The Arizona State Sun Devils finds itself at a crossroad. They went through arguably the toughest stretch of their conference’s schedule, resulting in 4 consecutive losses. Time is running out as the Washington Huskies and the Washington State Cougars come to Tempe for this week of games.
ASU owns as of today mediocre records on the season; 2-5 in the Pac-12 & 9-11 overall. The Sun Devils face the opportunity of reaping a handful of victories in the coming weeks, and it starts now. Ultimately, the perception of ASU’s basketball program will depend on the next two games.
I previewed the immediate future of Arizona State a month ago, discussing what we could expect of the Sun Devils during the first four weeks of Pac-12 competition.
Two scenarios could be in play:
Two or more wins and some kind of momentum is building.
Less than two wins and hell is patiently awaiting.
Well, ASU won two games and come out of a conference early schedule that was particularly rough with a (little) bit of momentum. The Sun Devils still lack consistency, depth and have trouble getting into the game, quickly falling behind the score. This is worrisome, but Bobby Hurley’s men have shown resilience, tenacity and displayed a characteristic high-energy type of play.
They could/should have ended this stretch on the positive side. The home game against Utah was fairly winnable, as the road game at USC, in which ASU came close to take the lead but never got the needle on their side.
The final scores versus Arizona (75-91) and UCLA (80-102) look pretty bad, but there are a few positive signs to take away from these blowouts. The Sun Devils did not give up despite an early 20-point deficit in Tucson and won the second half, shooting rather correctly and specifically behind the arc. Against the Bruins, ASU came back from behind in similar fashion, trailing by 7 points at some point, but their sharp shooting disappeared and they could not stop UCLA’s offensive madness.
Now, the Sun Devils must take advantage of their progress. A question of life and death.
Both the Washington schools loom ahead. The Huskies and the Cougars visit Tempe’s Wells Fargo Arena, both opponents ASU can presumably handle. Slip-ups will not be tolerated in such a situation.
Win out the series to remain in the underbelly of the conference (4-5 in the Pac-12, 11-11 overall).
Lose at least one game and the gap with some other average teams could become insurmontable.
The games will not be easy to digest, though. Arizona State’s defense has not been particularly good lately (to say the least) and Washington’s gem, Markelle Fultz, is on the deck tonight averaging 23.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. Arguably the conference best player will be tough to handle but considering the Sun Devils offensive ammunition in response, ASU has no reason to fall against a one-man team.
Washington State has been blown out against better Pac-12 competition, but played relatively good basketball against the bottom of the conference so far. The showing against the Cougars could end up being a barometer of ASU’s basketball health. The two teams are fairly similar, the Sun Devils having a better offense but a worse defence than their opponents.
Arizona State cannot use any excuse to justify a loss this week. No debate is needed: two wins against the Washington schools and carry on. Do not achieve these results would be a bad omen for the rest of the season.