ASU’s roller-coaster ride wrecking a promising hoops season

What started out as a can’t-miss season is turning into a near-miss season for Arizona State men’s basketball.

The Sun Devils entered the 2020-21 season with a No. 17 preseason national ranking, the first time since the James Harden era in 2008-09 that the Devils entered the season as a ranked team.

But right now they’re sitting at 4-8 overall, with just one conference win in five tries.

This was supposed to be one of the best teams that coach Bobby Hurley has assembled in the seven years he’s been in charge of the Pac-12 program, with more depth and shooting ability than last year’s squad that won 20 games and tied for third place in a tough conference.

Add to that one of the best recruiting classes in program history that included Josh Christopher.  At No. 10 in the 247Sports rankings, Christopher (photo above) is the highest-rated recruit the ASU program has ever landed.

Hurley’s squad has had the same challenges dealing with the COVID-19 virus that other teams have experienced.  But the constant stop-and-go pressure on this team may have contributed to its inability to keep its eye on the prize.

After winning four of its first six games on the schedule, the Devils went into a tailspin and now are dealing with the challenge of putting an end to a six-game losing streak.

Constant postponements over the course of that five-week stretch didn’t help.  After the first loss, a 63-76 decision to UTEP, the next two games on the schedule were postponed due to the virus.  That left the team with a long layover to think about their inability to beat a .500 team that isn’t a Power 5 program.

When the Devils got back on the court, they dropped a game to UCLA in overtime, which didn’t do anything to build confidence — or help morale.  And then they got in one more game, a nine-point loss to USC, before another postponement derailed any momentum they were trying to build.

After that delay, they came back again, only to lose a one-point heart-breaker to Oregon State, and then followed that with another devastating blow when  rival University of Arizona beat them at home on a shot that was tipped in at the buzzer for a crushing 84-82 loss to the Wildcats.

They were still reeling from that shock when they had to face Arizona for a second time in five days.  The first half of that game in Tucson showed a team trying to get over the psychological hump that has built over the course of the losing streak.

“I felt like we lacked energy early in the game,” said Hurley in the post-game analysis, admitting that the Cats’ more aggressive play made a difference.  “(We were) kind of lethargic out of the gate.”

And Arizona took advantage of the opportunity, overwhelming the Devils from the start, building a double-digit lead in the first three minutes and piling up a seemingly insurmountable 22-point lead at the half.

ASU found a will to survive and staged a valiant comeback in the second half, cut into a 26-point lead, but could get no closer that nine points as the Wildcats cruised to an 80-67 win for the series sweep.

“I  commend our effort in the second half, but the cabinet is filled with moral victories,” Hurley added, admitting that “(there were) not many positives to take out of this.”

There are just 10 games remaining in the regular season, maybe even fewer, depending on whether the virus forces more postponements.

That doesn’t give the Sun Devils much time to figure this thing out before tournament time.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)