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Sun Devil's tournament hopes are fading by the game

Along with a .500 record, there are many reasons Sun Devil Men's basketball will find themselves out of the NCAA tournament unless they run the table in Las Vegas


ASU graduate student guard Jose Perez (12) looking for a teammate to pass while being swarmed by an Oregon State defense at Desert Financial Arena on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024 in Tempe. ASU won 79-61.

It seems ASU men's basketball's NCAA tournament hopes have been slowly spiraling as they have only won two out of their last eight games and have a .500 record (13-13).

The Sun Devils sit right in the middle of the Pac-12  standings, in 7th place out of 12 teams.

After their devastating 45-point loss against Arizona, head coach Bobby Hurley said he doesn’t see his team getting over the hump in March.

READ MORE: Sun Devils fall to No. 5 Arizona 105-60, snaps two-game win streak

"Unfortunately, at this moment, it doesn't look like we have an NCAA tournament team, but I’m going to refrain from talking about the state of the program," Hurley said. "That’s for other people to evaluate and make decisions on. We’ve fought and scrambled to have the record we have, and we are what our record is this year."

Being that their record is average, it seems that the team may be just the same. 

There are a couple of things that set excellent teams apart from the average team, and these are things that ASU lacks. 

The Resume 

The resume that ASU has built throughout the season isn't as impressive as they probably hoped. The Sun Devils are 135th in the NCAA Net Rankings as it stands. 

They started off the season with two losses to Quad 1 teams in Mississippi State and the now No. 25 BYU but then fell in a close one to Quad 3 the University of San Diego, which started a trend. Now, more than halfway through the season, they have had seven Quad 3 matchups and lost five. 

The squad has been able to clean things up in Quad 2 games where they are 6-1, but they have only beaten a single Quad 1 team, which was against Utah in Salt Lake City on Feb. 10. 

Arizona has only lost a single Quad 3 game, which was to a buzzer-beater trey ball by Oregon State's Jordan Pope, and they've only lost three Quad 1 games. Washington State University has only fallen once against a Quad 3 team and is 4-3. All the Pac-12 teams with winning records except UCLA have a winning record when it comes to Quad 3 teams.

An automatic big man

The Pac-12 is full of quality big men. Arizona has Oumar Ballo, who is averaging a double-double. Oregon has N’Faly Dante, who puts up 15+ points a game on 62.3% from the field alongside grabbing over eight boards a game, and Colorado has Eddie Lampkin Jr., who is putting up nearly 10 points a game while averaging seven rebounds.

For the Sun Devils, the two best rebounders are guards, and no forward or center is averaging more than four rebounds a game or more than seven points a game. 

Currently, the big man of the future at ASU could be sophomore center Shawn Phillips Jr. Phillips, a 7-footer who can block shots on the defensive end and be a significant presence in the paint on the offensive end.

After the win against Oregon State,  junior guard/forward Jamiya Neal discussed Phillips’ impact on the game and the type of player he is. 

"The first game against them (OSU), Shawn had a lot of success in the paint so we knew we could exploit that again,” Neal said. “So tonight we were just trying to find him and make sure he gets those same touches and same dunks again, and obviously he’s very athletic, and when he gets it down there (the paint), it’s hard to stop him."

ASU‘s big man struggles have also come from the absence of senior forward Zane Meeks. Meeks is a 6-foot-9 transfer from the University of San Francisco, where he was averaging a career-high almost 11 points, along with career numbers in assists, rebounds, and field goal percentage. He hasn’t touched the floor since late November due to injury. 

Subpar offensive production

ASU’s favorite way to score is through getting out in transition, but their offense struggles when they have to set up in their half-court offense. The lack of a reliable big man plays into this, but also, they have some of the worst team shooting spreads in the country. 

Out of the 351 NCAA D1 basketball programs, the Sun Devils are currently ranked No. 302 in field goal percentage (42.02%), they are ranked No. 316 when it comes to three-point percentage (30.42%) and they rank No. 330 when at the free throw line (65.28%).

They also rank No. 281 in points scored per game (69.6 ppg). 

Hurley said that the half-court offense is a “game-to-game” situation. He has highlighted before how the team has many different sets that depend on the opposing team's defense, but he also said that sometimes they look for the hot hand.

The Sun Devils rely on four main scorers in their struggling half-court offense. One of them, redshirt junior guard Adam Miller, gave props to graduate student guard Jose Perez, as he seems to have the most positive effect on the offense. 

"Perez is a big thing for our half-court offense because he draws a lot of attention," Miller said. "At the start of the game (against Arizona), he was our going factor for our half-court offense."

Perez averages the second most points on the team at 12.9 points a game. He has lots of experience playing collegiate ball and utilizes his size alongside a unique skill set to back players down and score craftily. 

READ MORE: Sun Devil basketball struggles with half-court offense, losing six out of seven past games

Faltering depth and consistency 

ASU has dealt with lineup struggles throughout the entire season. To start, they were without a scoring presence in Miller because of struggles with the NCAA. He only played two games before Pac-12 play began.

As mentioned above, they have also been having problems with their frontcourt, and consistency-wise, the Sun Devils seemed to be streaky when it came to putting together two good halves in one complete game, like against Stanford on Feb. 1, where they didn't score for the final seven minutes of the second half and lost. 

READ MORE: ASU falls to both Ducks, Beavers on weekend trip to Oregon 

ASU now has five games left of the regular season, and both games this week come from the Pacific Northwest schools of Washington on Thursday and Washington State on Saturday in Tempe.

The last time the Sun Devils took on UW, they lost by 15, and Washington State is ranked No. 21 in the country and is ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 2008.

Only three teams have been able to win at Desert Financial Arena this year, and after a gut-wrenching loss against Arizona, ASU looks to bounce back strong and continue to defend its home turf and perhaps, improve its prospects of going to the Dance.

Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan

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