OK, so no one is actually foolish enough to pick Arizona State to win the Pac-10 Tournament. The Sun Devils finished the regular season 4-14 in conference and dead-last in the standings.
However, if you like (really) long shots, ASU might be worth a second look.
Here’s how it could happen:
ASU opens the tournament tomorrow against Oregon. They’ve beaten the eighth-ranked Ducks (7-11) twice already this season, once by five points and the second time by 10.
That takes them to the second round and probably their stiffest challenge since they would meet No. 2 UCLA, who didn’t play Wednesday. The Sun Devils, on the other hand, got rid of the first-game jitters against Oregon and should still be fresh enough to play a hard four quarters against the Bruins.
Keep in mind that ASU came within a point of beating UCLA this season, taking them to overtime before falling, 73-72. That also shows they aren’t likely to wilt when the pressure is on, and this one would definitely be another close game.
The Devils came from being down 32-19 at halftime and 15 points down in the second half to force overtime when Trent Lockett tipped in a missed free throw for the 61-16 tie at the end of regulation. But when the Bruins strung together three straight treys to begin the overtime period, the writing was on the wall.
Both teams got the scoring effort they needed, with Lockett hitting 17 points, Rihards Kuksiks adding 15, and Jamelle McMillan contributing 13 more. On the UCLA side, the Bruins had four scorers in double figures.
If both teams bring that kind of offense again, it’s anybody’s game – again.
Should Arizona somehow sneak past UCLA, they would face the winner of the Washington-Washington State game as they try to get into the finals.
They’ve lost to No. 3 Washington both times they played the Huskies, once by 13 and the second time by 17. So this match-up wouldn’t favor the Devils.
BUT… ASU went one-and-one against Washington State, giving them the confidence they might be able to do it again. And, since anything can happen when two rival schools come together, it’s not out of the question that the opponent could, in fact, be the No. 6 Cougars.
If ASU got past Washington State, they’re in the finals. And that would likely mean another meeting with rival Arizona, which was just crowned conference champions.
And Derrick Williams, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, would also be awaiting the arrival of the Devils, as would his coach, Sean Miller, the Pac-10 Coach of the Year.
OK, so now we’re back to the anything-can-happen theory about rivalries.
Yeah, I know, ASU lost both games to the Cats this season, but the margins were just 11 and 15 points. That’s five or six buckets, not domination.
The Sun Devils, particularly the seniors, would give anything to have another shot at the Wildcats – not to mention the fact that a win would get them to the post-season.
It would give Herb Sendek, one of the better college coaches in the game (and last year’s Pac-10 Coach of the Year), a chance to redeem a season that went south early and never recovered.
It would give the cast of youngsters and newcomers he’s working into his system a chance to prove they are beginning to mature and transition into the college game.
And, finally, it would give Sendek an opportunity to rekindle the recruiting momentum he has been building since arriving in Tempe five years ago.
But not impossible.