When Bobby Hurley was hired just 2 1/2 years ago to take over an under-performing Arizona State men’s basketball program, it was hard to envision a time when the Sun Devils would become the top Pac-12 team in the state.
Down in Tucson, Arizona‘s Sean Miller was pulling in continuous top-10 recruiting classes, spending entire seasons among the ranked elite in the college game, and making deep postseason runs.
It would have been almost impossible to envision a time when ASU would be the ranked team and UofA not among the nations’s Top 25. (The Wildcats started this season as the No. 2 team in the country, but three straight losses dropped them from the rankings.)
But that’s where things stand today, as the Sun Devils, who are coming off two losing seasons, will carry a No. 20 ranking (No. 20 in AP poll, No. 21 USA Today coaches poll) into their home contest tonight with San Francisco.
With apologies to Grand Canyon University, which packs its 7,000-seat arena to the rafters for every men’s home game, ASU could rightly claim to be the hottest ticket in town right now.
Hurley’s Devils are off to a 6-0 start to the season, just the second time in the last 32 seasons that has happened. If they win tonight, they will match the 7-0 start by a 1980-81 squad led by Byron Scott and Fat Lever.
And they’re fun to watch, thanks to a high-octane offense that is averaging nearly 100 points a game (97.5, to be exact). That puts them fourth in the nation in scoring. They even inject a little drama for their fans, pulling off huge wins against Xavier, Kansas State, and San Diego State by coming from behind to notch the wins.
If stats are your thing, the good folks in the ASU Athletic Department came up with one that shows the three guards in the current back court — Shannon Evans II, Tra Holder, and Kodi Justice — have combined for 3,451 career points. So far this season, the trio of seniors is contributing 58 points a game, with Holder leading the team with a 23.3 point average per game.
Holder went off for 40 points in the last game, against then-No. 15 Xavier, which the Devils went on to win, 102-86. That was just the fourth 40-point performance in the NCAA this season.
Five days earlier, he scored 35 to help ASU beat UC Irvine in a 99-78 rout. After the Xavier game, Holder was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the second straight week – the first ASU player to earn that distinction since James Harden a decade earlier.
Sandwiched in between those games was a 92-90 victory over Kansas State. The Kansas State and Xavier wins made it six games in a row that ASU has scored 90 or more points, which makes ASU the first Pac-12 team to score 90 points in six straight games.
The Kansas State and Xavier wins came during the Continental Tire Invitational in Las Vegas, which ASU won. And that marked the first tournament outside of school events won by a Sun Devil men’s team since the 1994 Maui Invitational.
It was a literal explosion that propelled the Devils to the Xavier victory to win the tourney. After trailing by two points at the half, ASU stomped on the accelerator in the second half, scoring 73 points in the final 23 minutes to pull away from the Musketeers.
The Sun Devils just beat a team that is not only nationally ranked, but one that has been to the Big Dance in March the past four seasons. And beat them handily.
So you can’t blame ASU fans if they are already thinking about getting to watch their team at the NCAA Tournament this year, hopefully ending a four-year drought.
And they’re just as anxious to get to the season’s first match-up with the Wildcats on Dec. 30. That game will tell the faithful in Tempe whether this team is as good as it appears to be.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)