Pac-12 preview: Arizona State University

This is the eighth in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

After an unexpectedly good season last year, Arizona State forages into unknown territory in 2016-2017.

Three starters are gone in Katie Hempen, Arnecia Hawkins and Elisha Davis (9.3, 8.9 and 8.4 points per game, respectively), which was the Sun Devils’ back court. Several reserve players also graduated, opening up spots for the five freshmen on this year’s roster.

The good news for ASU is that top scorer Sophie Brunner (10.7 points, 7.4 rebounds per game), a senior forward, and senior center Quinn Dornstauder (9.7 points, 4.5 rebounds per game) are back, as is key reserve Kelsey Moos, a senior forward. Sara Hattis, a graduate transfer forward from Texas, will also play this season.

But with no juniors and four sophomores, the Sun Devils’ polarized mixture of older and newer players makes it unlikely they will duplicate last year’s tie for first place in Pac-12 regular-season standings and top 10 ranking. Coach Charli Turner Thorne, entering her 20th season, said this year’s team is figuring out how to work together.

“We have incredible senior leadership with Kelsey and Sophie, and with Quinn Dornstauder,” she said. “We have this amazing experienced front line to go with all of our babies in the back court. So I will say, our babies in the back court are really, really good. Incredibly talented. So we just have a great combination of just youth and experience.”

ASU fell early in the conference tournament last spring, and then made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Moos said that loss made them want to play again right away.

“I think that was one of our main motivations going into the off-season,” she said. “That was our drive. As soon as we ended that game, we were instantly hungry for this year, and we knew we wanted more in this season.”

The freshmen include guards Sydney Goodson, Relli Richardson, Kiara Russell and Robbi Ryan, as well as forward Jamie Ruden. They are all competing for spots.

“In terms of on the court, it’s coming. It’s coming,” Turner Thorne said. “I think…the veterans are helping the young players. But the young players – Reili Richardson, Kiki Russell – those are probably our two leading candidates (for starting positions). One of them as our starting point guard.”

“They have some incredible strengths and we’re feeling very confident about them developing. Robbi Ryan really, really dynamic guard. Of course we’ve got Sabrina Haines returning. I think that core group in and of itself is really coming along.”

The Sun Devils’ youth doesn’t mean they’re shying away from a strong preconfernce schedule: they take on Maryland, St. John’s, Kentucky and Middle Tennessee before opening Pac-12 play Dec. 30 at Stanford.