The Arizona State Sun Devils are not total strangers to the NCAA Tournament, but let’s just say recent visits to the Big Dance have been few and far between for the maroon and gold.
Herb Sendek’s Devils are making the school’s 14th appearance in the tourney and first since 2009. However, since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, ASU has received only five invites, including this year’s.
Here’s a look at ASU’s recent NCAA Tournament history.
Sendek’s ASU team nearly earned the automatic Pac-12 bid, but squandered a 15-point lead in a loss to USC in the conference tournament championship game. Instead, they settled for an at-large bid and a 6-seed in the South Regional, where they played 11th-seeded Temple in Miami.
ASU All-American James Harden struggled to get into a flow, hitting just 1-of-8 shots, but a couple of teammates picked up the slack. Jeff Pendergraph and Derek Glasser each scored 22 points for the Sun Devils in the 66-57 win over the Owls. It was the Devils’ 25th win of the season — the first time they’d reached that plateau in 34 years.
In the second round, ASU faced 3rd-seeded Syracuse. The Orange led by as many as 14 in the first half, forcing the Sun Devils to play catch up. With Harden still struggling, ASU fell 78-67. Eric Devendorf led five ‘Cuse players in double figures with 21 points. Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks each had 20 in the loss for ASU. Harden hit just 2-of-10 shots for 10 points in what would be his final college game.
Head coach Rob Evans’ Sun Devils earned the 10th-seed in the West Region and faced 7th-seeded Memphis, coached by John Calipari, in the first round in Oklahoma City.
Ike Diogu hit 9-of-11 from the field and paced the Devils with 22 points in an 84-71 upset win over the Tigers. Shawn Redhage had 18 and Curtis Millage had 17 for ASU, who shot 69.6 percent from the floor in the second half.
That brought up a second round matchup with 2nd-seeded Kansas, who survived a scare from Utah in the first round with a 64-61 win.
The Jayhawks toyed with the Devils in building a 16-point halftime lead and then exploded for 61 second-half points while shooting 76 percent from the field in a lopsided 108-76 win. Future NBAers Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison combined for 46 points in the win. Reserve guard Jason Braxton led the Devils with 17. The Jayhawks would go on to lose 81-78 in the NCAA Championship Game to a Syracuse team led by super freshman Carmelo Anthony.
Bill Frieder’s ASU squad earned a 5-seed in the Southeast, and started their stay in the tournament by taking on 12th-seeded Ball State. ASU led throughout and walked away with an 81-66 win over the Cardinals. Ron Riley led the Devils with 24 points while Mario Bennett added 21.
In the second round, ASU met the Manhattan Jaspers, who had pulled off an upset win over 4th-seeded Oklahoma in the first round. The Jaspers, led by future Kentucky Wildcat Heshimu Evans, actually led by four at halftime, but ASU rallied to outscore Manhattan 37-23 in the second half to win 64-54 and propel the Devils into the Sweet Sixteen. Riley and Bennett combined to hit 14-of-25 from the floor for 38 points.
Next up was a date with top-seeded Kentucky — a team coached by Rick Pitino and dripping with NBA talent: Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, Rodrick Rhodes and Antoine Walker all went on to play in the league.
The discrepancy in talent didn’t manifest itself right away, as UK led by only eight at the break. But the Wildcats’ talent was too much in the second half and they rolled to a 97-73 win. Delk went off for 26 in the victory while Riley paced the Sun Devils with 20.
In Frieder’s second year at ASU, he guided the Devils to the dance for the first time since 1981. Arizona State got an 8-seed in the Southeast and faced 9-seed Rutgers in the first round. The Devils trailed at the half, but rallied in the second half to beat the Scarlet Knights 79-76. Isaac Austin and Tarence Wheeler each had 25 points in the ASU triumph.
In the second round, ASU faced “40 Minutes of Hell” — Nolan Richardson’s Arkansas Razorbacks, who were the top seed in the region and the champions of the Southwest Conference. The first half pace of the game lived up to the billing as Arkansas led 58-54. Things slowed down in the second half, but the Razorbacks hung on for a 97-90 win. Future Phoenix Suns center Oliver Miller led Arkansas with 19. Jamal Faulkner had 29 in the loss for the Devils.
The Razorbacks would go on to the Elite Eight, where they fell to Kansas.