Aaron Bright, Jahii Carson

Will Saturday’s missed opportunity prove costly for Arizona State?

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Herb Sendek’s Arizona State Sun Devils have been one of college basketball’s biggest surprises, as the addition of Jahii Carson and the improvement of Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachynski has resulted in an 18-6 record (7-4 Pac-12).

But come Selection Sunday, will we look back on their 62-59 loss to Stanford on Saturday night as the missed opportunity that ultimately leads to them not making the NCAA tournament?

The Sun Devils had plenty of chances to pick up the victory against a Stanford team that limped to the finish line just as they did on Wednesday night against No. 7 Arizona, including Dwight Powell throwing an inbounds pass off the Wells Fargo Arena scoreboard with seven tenths of a second remaining.

But ASU was unable to take advantage and the end result is a weekend split (they beat California on Thursday) ahead of a tough stretch to end the regular season.

Five of Arizona State’s final seven regular season games are on the road, beginning with a trip to Utah on Wednesday, and if that doesn’t seem like a difficult game because of the Utes’ record (10-13, 2-9) think again.

Arizona State won the first meeting 55-54 in overtime, surviving three Utah attempts at the game-winner in the final seconds. The front court tandem of Jordan Loveridge and Jason Washburn can challenge ASU’s big men, with Washburn tallying 19 points, 18 rebounds and four blocked shots in the first meeting.

Following that contest they visit Colorado, and after home games against Washington State and Washington the Sun Devils finish their season at UCLA, at USC and at Arizona. While a win over Stanford wouldn’t have made waves nationally, grabbing a weekend sweep would have moved Arizona State into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 with Arizona, Oregon and UCLA.

And with a non-conference resume headlined by wins over Arkansas (who followed up their win over Florida with a loss at Vanderbilt) and Texas Tech, the Sun Devils need all the conference victories they can get to make up for a non-conference strength of schedule that is ranked 282nd nationally according to warrennolan.com.

Arizona State has work to do in these final weeks, as do a number of teams across the country, and Saturday’s defeat may have raised the stakes for the Sun Devils.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.