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Up-and-down ASU could test NCAA Tournament selection committee

Arizona State guard Remy Martin (1) and Washington State guard Viont'e Daniels go after the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

When Arizona State entered the Associated Press Poll’s top-5 in the sixth week of the college basketball season, the moment was important.

As ESPN’s John Gasaway pointed out, the AP rankings are never more accurate in terms of predicting the eventual national champion until Selection Sunday rolls around in March.

But that research didn’t say much about the highly-ranked teams that didn’t end up winning it all over the last two decades.

Since the Sun Devils entered the top-5 with a road win at Kansas, they’ve gone 8-6. After holding a No. 3 ranking a week after beating the Jayhawks, Bobby Hurley’s team has tumbled out of the poll at a pace that, according to HeatCheckCBB.com’s Eli Boettger, could end with the lowest NCAA Tournament seeding for such a team in the past decade.

Arizona State is surely in the running for the lowest seed of former New Year’s top 5 teams in over a decade.

Of teams in the past decade that earned a top-5 ranking in the first post-New Year’s day poll, only the 2013-14 Ohio State squad that put together a .500 post-New Year’s record fared worse than Arizona State’s (54.5 percent) winning percentage heading into a home set with the Los Angeles schools, per Boettger.

The 2009-10 Texas Longhorns team that earned a No. 8 seed had the worst seeding of previous top-5-ranked schools over that span.

As it stands, most brackets see the Sun Devils as a No. 9 seed.

BracketMatrix.com, which uses a composite of reputable brackets across the internet, says ASU is a No. 9 seed, as does ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. He has the Sun Devils playing a No. 8 Florida squad in the round of 64.

Boettger provides some calming information to ASU fans.

The Sun Devils still rank No. 32 according to KenPom.com, which takes strength of schedule and opponent into account.

And KenPom.com also projects that ASU has a shot of finishing the year strong with home games against the top Pac-12 schools — Arizona, UCLA and USC — a road game at Oregon, plus weaker opponents like Oregon State (road), California (home) and Stanford (home) rounding out the conference slate.

Per Boettger:

Using KenPom’s win probabilities, there’s a 9.2 percent chance that Arizona State finishes the regular season without losing another game. That would propel ASU from a sub-.500 league record to 12-6, likely good enough for a top 3 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. Arizona State has dropped nearly 20 spots since the calendar flipped to 2018, but KenPom projections still project a respectable 5-2 finish for the Sun Devils.

At the end of the day, this might not be a worry.

ASU could pick up strong wins to end the season and then one or two more in the Pac-12 Tournament.

Yes, wins away from Tempe over Xavier (21-3) and Kansas (18-5) will hold weight — though the luster of beating the Jayhawks in Phog Allen Fieldhouse has been lost with two other teams since doing the same as ASU.

But if the end of the regular season goes as Arizona State’s 5-6 mark to this point in conference play, Hurley’s team will be testing the recency bias of the selection committee.

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