Arizona State Week: A Brief State of The Program AddressPosted by AMurawa on June 15th, 2012
One of the things we want to do as part of this summer-long series is to take a look at where each program is at this point in its history, what realistic expectations fans should have of their program, and what it would take for the program to take the next step on the ladder of college basketball’s hierarchy.
For Arizona State, the last two seasons have really been a low point for the program. While ASU has not historically been a paragon of NCAA basketball success, they’ve at least been a middle-of-the-road team in their conferences on a regular basis, dating all the way back to the Border Conference in the 1950s. But the last two seasons have been the worst pair of consecutive seasons since a 1970 record of 4-22 dragged down the seasons around it. Yet, at the same time, only twice in the school’s history has its basketball program won 20 games or more in three consecutive seasons, a feat Herb Sendek’s teams completed just two seasons ago (the other streak occurred between 1960 and 1963). In fact, only one other time in its history has the team posted even back-to-back 20-win seasons (1979-80 and 80-81, behind guys like Byron Scott, Lafayette “Fat” Lever, Kurt Nimphius and Alton Lister). In short, the Sendek era has represented (just about) the best of times and the worst of times in Sun Devil basketball.
So, the current state of the Arizona State basketball program is: undetermined. If the three straight 20-win seasons had been more recent than the 22-40 streak, Sun Devils fans would be right to be optimistic. But the results on the court over the last two years combined with the rampant flight from the program by its players (12 transfers in the past four years) leaves some well-deserved room for doubt. While no ASU fan can realistically expect this program to compete for Pac-12 titles on a year-in, year-out basis (as proven by the fact that ASU’s best season in their current conference was a 2nd place finish in 2009-10), and while NCAA Tournament bids granted to the Sun Devils should be celebrated as rare and treasured events (there have only been four invites to the Big Dance since the tournament expanded to 64 teams), this is a program that should regularly be no worse than a middle-of-the-pack conference team. ASU fans got used to that in the Bill Frieder era, with regular upper-division conference finishes and invites to postseason tournaments (even if those tournaments were more likely to be NITs than NCAAs).
However, the ceiling for the program likely isn’t much higher than that. In the state of Arizona, UA more often than not will get first pick of in-state players, especially when their program is in stable hands, as it is now. In other words, Sun Devil fans should not be expecting Sendek to sign McDonald’s All-Americans as a matter of course. This is a program where the head coach is going to have to take players who may have been passed over by the elite schools in the conference (namely, Arizona and UCLA) and then go back out and try to beat those types of schools with those second-choice players. But, the fact of the matter is, Sendek has shown his ability to do that. At North Carolina State, he would run up against Duke and North Carolina in recruiting battles, and more often than not, lose, and then go out and hang with those teams in the ACC. He’s the type of coach that ASU needs to reach their potential in the Pac-12. Now it’s just a matter of doing it.