What I’m about to say has very little to do with the Arizona game. Sure, beating your rival whom happened to be the No. 2 team in the country 69-66 in double overtime helps. But it’s not like Arizona State coach Herb Sendek has never done that before.
In fact, he has beaten Arizona a whopping eight times in his eight years as coach of the Sun Devils. His overall record against the Wildcats is now 8-9. And let’s take into account that in the previous 25 years before Sendek got to Tempe, the Sun Devils managed a total of three wins against Arizona.
But like I said, this has little to do with that game. The reality is that in his eighth year Sendek is doing his best coaching job at Arizona State. With a record of 19-6 and 8-4 in the Pac-12, he is just one win away from his fifth 20-win season at ASU. And with one or two more victories will lock up his second trip to the NCAA Tournament since arriving.
The only time Sendek has led the Devils to the dance was in 2008-09 when a team led by James Harden won 24 games and beat Temple in the first-round of the NCAA Tourney.
A lot was expected of that team. Not much was expected of this year’s ASU squad, which was predicted to finish seventh in the conference. Yet somehow Sendek has his squad in third place in the conference and has himself getting consideration for Pac-12 Coach of the Year, an honor he won in 2009-10.
Somehow this season Sendek has blended a team that hadn’t spent much time together into a consistent winner.
Consider that Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall wasn’t with the team until August. Same for junior college transfer Shaquielle McKissic. Star point guard Jahii Carson spent most of the summer in camps while shot blocking machine Jordan Bachynski was with the Canadian National Team. A 10-day trip to China to practice and play was a good chemistry builder but the team did it without Marshall and McKissic.
Now factor in the lineup change, maybe the most significant since Sendek has been here. He sat junior forward Jonathan Gilling, who had started 71 straight games, in favor of sophomore Eric Jacobsen. The Sun Devils have won six of seven since the change.
And consider that a coach who ran a zone defense his first six years in Tempe was smart enough to play man-to-man defense to take advantage of his 7-2 shot blocker. And an offense that was known to play at a snail’s pace is running and gunning and jacking up three pointers. While teams have collapsed on Carson, Sendek has found ways to get Marshall the ball in key spots and he has thrived with late game heroics.
An old buddy of mine who did a sports talk show here for many years used to call him Herb Send Back because he didn’t think the coach was any good. And while Sendek may never change his mind, he certainly has changed the mind of any doubters with the job he has done this season. With two years left on his contract you can be certain that the soft spoken 50-year-old coach will be back next season. And rightfully so. Because this team is defying the odds and winning a lot of basketball games with Herb Sendek leading the way.