Staying alive: ASU on bubble for Big Dance with 5 games left

Junior guard Evan Gordon goes over a Cal defender on a layup on Feb. 07.  Gordon’s game winning shot against Colorado on Feb. 16 kept ASU’s tournament hopes alive. (Photo by Molly J. Smith)

Junior guard Evan Gordon goes over a Cal defender on a layup on Feb. 07. Gordon’s game winning shot against Colorado on Feb. 16 kept ASU’s tournament hopes alive. (Photo by Molly J. Smith)

The ASU men’s basketball team’s tournament hopes still have a pulse.

The Sun Devils revived their chances at playing in the postseason with an overtime win at Colorado Saturday Feb. 16, thanks to junior guard Evan Gordon’s game-winning layup as time expired.

“One thing we’ve been lacking all year is a scoring punch off the bench,” coach Herb Sendek said. “We finally decided we had to make a change to help us in that area, and it coincided with the fact that (senior guard) Chris Colvin really helps us against Colorado in our defensive matchups. But with the way Evan responded and made a big three down the homestretch in the corner and then obviously the driving layup.”

Sendek he plans to stick to the lineup change during the Sun Devils’ push to the NCAA Tournament.

While it’s foolish to look at bracket projections early in the season due to the ever-changing status of a bubble team, the Sun Devils have five games left in the regular season.

They’re one of the “Last Four In” on ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi’s bracket to start the week. It’s a bracket that has six, yes six, Pac-12 teams in the field of 68.

“I think the closeness of the games (in the Pac-12) is just remarkable,” Sendek said. “I mean every game we play seemingly either goes to overtime or comes to the last possession almost without exception.”

Sendek said his team is aware of its bubble status, and it wants to play in the NCAA Tournament — a feat ASU hasn’t accomplished since James Harden’s final season in 2008-09.

As the Sun Devils learned during the 2009-10 season, 20 wins doesn’t guarantee a team a spot in the tournament. In fact, no specific number of wins guarantees a spot.

“How could you tell, because it’s not just a function of what we do, but it’s a function of what happens across the country,” Sendek said. “There may be a league champion from another conference. If they get knocked off, they’re getting in anyway. If they win their conference tournament, they’ll be the only team in from that conference, so that has a domino effect. The only thing you can do is win as many games as possible.”

That will be a difficult task for the Sun Devils. They face Washington State Wednesday and have their home regular season finale Saturday against Washington.

They finish the regular season on the road at UCLA, at USC and at UA. Those games will play a huge factor in their body of work for the selection committee.

“You’ve seen sometimes down the home stretch whatever happens that last game in the conference tournament,” Sendek said. “If they win then, they’re in, and if they lose, they’re out. You’re thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve been playing since November, and it’s down to that.’ I have no idea. I think it’s all madness.”

What is one thing that can cure this February madness for ASU?

In the words of the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, “Just win, baby.”

 

Reach the reporter at mtesfats@asu.edu