Through 11 games, Arizona State finds itself right back in the bubble conversation for an NCAA tournament bid. To put it politely, the margin for error is already slim.
From the outset, Herb Sendek talked about the tougher nonconference opponents in 2013 compared to 2012. There were plenty of reasons to agree with Sendek, but it didn't pan out that way.
The featured win against Marquette now appears to be overhyped, as the Golden Eagles are only 7-4 and lost in their firmest tests. The drop off by the Golden Eagles is out of the Sun Devils' control, but it does hurt their RPI and strength of schedule.
The combination of the embarrassing result against Creighton and a nail-biting loss to the University of Miami provide more reasons for concern. The chances to impress voters outside of Pac-12 play are over. On the other hand, the job at hand outside of Pac-12 play is far from over. The tasks are far from daunting but they are pivotal.
Before opportunities like No.1 Arizona, No. 13 Oregon and No. 20 Colorado come around, the focus remains on the last two nonconference games against Texas Tech and University of Irvine.
Wins over Texas Tech and Irvine won't boost the Sun Devils' resume. But losses to Texas Tech and/or University of Irvine would crush the Sun Devils' resume. Potential March Madness teams can only get hurt in these types of situations.
The Sun Devils were unable to earn "big time" nonconference wins because they didn't have great opportunities presented to them. Marquette and UNLV arguably fit the criteria but neither stands out prominently. Now the Sun Devils need to avoid devastating nonconference losses. In the end, falling short against Miami isn't going to be considered a major knock.
Assuming all goes as planned, 11-2 overall heading into Pac-12 play sounds nice. In actuality, the 11-2 record would be slightly disappointing. But at the same time, Arizona State wouldn't be in bad position either.
Facing the Red Raiders and Antelopes may not draw big crowds or garner heavy attention, yet the contests are surprisingly important for the Sun Devils.