If your allegiance stands with the maroon and gold, and the beloved Sun Devils, the position that Arizona State is currently in has to put a smile on your face. ASU tips off against Stanford tonight, as the Sun Devils begin their quest to reach their second consecutive NCAA tournament.
So, how does it feel to control your own destiny? Well, according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, the Sun Devils are currently one of the last four schools included in the 65 team field. However, ASU coach Herb Sendek would rather be officially invited to the Big Dance this Sunday, and ignore all the "bubble watch" talk on various media outlets.
Arizona State, would rather play quality, tough, and disciplined basketball with the mindset of taking the decision out of the selection committee's hands, and win the conference tournament and the Pac-10's automatic bid. Although that is easier said than done.
Up first will be the Stanford Cardinals, a team that the Sun Devils beat twice during the regular season. Herb Sendek's squad beat the Cardinals 88-70 in Tempe and then completed the regular season sweep at Maples Pavilion by eight points.
In both games against Stanford, Arizona State had performers step up in the clutch and would not settle for anything less than victory. In both games, ASU fell behind Stanford early only to regain the lead and secure the win. That mentality has to be the same in a short tournament such as this.
Arizona State has had some big time performances this season by star players like Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks, role players such as senior point guard Derek Glasser, and in many cases players coming off the bench like Jerren Shipp. A win tonight and beyond will have to follow the same suit.
ASU's top scorer this season has been Ty Abbott (12 ppg), and his breakthrough game came against these same Stanford Cardinals. Abbott made 11 of 14 shots from the floor, including seven of nine from three-point range.
Abbott finished the night with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and three assists. A stellar showing tonight would come in handy for the Sun Devils to advance to the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament.
The Sun Devils have coupled Abbott's shooting from the perimeter with a new dominant presence inside the paint with Eric Boateng. When the Sun Devils hit the road in Palo Alto, CA, Boateng was the role player to step up and play up to his size. The Duke transfer not only controlled the glass with eight rebounds, but also added 24 points to propel the Sun Devils past Stanford 68-60.
The upcoming battle with Stanford is paramount for ASU's hopes of making the tournament. As the calendar has flipped to March, top teams have fallen to Cinderellas, bubble teams have seen their bubble burst, and teams that were thought to have no shot at making the tournament are now hungrier than ever.
Tonight, ASU has to be the tougher team and not settle into complacency. The mentality that the maroon and gold should exude, is win one game at a time.
If Arizona State overlooks the Cardinals, and a potential bubble popping matchup against the Washington Huskies tomorrow night, Stanford will be moving on, and ASU will be playing in the National Invitational Tournament, also known as "Not in the (real) Tournament".
Stanford has the firepower to pull of the upset tonight, and at this point in the season anyone can beat anyone. Just look at national powers Syracuse and Georgetown losing early in the Big East Tournament. Anything can happen in March Madness.
This is no longer the regular season, each time you step on the floor, it could possibly be the last game of the season. It is win or go home, and it certainly will not be easy. Herb Sendek pointed out, "Just like the regular season, we expect a great challenge."
The Pac-10 Tournament will be a battle of wills and effort. Who will want it more? Derek Glasser stated that, "At this point, we've played each other twice. We kind of know what they're going to do, and they kind of know what were going to do. There are no secrets. It's just about playing hard."
Playing hard will be a good starting point for any team trying to earn a shot at the big dance, but for ASU, the quest begins tonight and wins are at a premium. An opening round loss for ASU will undoubtedly put the nail in the coffin on their tournament hopes.