With the NCAA Tournament still very much in reach for the ASU men's basketball team, all focus in recent days has been put on proving in these final regular season games that the team is worthy of inclusion.
The Sun Devils' upcoming games against the Stanford Cardinal (14-11, 7-6 Pac-12) and Cal Bears (5-20, 0-13 Pac-12) come on the tail end of an up-and-down record that includes a thrilling victory over the Washington Huskies followed by a surprising loss to the Colorado Buffaloes.
While ASU (17-8, 8-5 Pac-12) knows its inconsistencies have tarnished what was once seen as a rock-solid resume, the Sun Devils are also keenly aware of just how much talent this team possesses. If everything is clicking, there’s no reason why this team can’t make a run in the Pac-12 Tournament and beyond.
“When we’re knocking on all cylinders, it’s a scary sight for teams,” said redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham. “I’m not really that worried about our seeding in the tournament, but just know that if we do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to be a team that I don’t think a lot of people are going to want to see.”
Coach Bobby Hurley is also well aware of just how tumultuous this season has been, and how the entire season’s outlook can change in a matter of days.
“You have to play with a level of desperation, you want to be thinking that way,” Hurley said. “I thought that we didn’t execute well in Colorado, and didn’t make enough plays to win, but I didn’t think it was a lack of effort issue. We had some breakdowns on defense in the second half, but since Washington State, we have cleaned things up in that regard.”
Unfortunately for ASU, its matchups this week with the Bay Area teams can do a lot more bad than it can good.
The Sun Devils are ahead of both the Cardinal and the Bears in conference standings, so two losses would hurt ASU’s resume substantially more than the two wins would help.
Yet, even with the projections favoring the Sun Devils in both matchups, no opponent can be taken for granted in the topsy-turvy world that is the Pac-12.
With the final two home games of the season upon them, the Sun Devils are looking to pick up steam heading into March and send their seniors off on a good note.
One of those seniors is Cheatham, who in his first season suiting up for the Sun Devils has averaged a conference leading 11 rebounds to go along with his 12 points and four assists per game.
It took him a little longer than most to end up playing back home, but he has fit in better than anyone could have expected.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey,” Cheatham said. “A lot of ups and downs, great moments, bad moments, but it’s all a part of the process and I’m honored. I’m excited to play one last good time, and go out with a bang with my guys.”
Cheatham, likely with guidance from Hurley, knows the importance of channeling these passionate outbursts and is well aware of the consequences of letting it get the best of him.
“It’s easy to get really caught up in your emotions, obviously with all the hype surrounding our team and all that type of stuff,” Cheatham said. “You want to come out and play a certain way. And when it doesn’t go right that’s when your character, your foundation, has to be that much stronger because you don’t want to revert and do something that’s out of character."