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ASU men's basketball looking to surprise in Pac-12 tournament


ASU sophomore center Eric Jacobsen blocks a shot during the Sun Devils' Senior Day game against Cal on Saturday, March 7 at Well's Fargo Arena in Tempe. ASU won the game 74-70. (J. Bauer-Leffler/The State Press) ASU sophomore center Eric Jacobsen blocks a shot during the Sun Devils' Senior Day game against Cal on Saturday, March 7 at Well's Fargo Arena in Tempe. ASU won the game 74-70. (J. Bauer-Leffler/The State Press)

ASU men's basketball's road to the NCAA Tournament is pretty simple: It must win the Pac-12 Tournament.

To accomplish this, the Sun Devils (17-14, 9-9 Pac-12) must win four games in four days, a feat Bovada in Las Vegas pegged as 33/1 odds.

After the much-maligned 0-4 conference start (three of which were against the Pac-12's top three seeds), ASU finished the regular season 9-5 and earned the No. 5 seed in the tournament.

"I don't think I've ever been a part of a team that improved more over the course of the season," ASU coach Herb Sendek said.

Much of the team's recent success over conference play was because it finally settled on a starting lineup/rotation. Perhaps no factor was bigger than freshman point guard Tra Holder's improvement, which Sendek said on Monday would have happened even if freshman Kodi Justice wasn't out.

Holder averaged 10.1 points and 4.9 assists in his past 14 games and was named to the All-Pac-12 Freshman team. During the same period, senior forward Shaquielle McKissic, junior guard Gerry Blakes and sophomore forward Savon Goodman also averaged in double figures.

ASU's first challenge in the tournament is against No. 12 seed USC (11-19, 3-15 Pac-12) on Wednesday at 2:40 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks. Even though the Sun Devils defeated the Trojans in February, ASU knows it struggled in that game, trailing by 10 points at one point in the second half.

“Shame on us if we would ever fall victim to that kind of thinking — to think that because we beat a team at one point this season that somehow that was a life insurance policy that we were going to do it again," Sendek said.

McKissic said ASU is taking on the underdog mentality to give the team a chip on its shoulder.

"The season starts over and everybody is 0-0 and anything that has happened up to this point doesn't matter anymore," McKissic said. "It's a whole new ballgame now."

USC update

USC has finished last in the Pac-12 in two consecutive seasons under coach Andy Enfield and were the worst team in the conference in three of the past four seasons.

At one point, USC lost nine conference games in a row. The Trojans have played somewhat respectable of late, winning two of its past six games and kept two other games close.

Katin Reinhardt, Nikola Jovanovic and freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin lead USC in scoring, all averaging between 12.1 and 12.4 points per game.

USC announced McLaughlin is out for the season (shoulder injury). He last played on Feb. 11.

Reinhardt did not play (suspension) in ASU’s win on Feb. 22. He has returned to play since, but not as a starter. In the three games following the suspension, Reinhardt is averaging 16.3 points on 37.5 percent shooting.

 

Reach the sports editor at jmjanss1@asu.edu or follow @jjanssen11 on Twitter.

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