Pac-12 preview: Arizona State University

This is the fourth in an annual series previewing the Pac-12 teams

This year will be telling for Arizona State, in the wake of longtime coach Charli Turner Thorne’s sabbatical during the 2011-2012 season. Last year’s team was young and inexperienced and ended up 13-18 – ninth in conference – and didn’t advance to post-season play for the first time in 14 years. Some criticized Turner Thorne’s absence, saying it hurt recruiting and continuity. With four returnees and four newcomers this season, she will try to recoup from her new beginning.

The bad news for the Sun Devils is that leading scorer Janae Fulcher (11.5 ppg) has graduated, as did fellow starter Micaela Pickens (6.5 ppg). The good news is that junior guard Promise Amukamara (8 ppg), senior center Joy Burke (7.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and senior guard Adrianne Thomas (5.3 ppg) are back, as is senior guard Deja Mann, who sat out last year after surgery on her right knee. Mann averaged 7.6 ppg two years ago.

Newcomers include forward Sophie Brunner, from Illinois; Katie Hempen, a transfer guard from SIUE; Kelsey Moos, a forward from Washington state; and center Quinn Dornstauder of Regina, Saskatchewan. Turner Thorne said Brunner and Moos could be major contributors early on, based on their performance during preseason workouts. Hempen was the 2012 Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, and is known for her shooting prowess.

ASU scored fewer than 50 points seven times last season, and Fulcher was the only player to average double-digit scoring. Clearly, the Sun Devils are in need of some offense, which is why Turner Thorne has let it be known that this year’s starting positions are up for grabs. She and her assistant coaches are looking for the best five players to fill the roles, and are focusing less on position, as the offense will be transition-based.

Another bright spot for ASU is that overall, this year’s team has more experience. Last year, the majority of the active squad were freshmen, sophomores and transfers who didn’t have Division I experience. This season there are four seniors, a junior – and a lot more confidence.

The Sun Devils will not shy away from challenges in pre-conference play, as they will take on Texas Tech, Illinois, North Carolina, Miami and Syracuse. They begin Pac-12 competition Jan. 3, at Washington State.