ARIZONA STATE BASKETBALL

Hurley: Arizona State basketball strives to be a Cinderella in March

Mar 7, 2024, 7:47 AM | Updated: 8:55 am

TEMPE — Head coach Bobby Hurley said that Arizona State men’s basketball is not in position to talk NCCA Tournament bids ahead of the team’s Los Angeles road trip for its final week of the regular season. However, the last Pac-12 Tournament is the Sun Devils’ only ticket into the Big Dance.

“It’s more exciting to be in the NCAA Tournament talk and knowing that there is so much to play for,” Hurley said. “That’s why the conference tournaments provide you with the opportunity to know that there’s still hope.”

Arizona State sits at 14-15 this season and 8-10 in Pac-12 play. It’s 1-8 versus Quad 1 teams and ranked 125th in the 2024 NET Rankings.

With this being the case, the Sun Devils have set their sights on becoming one of college basketball’s Cinderella stories this month.

“There’s always a Cinderella story, there’s a great story somewhere,” Hurley said. “We don’t know whose story that is going to be, so that’s the goal for us.”

These next two games aren’t throwaways with the postseason in mind. If the Pac-12 Tournament is the Sun Devils’ only path to March madness, seeding is crucial.

Depending on what happens in these final two games, the Sun Devils can enter Las Vegas as high as the fifth seed or as low as the 11th. The Sun Devils face USC (12-17) and UCLA (14-15) this weekend to end their final regular season in the Pac-12.

“There’s a lot up in the air right now. This week is critical in terms of what your matchups are going to be like in Vegas,” Hurley said.

It will be the last time Arizona State plays in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future, with the move to the Big 12 taking place next season.

Arizona State downed the Trojans earlier in the season, 82-67. But USC was without its two top scorers, Isaiah Collier and Boogie Ellis. Collier leads the team in points per game with 17, while Ellis is right behind at 16.6.

Collier, a projected first-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft, scored 31 points in the Trojans’ 82-75 win over Washington last Saturday.

“USC is playing very well right now. They got healthy,” Hurley said. “They’re a much different team than the first time we played. Collier is playing at a very high level. He’s one of the best freshmen in the country, and that’s why he is projected to be a top-10 pick.”

Arizona State plays UCLA on Saturday and has a chance to avenge itself after blowing a 15-point point lead against the Bruins in a 68-66 loss on Jan. 17.

Freshman Sebastian Mack leads UCLA in scoring with 12.8 points per game, while big man Adem Bona is one of the Pac-12’s best rim protectors for the second year in a row.

Hurley said that the Sun Devils need to play great defense against the Bruins — and for the rest of the season — to have a chance to compete for a conference title. He used Arizona State’s 71-63 win over No. 19 Washington State on Feb. 24 as an example.

For the Sun Devils, it’s Pac-12 championship or bust.

“It’s either all or nothing,” Hurley said. “Hopefully, we’ll use this week to get refreshed mentally and physically so that we can try to make the biggest push we can next week.”

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