clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Arizona State has a winning problem when it matters most, and it must change now

Once again, Arizona State fails to deliver when the stakes are the highest. The Sun Devils women's basketball team is the latest to highlight ASU's biggest issue : the incapacity of winning big.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State is relevant in many sports, winning on a regular basis and battling for championships every year. But the Sun Devils cannot wrap up the big deal when it matters most.

Do you remember when ASU last won a national or conference championship?

The women's basketball team shared the Pac-12 crown with Oregon State last month, the baseball team won four consecutive conference trophies between 2007-2010, and the softball team clinched two national championship titles in 2008 and 2011.

These three sports have been dominant for decades in their respective discipline but what about the others? Football, usually a school showcase, only ended up sharing a Pac-10 championship in 2007 since the 1987 Rose Bowl and the glorious Pat Tillman days. The men's basketball record is even worse ; the team has barely been relevant on the national scene since the 1970's and has gone dancing seven times over the last 40 years, with no conference championship and a lone Sweet Sixteen appearance in 1995 (whose loss was later vacated).

Do not look further. If Arizona State wants to be taken seriously by the whole country, the university must be performing well nationally in football and men's basketball. The post-season drought in both sports needs to come to an end, soon.

Sun Devils, rejoice. Since Athletic Direction Ray Anderson arrived in the desert in January 2014, he is trying to achieve just that. A distinct culture has been set in both programs with Todd Graham and Bobby Hurley hires. But of course, it is easier said than done, and ASU is still struggling to win big, to have a real impact on the national scene.

This issue is not reduced to football and men's basketball.

Lately, most of the results on the field did not bring this 'wow' factor, this deep run into post-season that is able to bring fans together. We just knew when an Arizona State team was going to represent the school colors on national television, disappointment was likely to be the cruel reality at the end of the day.

And most of the time, sadly, we were right.

The women's basketball team made us believe a deep run into the NCAA Tournament was entirely possible. Charli Turner Thorne's girls earned their first Pac-12 championship title since 2000-01, and produced one of the best seasons in program history while being ranked in the AP Poll's Top-10 for half of the season.

Nothing led fans to believe they would miss out their post-season, but ultimately, it happened. The Sun Devils could have won the conference title without sharing it with Oregon State if they had beaten UCLA on the road, for the last regular season game. They lost and settled for half of the prize.

ASU had a chance to redeem itself in Seattle for the Pac-12 Tournament the following week. California lied ahead in the first round, a team that held a 14-16 overall record before the game, alongside a mediocre 4-14 Pac-12 track record. Despite the odds, the Sun Devils suffered a crushing upset to represent ASU struggles during any conference tourneys.

The NCAA Tournament was the last chance to close an historic season on the right foot. Arizona State, a regional host and a No.2 seed (the highest seed ever in program history), was clearly a favorite to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row. The Sun Devils made short work of New Mexico State in the first round before facing Tennessee.

The Lady Vols built a legacy over the last decade and became the cornerstone of the women's basketball world, but, 2016 was an outlier. They dropped out of the AP Top-25 for the first time in 31 years ; a streak of 565 consecutive weeks dating back to February 1985 vanished after two defeats within a week, coming at the end of an inconsistent and disappointing season.

Charli Turner Thorne had the chance of earning a marquee win capable of setting in stone a season to remember. Tennessee had never been weaker than last weekend, and the perfect opportunity to put the spotlight on this team was only a win away. But it was foolish to count the Lady Vols out in March. Even though the matchup was definitely not in favor of ASU, the Sun Devils did not jump at the occasion of getting into a new dimension.

They were defeated in a heart-breaking second half and what appeared to be a promising season ended up too early.

This is what ASU fans live on a yearly basis.

Loosing in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament is a men's basketball tradition like nothing else. The last win in Las Vegas dates back to the 2013 season, and the Sun Devils endured 6 first round eliminations in 7 years. During this span, the team led by Herb Sendek lost in the NCAA Tournament First Round on a crushing buzzer beater against Texas. Bobby Hurley now faces the huge task of enhancing the winning culture in a program that deeply lacks one.

The culture of winning must be injected in practically all of Arizona State's programs. The issue is not ASU winning games, it is winning when the challenge raises on national television or during the post-season.

And only Ray Anderson can and will make a change. Success at the highest level comes around with time and sweat.