LAS VEGAS — The non-conference darlings of college basketball, the team that beat Kansas, the last unbeaten team in college basketball, the once-3rd-ranked team in the country, “Guard U.”
It all slipped away so quickly. Shots stopped dropping, losses kept coming, NCAA Tournament confidence started to dissipate.
The chance for ASU to compete for a championship. The chance for Sun Devil head coach Bobby Hurley to take the team, and program, that he has quickly put his stamp on to the NCAA Tournament. The chance for seniors Tra Holder and Kodi Justice to play in the tournament.
ASU may end up slipping into the NCAA Tournament, it does have wins over a pair of possible No. 1 seeds (Kansas and Xavier) after all. But just slipping into the tournament isn’t a place any team wants to be. Leaving your future in the hands of the committee isn’t a proposition that any program strives for, or often finds luck with.
As that became the Sun Devils’ reality following their 97-85 loss to Colorado in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament Wednesday, ASU’s fall from grace is just a few feet from rock bottom — and it may get there come Sunday.
“Beat Colorado and you’re in,” the pundits said. Easy enough, right? ASU had already done it once this season. But as every Buffalo second half run kept going unanswered, the task inched closer to unattainable.
For some, that realization set in when Colorado went up 13 with just under two minutes to play. Others felt it was over when freshman McKinley Wright IV, who finished with 20 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, halted any chance of a late ASU comeback with a layup to put the Buffs up 10 with a minute to play.
Those watching an ASU lead, and possible tournament birth, dwindle away were not just disappointed, they were in disbelief — a feeling met with a myriad of frustration.
Fans on Twitter, and in the stadium, voiced it — and at the end of the game, ASU senior guard Tra Holder showed it.
Up nine points with just under 10 seconds left, Colorado looked to be dribbling out the shot clock with the game in hand. Instead, amongst a stagnant ASU defense, Wright threw an ally-oop lob to Tyler Bey.
The move was unsportsmanlike and disrespectful. Holder’s last chance to make the NCAA Tournament had gone from certain to foggy and he reacted accordingly. After the splashy dunk, Holder sprinted over to Bey and greeted him with a vicious shove.
A skirmish quickly ensued and Holder was ejected. After the Devils’ 97-85 loss, he sat in the corner of the locker room unavailable to the media.
Here’s the video of the ally-oop and Holder’s ensuing shove pic.twitter.com/T9KNfp1uE7— Jordan Kaye (@jordankaye_23) March 7, 2018
The loss is tough to contextualize. You can look at RPI and resumes all you want, but no one knows if ASU will squeak into the tourney.
The case for is simple: ASU’s non-conference performance.
The case against is also simple: ASU’s conference struggles.
“How can a team that beat Kansas and Xavier be left out,” some may say. “How can a team that lost five of its last six games, including falling to Colorado by 12 points get in,” others will argue.
Hurley, unsurprisingly, seemed to fare with the former.
“I felt like we were in the tournament coming into this game regardless of the outcome,” Hurley said. “We beat two regular season conference champions and most likely No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. And we did it pretty handily in those games.”
Freshman point guard Remy Martin added: “We’ve beaten a lot of great teams, and we went through a little bit of a slump. People know what we have and people know we are still a threat.”
Martin is right that ASU has taken care of a lot of great teams, but its hasn’t done it in some time. The ASU that started the season 12-0 was the same ASU that lost to Colorado on Wednesday, but, boy, it doesn’t feel like it.
Hurley, Martin and the rest of ASU controlled its destiny, now the committee does. And it’ll have to wait like the rest of the country to see whether he’ll be dancing or going home alone next Sunday.