ASU men’s hoops can still make NCAA tourney with Pac-12 Tournament run

Mar 6, 2023, 5:38 PM | Updated: 6:19 pm
Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley after a 75-70 loss to Oregon at Desert Financial Arena in Tem...
Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley after a 75-70 loss to Oregon at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, Ariz., on Feb. 4, 2023. (Arizona Sports/Jeremy Schnell)
(Arizona Sports/Jeremy Schnell)

The Arizona State men’s basketball team is on a two-game losing streak for the third time this season.

The longest losing streak the Sun Devils faced this year was a four-game skid, which was snapped after completing the season sweep over the Oregon State Beavers (11-20, 5-15 in Pac-12).

So with back-to-back losses to the Los Angeles schools this past weekend, perhaps head coach Bobby Hurley and Co. are looking forward to a matchup with No. 11 seed OSU in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday in Las Vegas to keep ASU’s NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

Aside from the obvious automatic bid awarded to the conference tourney winner, Arizona State still has a legitimate chance at going to the Big Dance if it can make a run.

So what exactly does a run entail?

Put simply, ASU most likely has to make the championship game of the Pac-12 Tournament, which would give the Sun Devils two more Quad 1 wins, assuming the No. 2 seed Arizona Wildcats (AP No. 8) are who await them in the semifinals on Friday.

In order for Arizona State to get to those two Quad 1 wins, it will first have to beat Oregon State (Quad 4) in the first round on Wednesday, followed by USC (Quad 1) in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Unfortunately for ASU, the Trojans were one of only two Pac-12 schools that the Sun Devils failed to beat in the regular season, with the other being the No. 1 seed UCLA Bruins (AP No. 2).

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, Arizona State will have to do what it has failed to do all season: find a way to keep a consistent offense to complement its stifling defense against quality opponents — and do it all in three consecutive games in as many days.

So what does that mean?

Arizona State can’t afford to go ice cold from the field in stretches the way it did against Arizona on Dec. 31, UCLA twice and USC (29.2%) this past weekend. The Sun Devils also can’t get outrebounded (47-23, 20-5 offensive) as they did against the Bruins last Thursday.

Lastly, ASU cannot have a free throw disadvantage — and the foul trouble that comes with it — of 62-20, which is the combined charity stripe attempts against Arizona despite the teams splitting the two contests 1-1.

The win over the Wildcats and competitive games against the L.A. schools will give the Sun Devils confidence that they can pull off a three-game winning streak for the fifth time this year (one three-game streak and one nine-game streak). Arizona State will also lean on its 7-6 record away from home and 3-0 mark on neutral floors this season.

And in the crazy, unpredictable world that is March tournament basketball, Arizona and/or UCLA could get upset in the earlier rounds of the Pac-12 tourney and provide an easier path to the automatic bid for the Big Dance.

Just look at what Oregon State did two years ago when it won the Pac-12 Tournament as a No. 5 seed and rode that momentum wave all the way to the Elite 8 of the 2021 NCAA Tournament after going 20-13 (10-10 in conference) during the regular season.

ASU is the No. 6 seed this year after going 20-11 overall and 11-9 in conference play.

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