With 13 games remaining in the regular season, the Arizona State basketball team faces a do-or-die scenario.
At 14-4, the Sun Devils have every reason to believe they can make a run at the NCAA Tournament. After compiling a 1-2 record over the past three games, the maroon and gold have also given reason to believe that another disappointing finish could be brewing in Tempe.
In reality, it's impossible to predict exactly how the Sun Devils will finish this season. The best that college basketball prognosticators can do is to outline what Arizona State needs to do to provide the NCAA selection committee with a compelling resume.
Despite suffering a deflating 17-point loss against the Arizona Wildcats and a devastating heartbreaker at the hands of the Oregon Ducks over the past two weeks, the Sun Devils remain in contention for a tournament bid.
For Coach Herb Sendek to guide his team to March Madness, a number of different things will have to go right.
Jahii Carson will have to continue to dismantle opposing defenses, Carrick Felix needs to give the Sun Devils a double double and a lockdown defensive performance on a nightly basis, and finally, at least one other starter (Gordon, Gilling, or Bachynski) will have to catch fire each game.
If all of this happens, then Arizona State will have a great chance at reaching the NCAA Tournament. Even if the formula for success does pan out, the Sun Devils likely won't win every game left on their schedule.
What type of record will it take for the maroon and gold to make the NCAA tournament? Let's find out.
Over the past two seasons, the NCAA Tournament selection committee has largely ignored Pac-12 teams. Once considered home to the gold standard for collegiate basketball (Thanks UCLA), the conference received a slap in the face in 2012 when the committee selected just a single team for an at-large bid (California).
In 2012, the University of Arizona finished 21-10 including 12-6 in conference play, but the Wildcats were likely bumped from the tourney because of an embarrassing loss to the Sun Devils at the end of the regular season.
That being said, if the Sun Devils stumble and lose six more games this year, they can punch their ticket to the NIT instead of the big dance.
In 2011, four Pac-12 teams enjoyed the luxury of tournament competition, including a 19-14 USC team that received a puzzling bid. However promising the selection of the Trojans might be, those were the good old days when the Pac-12 received more respect.
Today, a Pac-12 team has to earn a tournament bid the hard way, and put up when it counts. This means that if the Sun Devils lose in the first round of the conference tournament, they can pretty much kiss their tournament hopes goodbye.
If Coach Sendek plans on guiding his team to a coveted NCAA tournament berth, the hardest part of his job starts right now.
Of the 13 games the Sun Devils have remaining, they play UCLA twice, they travel to Washington, travel to Colorado, and finish off their regular season slate in Tucson. There are plenty of chances to pick up quality victories, but just as many opportunities to squander what could have been.
For Arizona State to make the NCAA tournament, an 8-5 record is the absolute worst the Sun Devils can do over their final 13 games. A 22-9 regular season would stand up against other teams from power conferences, but the strength of schedule issue would come into play for Arizona State. In this case, a push to the semifinals or finals of the conference tournament would be necessary to sway the committee.
A 9-4 or 10-3 finish would certainly make an appealing case, as a 23 or 24-win team would be hard to overlook. If the Sun Devils win nine of their remaining games, this also guarantees that they cannot finish with double-digit losses.
Though highly unlikely, an 11-2, 12-1, or 13-0 finish in the Pac-12 would make the Sun Devils a shoe-in for the NCAA tournament. An one or two-loss record would mean that Arizona State defeated the likes of UCLA or Arizona, which would give the Sun Devils a victory over a Top 25 foe.
Ultimately, the Sun Devils need to stand up and take care of business one game at a time. The journey to the tourney continues against USC on Thursday, and doesn't get any easier as the Devils host the UCLA Bruins on Saturday.
Predicting the future of this Sun Devil team isn't easy, but that's why they play the games.
In the end, all of the speculation could be for naught, as the Sun Devils could fool us all and steal the conference's automatic bid. But for now, we'll act as if there's still something worth fighting for.