In stark contrast, the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Arizona State find themselves on completely opposite tracks this year. One is rolling into the record books, the other is going south.
After a 67-52 conference win over California on Friday, the women’s team is undefeated in Pac-12 play after the first five games on the schedule. And, more significantly, the Sun Devil women are 16-1 overall, the best start in the history of the program.
On the other side of the coin, the men’s 78-72 win over Colorado Saturday was their first conference victory of the 2015 season. Prior to that game, the men were the only team in the conference without a win. They’re 9-9 overall and 1-4 in the Pac-12, where they are mired in a three-way tie for last place.
In some ways, it’s hard to understand why there has been such a divergence in the roads these teams are traveling.
The ASU men have actually outplayed their opponents on average. They have been averaging 69 points a game, while holding opponents to 64, and have made 34 more three-pointers than the teams they have played. They are also making more points off free throws, despite a mediocre 67 percent success at the line, and have a +2.8 rebounding advantage.
And it’s hard for defenses to put a clamp on their scoring since seven different players have been the game’s leading scorer at one time or another.
Much of their adversity comes on the road. They are 0-5 away from home this season and had a terrible luck of the draw on the scheduling, starting conference play with five of the first seven games on the road.
And to make that statistic even worse, they opened Pac-12 play on the road against rival Arizona, at that time the No. 8 team in the country. That 73-49 loss likely went a long way to destroying the team’s confidence going forward, as they proceeded to lose the next three conference games as well, to put them in a big hole to start.
But even more mystifying is the ASU women’s start. They were picked by the media in the pre-season poll to finish sixth in the Pac-12 this year, and were given even less credence by the other coaches in the conference, who gave them a seventh-place projection.
And here they are… undefeated in conference play, tied for first place, and nationally ranked No. 14 in the AP Top 25.
Their success has been due to a number of factors. But basically, this is a team that has the height needed to compete as a ranked team, and a back court that has three players averaging in double figures. Head coach Charli Turner Thorne readily acknowledges that this group has turned into one of the best teams she has had in the last six years, with five players on the floor that can be counted on to put up significant points.
The men get a chance to prepare for their next game, on Thursday against California. But the women are scheduled to take on Stanford this afternoon.
Stanford is generally considered the barometer each year for just how good a particular ASU team actually is, regardless of records when they meet. The Sun Devils haven’t beaten the Cardinal in the last 16 games.
This time around, Stanford and Arizona State make a perfect match-up. The Cardinal are also undefeated in the Pac-12 and are ranked No. 13, just ahead of ASU in the AP Top 25.
The difference in this one might come down to location. This game will be played on the road at Stanford, and the home crowd will try to take the Devils out of the game early.
The good news: unlike the men, the ASU women have no trouble winning on the road.
But the bottom line: Turner Thorne has her best opportunity in some time to finally get the monkey off her back by beating Stanford. And this team has the chops to do it.