The 2011-12 school year has provided some intriguing moments for the Arizona St. Sun Devils in both football and basketball. Both programs collected some nice wins (football's 43-22 victory over the USC Trojans and basketball's season-ending 87-80 win over the Arizona Wildcats come to mind), suffered through some ugly losses (football's 29-28 defeat at the hands of the UCLA Bruins, basketball's 64-43 loss to the Utah Utes) and featured a fair share of dramatic players (Vontaze Burfict for football, Keala King for basketball). Though these events and people may be remembered and talked about for years to come, the most intriguing storyline to keep an eye on heading into next season involves ASU coaches Todd Graham and Herb Sendek.
Both men are in completely different situations: one's a newcomer, one's an incumbent. Graham gets a brand new start in Tempe while Sendek will have to prove that he can lead ASU back to basketball prominence. For as different as these two coaches are though, they have one central objective in common next year: deliver wins and avenge the disappointment of 2011-12.
Which coach will be able to do just that and exceed expectations? Taking a look at what both coaches have done over the past year may give us a better sense for where they are headed. Click through for more after the jump.
In football, ASU came in with expectations of winning the new Pac-12 South region behind senior experience and potentially making a run at a Rose Bowl berth. That optimism appeared valid for the first half of the year but quickly disintegrated as the team's defense crumbled in the second half. With the season all said and done, Dennis Erickson was let go.
Enter Todd Graham. The initial reaction around his hiring was very mixed, given the extremely negative attention he received from the national media for leaving Pitt. Since then, though, he's secured a solid recruiting class, rallied his team to focus with intense spring practices and generated positive buzz around the program heading into 2012-13.
The basketball program had a slightly different experience this year. Though Herb Sendek struggled to piece together wins in much the same manner as Erickson did in football, he was awarded a contract extension. Since then, he's watched his team close out a 10-21 season and seen three of his players decide to transfer (Chanse Creekmur, Kyle Cain and Trent Lockett).
Put simply, Graham has to face more hype than Sendek does right now. Hype draws expectations, and Graham will have to get this team to perform at a very high level to justify the optimism that he's generated. Not an impossible task, but one that's not easy either.
On the other hand, Sendek will enter next year with lower expectations than Graham but (arguably) more pressure. He will have Jahii Carson to help him elevate ASU basketball and a nice crop of young talent, but changing ASU's recent basketball history may call for more than just solid play by a few young players.
Ultimately, it boils down to hype for Graham versus pressure for Sendek. I'd say that Graham holds the slight advantage over Sendek to exceed expectations next season. His situation contains more potential upside than Sendek's, and the fact that he's been able to change ASU's football culture (or at least fan perception of it) since his arrival is noteworthy. Graham's work so far gives him a better chance to match and exceed his program's expectations, even though those expectations may be higher than those faced by Sendek and the basketball program, in the coming year.
Of course, Sendek could prove me wrong with a bounce back campaign behind Carson and an experienced roster that didn't feature a single senior last year. Who do you think is more likely to exceed expectations next season? Vote and leave your comments below.