After a statement victory over the Oregon Ducks, ASU men's basketball (13-5, 4-2) sits in third place in the Pac-12. Only the Washington Huskies and the Arizona Wildcats stand above the Sun Devils.
While the Sun Devils are in the midst of conference play, the team's odds to win the Pac-12 are still in the balance.
After upcoming games versus the historical Los Angeles' schools, UCLA and USC, ASU's schedule doesn't get any easier. The Sun Devils are set to go on a five-game stretch featuring teams such as the Wildcats, the Huskies and the Utah Utes.
"They’re very talented, both teams," Hurley said. "And both teams have had to go through a lot this year. UCLA has a lot of talented guys, and they’re the best rebounding team in the conference. They have athletes and size and mobility. So we have to make sure we do a good job in the paint."
The Sun Devils' recent stretch of wins is promising for fans in maroon and gold. As Hurley noted, the team is starting to return to the form they showed during non-conference play.
"But, more importantly, it was more kind of getting back to a standard we’ve seen with this team earlier," Hurley said. "You know the potential is there if you play a certain way."
The "certain way" Hurley refers to is ASU's tenacity on the defensive end.
"It was nice to see us defend that way and see us be in a tight game where the game was close most of the way, and then we needed to have our surge as we went down the stretch," Hurley said.
That defense has been key to ASU's resurgence. In all of the team's Pac-12 wins, the Sun Devils have held opponents to an average of 64.5 points per game.
ASU likes to score, something evident from being the top scoring team in the Pac-12 with about 79 points per game. However, they are prone to losing shootouts.
In games where opposing teams score above 75 points, the Sun Devils are 3-3, and each of the team's losses have been rather lackluster with all coming by a margin of ten points or more.
It took two overtime periods to beat Cal State Fullerton who many viewed as an inferior team. That said, the Sun Devils shouldn't view their fellow Pac-12 teams as easy competition.
UCLA, USC and Utah all average above 75 points per game. Additionally, UA is just under that mark at 74 points per game. Washington, while averaging 72 points per game, posts one of the best shooting percentages in the conference (45.9 percent from the field).
While ASU still has a chance to finish at the top of the Pac-12, the Sun Devils' end-of-the-year finish is dependent on a handful of remaining games. Key games versus the Wildcats, the Huskies and the Utes will ultimately decide ASU's fate.
If the Sun Devils are to win the conference, it will come on the defensive end of the floor.
Jeffrey Horst is the digital editor-in-chief of The State Press. He previously served as the publication's sports editor and worked at Cronkite News and ArizonaSports.com.