The Sun Devils did not lead until Rob Edwards hit a three with 2:23 left on the clock, but Bobby Hurley will not care.
That three from Edwards put No. 18 Arizona State up 76-74. After Dedric Lawson hit a pair of free throws with 1:17 left on the clock, Remy Martin answered with a jumper of his own that would go down as the game-winner, and a pair of free throws later, Hurley’s team watch the court storm happen.
The final: 80-76, the second straight season that Arizona State has knocked off Kansas.
Last year’s win was more or less what sent the Sun Devils to the NCAA tournament. If you recall, Arizona State fell off a cliff once conference play started. They finished 8-10 in league play and wound up in a play-in game. If they don’t have a win over Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, they’re not in the NCAA tournament.
And frankly, we’re heading into a situation that isn’t all that dissimilar this season.
The Pac-12 is an absolute train-wreck. Heading into Saturday’s slate, the conference was 3-30 in Quadrant 1 games. That was before Colorado lost to Indiana State, UCLA got smacked by Ohio State, Stanford lost at San Francisco and Washington State lost at home to San Diego. On Friday, Oregon lost at Baylor — a team that might finish last in the Big 12 and also won at Arizona — and Oregon State lost at home to Kent State. On Wednesday, Cal was blown out at Fresno State and UCLA lost by 29 points to a rebuilding Cincinnati team. On Tuesday, USC lost at Santa Clara. Even Arizona State suffered an ugly loss of their own, falling by 16 points at Vanderbilt on Monday.
The only day this week that wasn’t a net-negative for the league’s overall profile was on Thursday, when no on in the conference played.
The reason that non-conference performance is so important is that it raises the overall computer numbers of the conference. Think about it like this: Eight of the ten teams in the Big 12 are ranked in the top 50 on KenPom, and no one is rated below 81, which is where Oklahoma State currently sits. Every league game is going to be against a top 100 opponent. If Oklahoma State climbs into the top 75, every road win for every single team in conference play will go down as a Quadrant I win.
No one in the Pac-12 is ranked in the top 40 on KenPom. Just two teams are ranked in the top 50. Oregon State currently sits at 80th in KenPom, and they are rated as the seventh-best team in the league. If they drop below Oklahoma State, then exactly half of the Pac-12 will be worse, according to KenPom, than the worst team in the Big 12. A third of the league is ranked outside the top 100.
Put another way, while conference play is only going to make the computer profile and the resume for everyone in the Big 12 look better, there’s very little chance to make your profile look better in the Pac-12, not if you play Cal and Washington State twice. Hell, the Utah-Colorado road trip is one of the most difficult road trips in high-major basketball because of the fact that you have to play two games in a weekend at altitude. But losing at Utah will go down in the books as a bad loss this year.
That’s a nightmare scenario for the conference.
The good news is that Arizona State did their part.
The Sun Devils will be the marquee win that every bubble team in the conference is looking to land.
That’s a heavy burden to carry, which Arizona State learned last season.