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.