The Arizona State Sun Devils have not made the NCAA Tournament since 2009, but by most projections, they are set to do so once again in 2014.
The team is 18-6 with a 7-4 mark in the Pac-12, and though there is still some time left and games to be played, ASU coach Herb Sendek believes his team is good enough to go dancing in March.
“I think we have a team that if we finish the season on the path that we’re on right now, could be an NCAA Tournament team,” he told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Thursday as part of Newsmakers Week. “Having said that, I can’t remember any time in the history of college basketball there was more good teams, and I have no idea, even with the aid of a computer, how you can discern who’s in and who’s out once you get past the likes of Syracuse and Florida and a few of the just elite teams in the country.
“It is that even.”
A look at the rankings would prove Sendek’s point, and the fact that there are only two unbeaten teams left — Syracuse and Wichita State — shows how difficult getting through the entire schedule can be.
To wit: Perennial powers such as Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Michigan and Kentucky, along with defending champion Louisville, have already combined for 29 losses, yet all are looked at as teams that could cut down the nets come April.
And it’s not just the blue blood schools that make this a challenge.
“You see it across the nation every night,” Sendek added. “You see examples like Nebraska loses by 30 to Ohio State, and two weeks later Nebraska beats Ohio State. And so to pick teams, to me, it’s always been difficult. Now, it’s starting to approach impossible.”
The improvement across the country, Sendek says, is due to the traditionally non-basketball schools doing more to try and compete on the hardwood.
“Now we have 350 Division I teams and there’s enough talent that it’s very widespread,” he said. “Everybody’s putting resources into it to compete to get to the tournament.”
Sixty-eight teams will get in, and right now ASU is on track to be one of them. A victory over No. 2 Arizona Friday at Wells Fargo Arena may be enough to secure their spot.
“Not in the standings,” Sendek noted when asked if a win over the Wildcats would mean more to the Sun Devils than a win over any other team. “Perhaps in the computer (and) certainly for our fan base given the great rivalry that exists between the schools.”
But, Sendek added he does not want his team to look at Friday’s matchup as anything more than another game. The way the coach sees it, his players are trying as hard as they possibly can every night, meaning you can’t really expect any extra effort against the Wildcats.
“The one thing that I think is very dangerous, notwithstanding rivalries, is to ever insinuate to your team that one game is more important than another,” he said. “Theoretically, if we’re playing the next game, it deserves our very best, whatever that is. And so if you’re, theoretically, giving your best, then all of a sudden when your rivalry game comes up, how do you give more than your best?”