ASU men’s hoops focuses with tourney at stake

The ASU men’s basketball team has seven games remaining on the schedule.

Depending on the “bracketologists,” the Sun Devils are either one of the final four teams in or last four out. They’re also a game out of first place in a conference where nine teams are separated by three games.

The Sun Devils are a bubble team at 18-6.

Senior wing Carrick Felix said he’s keeping tabs with their record and a shot at a NCAA berth, but the Sun Devils are taking it a game at a time.

“We know how many games we have left, and we know we have an opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament,” Felix said. “We just try to take it every day and make sure we win the next game. I think that’s definitely going to be huge for us down the stretch — not thinking about the future but worrying about the present.”

The Sun Devils have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since James Harden left after the 2008-09 season.

Felix said the stakes are talked about as a team because it knows what it’s capable of accomplishing with a ticket to “The Big Dance.”

“It’s nerve-wracking, and it’s exciting at the same time,” Felix said. “For me, it’s kind of emotional because it could be possibly my last seven games. It’s kind of scary in a sense, but it’s definitely exciting to be around these guys knowing that everyone is going to give their all and 100 percent effort in their last seven games.”

Coach Herb Sendek is quite the opposite.

He said he hasn’t even given the thought of the tournament for a nanosecond. Sendek said his time is consumed with game preparations.

“It’s an illusion anyways, because it changes every hour,” Sendek said. “It changes with every game, and it’ll continue to do so. You’ll watch, as we get into conference play, each result coming in from around the country, someone new will be in and someone new will be out.”

ASU finishes five of its last seven games on the road. Three of those road games are against top-five teams in the Pac-12: UA, UCLA and Colorado.

Following its 62-59 loss to Stanford Saturday, the Sun Devils will need to finish strong to have a realistic shot at making the tournament.

“We’re just trying to make sure that we stay in the present, because if we don’t take of the ‘now,’ there won’t be a future,” Felix said.

High altitude

Felix always has his inhaler nearby when he’s on the floor.

He said it’s for his asthma condition.

Felix emphasized it’s for real asthma and not exercise-induced asthma, which his team might get this week playing two games in the Rocky Mountains at Utah and Colorado.

“I think it is challenging,” Sendek said. “Not to play psychological defense here in the media, but when you go to that elevation, there is a difference. To the extent you’re not out there very long, I think it’ll be a challenge. I think that really (gives them) advantages, and they know it. They take full measure to get the complete impact of that elevation.”

It’s the only two schools in the Pac-12 that have this added home-court advantage element.

Felix recalled his first game at Colorado last season, where he quickly felt the effects of the altitude in the first few minutes of the game. He said he adjusted as the game went on and didn’t feel the effect as much.

“I think it just came down to going out there and just playing hard,” Felix said. “There’s going to be situations where you can’t breath, but once you adapt to it, I think everything will be OK.”

Reach the reporter at mtesfats@asu.edu