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ASU’s win over UCLA nearly locks in at-large NCAA Tournament bid

UCLA's Chris Smith, left, passes around Arizona State's Luguentz Dort during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 men's tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The Arizona State Sun Devils should see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Opening the Pac-12 Tournament with an 83-72 win over UCLA on Thursday avoided a loss to a team with a sub-100 NET rating and gave ASU its sixth win in seven games.

Bobby Hurley’s team is now 22-9 and jumped from 67th in NET rating to 63rd overnight thanks to the win, plus a few conference tournament losses by teams in the same vicinity.

Ninety-two of 119 brackets tracked by BracketMatrix.com have the Sun Devils in the NCAA Tournament, and by average, ASU is an 11 seed. By that method, they’re solidly in the fold.

Still, with conference tournaments ongoing, there’s reason for Sun Devil fans to watch with the hope that automatic-qualifier bids are won by the teams expected to win them, especially if Arizona State ends the Pac-12 Tournament on a sour note Friday night against Oregon, which is coming on strong and owns a NET of 56.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Sun Devils owning one of the last four byes, meaning they won’t have to appear in the First Four.

For now, Arizona State should find solace in an 11-5 record against teams in Quads 1 and 2.

The only thing standing out as a red flag on ASU’s resume is two Quad 4 losses. Home defeats against Princeton and Washington State were respectively curious in December and February, and they remain so now.

Only two other teams that have NET ratings in the top 100 have more than one Quad 4 loss, and they took those losses while playing many more than ASU’s eight games that fall into the Quad 4 bucket. Hofstra (74 NET) went 19-2 against poor competition, while Northeastern finished 11-3. ASU went 6-2 against Quad 4 squads.

Maybe the committee can at least see that the volatility is behind the Sun Devils.

If not and the Ducks blow past ASU, then win the tournament, the Sun Devils might need to consider the consequences. Would the selection committee feel cautious about allowing three Pac-12 teams in during one of the conference’s worst seasons in years? And how does ASU’s odd resume stack up next to Washington (24-7)?

The Huskies have a much better NET (39) but three fewer wins in Quads 1 and 2 compared to ASU. Yet they have a nearly clean record with one Quad 3 loss in 17 total games between Quads 3 and 4.

Then there’s Oregon, which is 21-12 with a much better NET. Yet the Ducks are just 5-9 against Quads 1 and 2 teams — advantage Sun Devils.

Arizona State’s two Quad 4 losses are a big reason for its lackluster NET rating. In the first year of the selection committee using the analytic measurement, it’s not known how much that will truly weigh down the big picture of the Sun Devils’ season.

All we know is that NET, which replaced the archaic RPI metric, hurts ASU significantly. According to CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, ASU would have held an RPI of 39 instead of 67 prior to the win against UCLA. Palm, by the way, has ASU appearing in a play-in game.

Barring outside forces harming the Sun Devils after games ramp up Friday morning and continue through the weekend, the Sun Devils’ two bad losses look like they will only cost them a few seeds in the Big Dance.

A win over Oregon, however, and ASU can call an NCAA Tournament bid a lock.

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