fly from Sky Harbor to Chicago O’Hare airport.  Prior to leaving the gate, mechanics and pilots perform a variety of system checks, and the flight plan is reviewed.  After take-off, the plane hits turbulence over the Rockies and adjustments need to be made to the flight plan. The pilot makes changes in elevation and air-speed and adjusts course Southeast and then Northwest, taking a myriad of conditions and variables into account.  This happens for the entire flight, but the ultimate goal of the flight plan is to take-off and land the plane successfully.

Devoid of emotion, regardless of personal preference, this is exactly how a Basketball Coach needs to manage a game plan.


“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Going on a 5-0 tear to begin the game, ASU Basketball dominated the first one-minute and nine seconds Thursday night.  That was it, folks. Game Over. The Ducks won the next thirty-eight minutes and fifty-one seconds. The unprepared Sun Devils proceeded to get run off of one of the ugliest courts in America, the Matthew Knight Center!  

First and foremost, everyone in the NCAA knows Coach Altman brought the Zone Defense to the Pac-12!  Against the Oregon Ducks, Arizona State should have been well-prepared to attack various zone formations and do so methodically!  

The Devils possess a variety of tools in the shed to accomplish a consistent offensive attack.  Bobby Hurley’s excuse of a “cold shooting night” does not answer to the quality of offensive sets on display by the Sun Devils.

Recall against California, ASU did just enough to get by.  The Sun Devils walked into Eugene and I guess the plan was to simply show up and the win would be automatic.  Arizona State seemed to enjoy watching Oregon Freshman Louis King effortlessly drop 19 points on them.  Junior Guard Payton Pritchard toyed with the Sun Devils all night, adding 18 points on 4-7 three-point shooting. 6’9” Freshman Forward Francis Okoro grabbed ten boards, eight in the second half, as Oregon schooled Bobby Hurley’s squad.

Oregon’s Ehab Amin, who was crying on the bench in Tempe last month, aggressively came to ball finishing with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals.  The Ducks scored the first twelve points of the second half and never allowed the Sun Devils to get closer than 17 points the rest of the way.


Oregon also dominated down low going 21-36 around the rim.  They also made 9 clutch three-point shots. Arizona State (19-9; 10-6) was embarrassed by the Oregon Ducks (16-12; 7-8) on Thursday night 79-51.

Oregon held the Pac-12 Conference top scoring team to 51 points!  This was 28 points below ASU’s season average. The Sun Devil’s previous low was 65 against Vanderbilt, but this is not Karsten Golf Course and 51 points is unacceptable. Arizona State missed its first nine shots of the second half, including 5 three-pointers, and also had four turnovers before Luguentz Dort hustled for a layup with 12:54 left to go in the game.  ASU fired up 24 three-point attempts and connected on 3 of them (12%).


Fifty-One Points

The last place Dobson Mustangs were able to muster 53 points against the Mountain View Toros (#1 East Valley 6A Conference) in the last game of the season.  Dobson ran a more sophisticated offense than the Sun Devils did against Oregon. When his young guards are forcing play, Bobby Hurley does not make the necessary adjustments.  Arizona State was erratic at best, finishing with 14 turnovers, 7 assists, and a season-low 26 total rebounds!


The Good & Bad of Being Stubborn

Often people stubbornly pursue what is most comfortable to them.  They will defend methodology regardless if it repeats the same mediocre results over and over again.  The truth is, a leader should be staunch in pursuit of excellence rather than comfort!

Remy Martin (Photo, Sun Devil Athletics)

Unswerving adherence to a commitment is honorable. A Basketball Coach should be stubborn and unwavering in route to ultimate victory!  Coach Hurley should be stubborn about winning! To win, a coach must apply all weapons and tools available in response to the challenge at hand, right now, on-time, without hesitation.  Every action demands a reaction. Sounds like physics, doesn’t it? 

One paradox of leadership?  The leader needs to be both stubborn and open-minded at the same time. They must be firm with core principles fostering a culture of success. But a leader must also make constant adjustments, maneuvering left and right of center.  Arizona State University Men’s Basketball has the speed, agility, and talent to stray from a game plan when the time is right.  They can go on runs and take advantage of transition opportunities.  But Coach Hurley needs to bring them back to center as soon as the task is complete.


Coach Dana Altman’s Zone:  Basketball 101

Opportunities multiply as they are seized.  There can be no other way in basketball. Think about the analogy of flying a plane over the Rockies.  The Sun Devils never reacted to Oregon’s turbulent ever-changing “amoeba” zone. Bobby Hurley can’t blame the poor results on “ice cold shooting.”  His Sun Devils looked like an over-matched men’s league team on Thursday night.

Think of Remy Martin as a dual threat Quarterback for ASU Basketball. Fullback Luguentz Dort is running a wheel-route while Tight End Zylan Cheatham is coming across the middle.  Against the Duck’s half-court defense, the Sun Devils could have exploited their superior speed and athleticism by increasing the tempo of play to pick apart each Oregon set.  Dear God, did I just suggest the Sun Devils speed up play? You won’t hear that too often from me!

The popular catch-phrase on the Gridiron is the “Run, Pass, Option” or RPO.  Here, applying a combination of spacing, passing and dribbling would garner easy layups and open shots based on defensive movement.  The Sun Devils were not passing or cutting with any purpose against the Ducks, and they did not look well coached.

The “option” Quarterback has to learn to keep his head up, see the floor, be patient and find the open teammate with a good quick pass just before the defense traps him.  In a man press, you essentially do the same thing by attacking the middle of the floor to create angles for other players.  What ASU can’t do is stand around watching other team members dribble the ball. 

Don’t Miss Out, LUCKY DEVIL!

Often the “Tight End” can pivot, face the hoop and find the deep man wide open for the lay-up.  In these scenarios, De’Quon Lake, Kimani Lawrence, and Zylan Cheatham should have had more easy baskets against Oregon.  Coach Hurley never called a timeout to address the various looks on display by a well-coached Oregon team.

To struggle with it in the first half and then to come out doing the exact same thing in the second is the definition of “stubborn,” perhaps a sign Coach Hurley, while an elite recruiter, is not exactly an effective game manager.


Sun Devil Rob Edwards (Photo, Sun Devil Athletics)


Bobby Hurley was hit with a technical foul midway through the second half, essentially blaming the referees for his teams’ horrible performance.  Yes, Oregon was again traveling, and some calls were poor. But the reality is Oregon was out-muscling, out-hustling and at times even mocking Arizona State.

When asked about the NCAA Tournament after the game, Bobby said, “I know what wins we have in our pocket, and they’re considerably better than most who are in our position.  We’re 19-9 and that’s a really solid record and we’re well over .500 in our conference, so I think what we’ve done to this point is very good. You’ve got be playing well at this time of the year, so it’s frustrating that we had this effort, but we have another opportunity on Sunday.”

Oregon mopped the floor with Arizona State, and Coach Altman out-schemed Bobby Hurley.  Bobby’s team wins when the kids are self-motivated. You can’t show me more than a game or two where ASU’s plan of attack defined the outcome for the Sun Devils.

Coach Hurley

As far as “wins in the pocket,” ASU Basketball’s victory over Washington is less impressive today because the Huskies lost to the PAC-12’s bottom dweller, California, 73-70 (6-22; 1-15) Thursday night.  Kansas and Mississippi State have struggled more than expected in tough Conference play. Losses to Vanderbilt and Princeton hurt. Washington State was floored by Stanford 98-50 on Thursday, and Arizona State managed to lose to the Cougars by 21 points in Tempe on February 7th.  

Calling Out Bobby Hurley:

I know you are a competitor.  But you are not playing the point, Remy and Luguentz are.  You are the Coach. Your experience, knowledge, and wisdom are important to your young team.  Your Sun Devils were not “cold” against Oregon. They did not get good looks and your offensive sets rarely if ever change to provide them.  It’s too late in the season not to see progress here. You have to channel your personal tenacity and stubbornness into a winning game plan and translate it clearly to your entire team.    

“Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Sitting at 19-9, Bobby should focus on how the very talented group of kids he recruited lost each and every one of those nine games.  Opposing coaches know how to attack his weakness. Coach Hurley must respond to the embarrassing performance in Eugene with two unique game plans as ASU Basketball closes out the regular season at Oregon State tomorrow and at Arizona next Saturday.


“Appear where you are not expected.”  Against the Beavers, I would put Luguentz Dort in the post for sets and keep Zylan in the paint on both ends of the floor.  Go with Rob Edwards at the point a few times and let Remy run the baseline to open up space. Romello White needs at least 9 shot attempts a game.  Get him the rock! Regardless, switch some things up and you will catch the Beavers and the Wildcats off-balance.

On the other side of the ball, what basketball fan doesn’t love a tenacious man-to-man defense? But variations of man exist within Zone sets, and they work. Just ask Coach Dana Altman of Oregon.

We win the game before we go to war!  It takes patience, practice, and planning to win in the Pac-12 Conference.  You clearly can’t show up and expect teams to fall over and hand you a victory. Coach Hurley has to create a winning flight plan to take-off and land the plane at Oregon State and Arizona successfully. Bobby will no doubt face turbulence forcing adjustments to gameplay.  Wins in the pocket don’t matter if we fail to take care of business against the Beavers and the Wildcats.  You can bet the Tournament Committee will be watching along with all DieHard Devil Fans!  




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