As college basketball's Selection Sunday creeps closer and closer, the ASU men's basketball team's resume has begun to mirror that of last year’s squad.
Both teams collected convincing wins against then No. 1 Kansas, both spent a handful of weeks in the top 25 after a number of impressive non-conference wins and both suffered perplexing losses early in the conference season.
The Pac-12 is once again the unquestionably weakest conference in the Power Five, and even lacks the star power that is typically associated with the University of Arizona.
ASU’s remaining schedule doesn’t lend itself to much resume padding. It instead provides a number of worrisome matchups against widely considered weaker opponents. While seeding projections in late January are liable to change, most experts currently see the Sun Devils on the right side of the bubble.
“Since conference play started, we’ve known what’s at stake, game in, game out,” redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham said. “This is another one of those really pivotal, really talked about games that could be detrimental to our season, or it could really help us ... We just have to go in the with the right mindset and do whatever we got to do to come out victorious.”
The records may look alike, but the similarities between this year’s squad and last year’s end there. The carryover between the two teams is less than that of typical Power Five teams. ASU was forced to replace a trio of guards in Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice, who together averaged over 46 points a game last season.
This season, coach Bobby Hurley is once again relying on a plethora of guards, as sophomore Remy Martin, freshman Luguentz Dort and redshirt junior Rob Edwards make up three of the Sun Devils' top five scorers.
While last year’s team looked to use their relatively smaller size to pick up the pace and light up the scoreboard, this year’s iteration is more content on a balanced offensive attack beginning on the defensive end of the floor.
With seven different Sun Devils already leading the team in scoring at some point this season, Hurley and the rest of his staff have placed a higher emphasis on distributing the ball and finding the best possible shot.
That mindset begins with Martin, who is one of the few holdovers from last year’s team but has seen his role this year shift dramatically. The sophomore is debatably playing his best basketball of the season, coming off a three-game stretch where he averaged 12 points and nine assists, including a career-high 11 assists in ASU’s win over the University of California, Los Angeles.
Martin's embrace of a pass-first mentality has helped make everyone’s life easier and has pumped new energy into a rather inconsistent Sun Devil team.
“We asked Remy to be a spark last year when he came in," Hurley said. "To really pressure the ball and push the basketball. This year I think he’s taken another step in his development."
In the past couple weeks, Martin has been showing the biggest change in his passing, Hurley said.
"He’s thrown some great passes, and he’s really looking for his teammates in addition to finding his own scoring opportunities," he said.
With the rival Wildcats traveling to Tempe this Thursday, the stage is set for ASU to add another quality win to its resume and stake its claim as the cream of the crop within the Pac-12.
After falling to Arizona in both the team’s matchups last season, the Sun Devils have a chance to send the Sun Devil faithful into a frenzy and overcome the struggles that last year’s team couldn't.
ASU will take on UA in Tempe on Thursday, Jan. 31 at 7:00 p.m. MST.