It has been said for most of the season: "the Pac-10 is down this year, there is only one good team, the conference does not deserve more than one bid, etc". Well to counteract those fallacies, Herb Sendek and the Arizona State Sun Devils are doing everything in their power to disregard statements such as these. A big win at home against USC did not hurt their case in the least bit either!
Pacific Ten Conference fans, seem to be the most knowledgeable about this situation, however, the stipulation is that most fans that defend the conference, have a bias towards a certain team.
My bias resides in Tempe, AZ with the Sun Devils, yet I have followed the Pacific Ten conference since my days living in Southern California and seeing Trojan red and Bruin blue everywhere.
My eyes have seen the triumph of many UCLA final four runs and their abundant talent, as well as ASU's in-state rival Arizona and their long tenured run of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
Sure, the media pundits can knock the conference on the lack of talent and big name performers this current season, but no one can insult the competitive battles that occur every Thursday and Saturday night in the Pacific Ten.
No matter what two schools are on the court, there is going to be a hard fought battle. Consider Washington State (16-13, 6-11), rounding out the pack at the bottom of the conference, or perennial power USC, which is on probation this year, both teams have played well against the top half of the conference this season.
The Trojans (16-13, 8-9), have won seven of their nine games against the top five teams in the conference. Unfortunately, the Trojans downfall has come at the hands of the bottom feeders in the conference like both Oregon schools, on the road and at home.
To add substance to my point, the Trojans even knocked off regular season champion, California earlier this season. On the other hand, the Golden Bears even lost to Oregon State by 16 points! Do these facts prove that the Pacific Ten does not deserve a respectable number of bids to the big dance?
Well, it seems that the teams are taking the court with knowledge of the complete disrespect coming from the national media regarding the conference's play. The competition in the Pacific Ten is just as high as ever. The only ingredient missing, is the big name talent at the big name schools.
Take a look at Arizona State, two straight back to back 20-win seasons entering the current campaign, but that was with two stars currently playing in the National Basketball Association, James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph. Now, Herb Sendek has led his group of role players to a third consecutive 20-win season, which just so happens to be the first time in school history to reach that pinnacle.
Yet, the national media is not too confident about their abilities on the court. The Sun Devils profile is quite simple. Early in the season, ASU hit the court against some lower level opponents such as Western Illinois, San Francisco, and Delaware State. However, Sendek's squad did exactly what was expected of them in those contests: blowouts and big wins.
Arizona State did play a few quality opponents in the preseason such as Duke, BYU, LSU, Baylor, and fellow "bubble watch-mate" San Diego State. The Sun Devils ended up with two wins in those games, beating LSU and San Diego State, while coming up short in the other three road games, which should not be a black eye on their resume.
From there on, Arizona State carried themselves through conference play with tough defense and sharp shooting from three point range.
Since the Sun Devils first weekend of conference play in Los Angeles, where ASU returned to Tempe without a win, Herb Sendek has guided his team to an 11-4 record in their last fifteen games.
And the Sun Devils have not slipped up on the road against a cellar dweller such as Washington State or one of the Oregon schools. Other than rough losses against in-state rival Arizona at home, and their two losses against Cal and Washington on the road, the Sun Devils have won the games they were supposed to.
What more can you ask?
ASU has handled their business in a very workmanlike manner. But, there is more work to be done. UCLA is still left on the Sun Devils' schedule, and any fan in the Pacific Ten knows that a game against Ben Howland and the Bruins is no easy task.
If by chance, the Sun Devils earn a tough victory on Senior Day against the Bruins, ASU's record would be (22-9, 12-6), good enough for second place in the conference. However, most including me feel that more is left to be accomplished for ASU.
A win against UCLA on Saturday would be a good start to a week where wins will be at a premium. ASU will most likely have the number two seed in the conference tournament and face Stanford in the first round, or another rubber match with the UCLA Bruins.
With that being said, no matter what uniforms are in front of the Sun Devils, the goal has to be win the tournament, and leave no doubt in the minds of the voters. With out a doubt, the conference tournament in Los Angeles will be the court where ASU's case will be on display for all to make the verdict. But by all accounts, Arizona State is not dead yet!