ASU basketball's fan base balances the scale with rival Arizona

"Whatever, we're a basketball school anyway."

You've heard this argument before, I'm sure, from many a disgruntled Arizona fan after a loss to ASU in any sport other than basketball.

It's the go-to defense for any Wildcat, and there certainly is merit to it. After all, the Wildcats have 31 NCAA tournament bids (ASU has 13), four trips to the Final Four (ASU has never been that far) and a national title.

Right now Arizona is 22-3, ranked No. 7 in the country and has an outside shot at a No. 1 seed in the tournament this year. ASU, on the other hand, has an overall record of 13-12 and has a losing record in conference play.

Not much of a head-to-head comparison on the court.

But there's more to being a basketball school than winning on the court; it's just a fact of life.

Would the great programs like Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky be revered as much as they are without the fan involvement, thrilling traditions and notable alumni that they possess?

This isn't the NBA where winning is the only thing that matters. In college, while winning is very important, having a strong fan base and an exciting atmosphere is arguably just as crucial.

So while Arizona is undeniably the better team, the Sun Devils make up for it with what we'll call their off-court intangibles.

Note that this isn't a homer-ific plea to the outside world to respect a team that's barely over .500. Nor is it an argument that ASU men's basketball is a better program than its rival down South.

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Rather, this is a relatively unbiased look at two programs and an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.

Sure "Point Guard U," as Arizona is dubbed, has accolades and an astronomical winning percentage, but where's the fun?

On the backs of the 942 Crew, the Curtain of Distraction has become a growing tradition and fan attraction. This year, it's exploded into a nationwide phenomenon featured on ESPN, the New York Times and more.

Even though the Wildcats are well on their way to a deep postseason run, there are no such stories coming out of Tucson.

But it goes beyond that.

When it became known that James Harden would be in attendance for ASU's matchup with the UCLA Bruins this week, fans went crazy.

That announcement was met with resounding cheers from Sun Devils all over the Twitter-verse.

You don't find that sort of fervor when an NBA Wildcat returns home to watch a game.

Some might try to argue that no recent Wildcat has gained the stardom of Harden, but guys like Gilbert Arenas, Andre Iguodala and even Channing Frye have been considered in the upper echelon of pro basketball players. Where is the persistent love and affection for them?

And all of that doesn't even touch on the fact that for two years in a row now the Wildcats have gone down at the hands of the "lowly" Sun Devils.

So sure, Arizona has the wins and the much better team but don't condemn ASU's basketball program just based on the numbers.

 

Reach the columnist at icbeck@asu.edu or follow @icbeck21 on Twitter.

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