Arizona State basketball fans are confused. And with good reason.
Whether attending a men’s game or a women’s game, fans can’t be sure which team they’re going to be watching. Throughout the season, it’ been hard to predict whether the ‘good’ women’s team, or the not-so-good team, would show up. And ditto for the men.
And now, since both teams are a good bet to get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament that is little more than a week away, that will become a burning question in the minds of the Sun Devil faithful.
In the case of the men’s program, will it be the Sun Devil squad that was sitting atop the Pac-12 standings just two weeks ago, or the team that just closed out the regular season by losing three out of four games? One of those losses was to the Washington Huskies, the last-place team in the Pac-12 that had won just three conference games going into that game.
The ASU women are even more of a mystery. This was the same team that beat two top-5 teams in the span of less than 48 hours. ASU, unranked going into those two early-January games. upset No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State in the same weekend to earn a No. 18 national ranking.
This is the same over-achieving team that was picked to finish fifth in the conference in both the preseason media and coaches’ polls. They climbed to No. 16 a couple of weeks after knocking off the Ducks and Beavers and then went on to beat Washington State for a fifth straight win.
But five losses over their next six games began a downward spiral. Their identity as giant-killers quickly faded.
By the end of February the Devils were barely holding on to a top-25 national ranking, checking in at No. 24 – which is where they finished up after posting a 20-10 overall record and 10-8 in conference play – to give them exactly what the preseason polls had predicted: fifth place in the Pac-12.
Men’s coach Bobby Hurley, in his fifth season, also posted a 20-win season by beating Washington State in the regular-season finale to round out a 20-11 record, 11-7 conference. That’s three straight 20-win seasons for Hurley, marking just the third time in program history that has happened.
Saturday’s win over the Beavers clinched a No. 3 seed and first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament.
The women’s conference tournament is already underway. The wrong ASU team showed up for the opening game. They were upset, 71-67, by 12th-seeded California – a team ASU beat by 23 points just six days earlier.
But it’s not likely to prevent head coach Charli Turner Thorne, finishing up her 23rd year directing the program, from making a seventh consecutive trip to the Big Dance.
To be fair, the loss of senior point guard Kiara Russell, who was injured in the previous game with Stanford, was a major factor in the California loss. But 21 turnovers did some serious damage, and the defensive effort began to wane late in the third quarter when the Bears went on a 20-0 scoring run.
The men are scheduled for their Pac-12 Tournament opener on Thursday. Since they have a first-round bye, they will meet either No. 11 seed Washington State, which they beat by nine points just two days ago, or No. 6 Colorado, which they lost to by seven points early in the conference schedule.
Either way, it will be interesting to see which ASU team shows up for this one.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)