As winners of five of its last six games, ASU men's basketball is playing its best basketball of the season during its most crucial month.
With the Pac-12 tournament kicking off this week, the Sun Devils will look to prove their NCAA tournament-worthiness on the national stage, while potentially snagging one of the coveted automatic bids with a tournament championship.
The Sun Devils do have the luxury of watching Wednesday’s slate of first-round matchups from the stands. That's thanks to their 21-9 overall record and 12-6 record in Pac-12 play, which netted them the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament and a first-round bye.
“Our roster is more sustainable for postseason because of the number of ways that we can win a game,” coach Bobby Hurley said. “We’ve had games where we’ve scored in the 90s, we’ve won in the 60s, and depending on how our opponent plays, we can adapt pretty well.
Hurley pointed to a strong defense as one of the advantages for the team, especially in its performance late in games.
"This time of year you have to be able to depend on that,” he said.
ASU cruised to an 11-point victory against UCLA earlier this season in the two team’s only matchup this year.
The Sun Devils' double-digit victory in Pauley Pavilion was due in large part to the singular dominance of redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham, who pulled down what was at the time a career-high 20 rebounds, to go along with his nine points and five assists.
ASU’s defense was strong throughout the game, limiting the Bruins to only 73 points on 40.9 percent shooting from the field. It was a complete performance by ASU on both ends of the floor and should give the Sun Devils confidence if they were to meet up again in the Pac-12 tournament.
Unlike UCLA, ASU faced off against Stanford twice this season, splitting its two games against the Cardinal in very different fashions.
The Sun Devils' first matchup with Stanford saw them traveling to Palo Alto early in the conference season.
A lot of the conversation before the game centered around Hurley’s lack of conference road sweeps, and after a convincing double-digit win versus the Cal Golden Bears a few days earlier, the feat seemed more than achievable.
ASU followed up its dominating victory by playing one of its worst games of the season resulting in a crushing 85-71 loss.
The Sun Devils' second matchup with the Cardinal went significantly better, as they led for most of the contest behind a dominant defensive effort.
The Sun Devils were able to limit Stanford to a dismal 37.5 percent shooting percentage, including a troubling 9.5 percent from three.
While ASU’s two games against Stanford this season were drastically different in style and in outcome, the belief certainly exists within the Sun Devil locker room that they possess enough talent to hang with anybody in the conference.
“I’m confident in my guys to play the way they’ve been playing,” sophomore guard Remy Martin said. “I think when the lights are on, we’ve shown that we can play with anybody.”
With a cramped schedule and limited practice time, the outcome of these Pac-12 tournament games is completely up in the air.
Not only does the lack of preparation alter a team’s ability to scout, it also places an even higher premium on good coaching and sound in-game adjustments.
The environment of conference tournaments is unlike most other else sporting events and truly separates the good teams from the great ones.
“When you step into the arena, it just feels bigger,” Martin said, reflecting on his experience from last year’s tournament. “The presence is bigger, the energy. I mean it’s a big deal, but it’s also fun.”