ASU has history of needing Pac-12 Tournament wins in Hurley era

Mar 7, 2023, 3:41 PM | Updated: 8:38 pm

After back-to-back road losses to then-No. 4 UCLA and USC to end the regular season, Arizona State men’s basketball finished 20-11 overall and enters the Pac-12 Tournament needing to catch fire if it wants an NCAA Tournament bid.

For better or worse, this isn’t the first time ASU has entered the conference tournament as a bubble team during the Bobby Hurley era.


The context: ASU finished 20-12 overall (8-10 in conference play) and was led by guards Tra Holder (18.2 points per game) and Shannon Evans II (16.5 points per game) as the ninth seed in the Pac-12 Tournament.

Although they finished under .500 against their Pac-12 foes, the Sun Devils’ season highlights for a possible NCAA Tournament bid came from a 102-86 win over Xavier (No. 15 at the time) in Las Vegas and a historical 80-76 road win over Kansas (No. 2 in the country at the time).

What they needed to do to get into the tournament: ASU matched up against No. 8 Colorado in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, and any run in the Pac-12 Tournament would have propelled its chances of making the Big Dance.

What they did: After losing 97-85 to Colorado in the first round, an NCAA Tournament bid was in major jeopardy. But despite the first-round exit, ASU’s strength of schedule and big wins over Xavier, Kansas, Utah, USC, UCLA and San Diego State earned the Sun Devils their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2014.

ASU was selected as a No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region to face fellow No. 11 seed Syracuse in the First Four. ASU’s March Madness run was short-lived, though, losing to Syracuse 60-56.


The context: ASU improved from the season prior, led by highly regarded freshman guard Lu Dort (16.1 points per game) and sophomore guard Remy Martin (12.9 points per game).

The Sun Devils finished with an overall record of 21-9 (12-6 in conference play) and the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. ASU went 11-6 against teams in Quadrants 1 and 2, with the Sun Devils highlight wins coming against then-No. 15 Mississippi State in Vegas and an 80-76 win at home against then-No. 1 Kansas — one of the biggest wins in program history.

What they needed to do to get into the tournament: With an impressive conference record and huge wins in the regular season, ASU didn’t have much more to prove in order to get into the tournament. After a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, ASU had a chance to nearly lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament with any Pac-12 win.

What they did: In their first Pac-12 Tournament game, the Sun Devils beat No. 7 UCLA 83-72 in the quarterfinals but followed it up with a 79-75 overtime loss to No. 6 Oregon — who went on to win the Pac-12 Tournament — in the semifinals. ASU earned another spot in the First Four against No. 11 seed St. John’s.

ASU got past the First Four this time, beating St. John’s 74-65 and giving Hurley his first tournament win with the program. In the Round of 64, the Sun Devils lost to No. 6 Buffalo 91-74.


The context: It was another highly competitive season for the Sun Devils, who finished 20-11 and 11-7 in conference play with strong showings from Martin (who jumped to 19.1 points per game) and junior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. (14.6 points per game). ASU landed the No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament and another first-round bye. The Sun Devils had five wins over Quad 1 teams and four wins over Quad 2 teams, without suffering a loss to any Quad 3 or 4 teams.

What they needed to do to get in the tournament: With consistent conference play and key wins against Quad 1 and 2 teams, getting into the tournament for a third-straight season seemed promising, unless outside factors took place.

What they did: This was the COVID-19 year. ASU would have played Washington State in the quarterfinals after the Cougars beat Colorado on March 11, 2020, in a first-round game. But on the following morning, its game and the rest of the Pac-12 Tournament was officially canceled.


The context: Fast-forward to this season, ASU had a rebound year after finishing under .500 in 2021-22, ending with a 11-9 conference record after taking advantage of the transfer portal with Desmond Cambridge Jr., Frankie Collins and Warren Washington among those entering the fold. The Sun Devils will be the No. 6 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament this year and will tip off against No. 11 Oregon State on Wednesday.

Their season highlight happened down in Tucson on Feb. 25, when Cambridge Jr. hit a half-court buzzer-beater to upset No. 8 Arizona, 89-88. Some other big wins came against then-No. 20 Michigan in Brooklyn and road wins against non-conference foes VCU and Creighton.

What they needed to do to get in the tournament: ASU’s path won’t be nearly as clear as some previous years, as it may need more Quad 1 wins via a run in the Pac-12 Tournament to make it to the dance.

In order to get two more Quad 1 wins, ASU needs to beat Oregon State on Wednesday, USC in the quarterfinals on Thursday and Arizona (if the Wildcats advance) in the semifinals on Friday. At the very least, wins against Oregon State and USC seem to be a must if ASU wants a chance at making the NCAA Tournament this year.

ASU and OSU tip off at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN 620 AM  and 98.7 FM HD-2.


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