How much would it say about the status of the ASU basketball program and the Pac-10 and if the Sun Devils are able to steal a conference championship in 2010?
Historically, of course, the conference has been dominated by juggernauts.
We all know what John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins and Lute Olson’s Arizona Wildcats did for all those years. The two programs combined to win 36 of the last 50 conference trophies.
Perhaps fickle Sun Devil fans need reminding: your men’s basketball team has never won the Pac-10.
That’s right, ASU has never won a conference championship in school history.
Those are the big apples.
But ASU doesn’t need a conference crown, the one and only route to an NCAA tournament bid, to set a milestone that should help the student fan base appreciate what is transpiring.
If the Sun Devils can win four of their final seven games, it will be the third consecutive season in which ASU has won 20 or more games.
In the pre-Herb Sendek era, ASU had a total of five 20-win seasons since joining the Pac-10 in 1978.
Let that soak in for a moment.
The transformation the ASU men’s basketball program has gone through in the Herb Sendek era cannot be overstated.
Sendek took over when the conference was pumping out record numbers of NBA talent. The first year was a rough one, as the young team struggled to grasp Sendek’s scheme implementations and ASU sacrificed winning to re-mold its program, finishing 2-16 in conference play.
James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph, most obviously, were critical to ASU’s previous two 20-win seasons and last year’s NCAA Tournament run. Their rookie-year NBA accomplishments, as Harden has already established himself as an upper-echelon sixth man and overcome the pressures of his draft-slot, give celebration to Sendek’s quick turnaround.
But this year has proven that this is not about great individual talents, no matter how you view Derek Glasser’s legacy, or the long range exploits of Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks.
It’s about Sendek. It’s about the program.
Often, it can be hard to define the long-term success of programs and coaches in college basketball without reflexively crediting recruiting and program branding.
The Sun Devils have already begun to reap some rewards of the perceptions birthed from success with their most recent recruiting class.
But, with a hobbled Glasser much of the season, and with the team’s most talented players not yet ready to make big-time contributions, the Sun Devils have found a way.
It would be hard to imagine talent evaluators looking at ASU’s personnel, as currently constructed, and saying “these guys are going to be a top defensive team”.
ASU’s 3-2 zone, while initially an uncomfortable concept for Sendek, has provided the team a way to hide their deficiencies and stay competitive in years of transition.
Only a game out of first place in the conference, mind you with four other teams, ASU has a chance to do what was once unthinkable: not only win a conference championship, but win it in a transitional season.
As far as firsts go, that would be pretty cool.
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