No Arizona State player, walk-on or transfer, other than Shannon Evans, has experienced the NCAA Tournament.
“March is the best month of the year,” Evans said.
Him and then-Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley boogied into the “Big Dance” in 2015. Three years later, it’s late February. The Sun Devils can smell it. It’d be Hurley’s first trip in maroon and gold, and ASU’s first appearance since 2014.
“Everything is going to get real exciting,” Hurley said. “We have to push through these last four games.”
The NCAA Tournament is no neighbor to the Arizona State Sun Devils.
ASU has jimmied into the tournament five times in the last 35 years, and twice in over a dozen years. This season, posing a 19-7 overall record and 7-7 in Pac-12 play, it’s different.
At 12-0, ASU had the country’s last standing perfect record — for a few hours — before falling to Arizona. The Sun Devils own convincing wins, beating No. 8 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse by 10 and No. 4 Xavier in Las Vegas by 14.
In-conference struggles hamper its resume, though. ASU is an 8-seed in ESPN’s Bracketology. Its RPI is 27th.
The Sun Devils were predicted to finish sixth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, anyways. Forget the numbers, Hurley doesn’t seem to care.
“There may not be a team who has as good a two wins we have in the non-conference and that continues to be validated,” Hurley said. “We’re in a great position.”
However, ASU’s Tournament chances aren’t a lock. . . Yet.
There’s unfinished business at Oregon and Oregon State this week, including home matchups with the Bay Area schools a week after.
Tied at seventh with Oregon, the Sun Devils sit a game and a half behind fourth-placed Utah in the Pac-12 standings. This week, the Utes play UCLA and USC, who currently share second-place. Utah has yet to beat the L.A. schools this season. The Sun Devils beat both.
Though they’ve slid in and out of the rankings, the ASU needs to secure fourth-place or better to earn a bye in the Pac-12 tournament.
So who’s watching the standings?
“Coaches do that,” Evans said. “I’m just trying to make shots.”
Making shots was what put Arizona State in its highest position. The team shot 50.9 percent overall through non-conference play. In conference play, ASU has shot a 43.3 percent clip.
But shooting isn’t everything. It took some time. The Sun Devils adjusted.
In wins against UCLA and USC, Arizona State shot 42.2 percent, a combined five percentage points below the L.A. schools. The difference? Defense.
The Sun Devils stole the ball 17 times compared to their opponent’s five. They ousted the SoCal schools in the turnover margin, 40-13.
At plus-4.10, no team in the Pac-12 has a better turnover margin than ASU. The Sun Devils are fifth-best in the nation among power-6 programs.
Evans get’s it. That stat could go a long way.
“Fifty-fifty balls decide your season in the late postseason... We’ve got to do all the hustle work.”