When conference play began, Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils weren’t expected to do much. They were 8-5 with an unimpressive schedule that yielded a home loss to Lehigh. Sure, the rest of their losses were excusable instances against quality teams or on the road; but we still had little reason to imagine that Arizona State would amount to much. Then three of their first four conference games were on the road and – in slicing three of four another way – those games were against three top-10 defenses. Arizona State, on January 15, was sub-.500 and we could seemingly give up on them. The basketball was ugly enough that you might jarringly display it from behind a curtain during a free throw.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to talk a little bit about Herb Sendek’s program. Maybe it’s because I’m a defender of jobs and don’t enjoy the hot seat debate. The irresponsible wielding of the sword threat bugs me. Of course by noting my affinity for positive coach speak, I’m backhandedly noting that Herb could be on the hot seat. Whoops. What has Herb done in Tempe? Well he’s attended two NCAA tournaments which matches the program’s success of the previous twenty years. He’s won twenty games on five occasions (of eight seasons). Is success relative? I think so. For example: Two NCAA tournaments in eight seasons at UCLA? Should we even bother to answer this question? Or should I just pose it to Gene Bartow? Gary Cunningham? My Socratic methoding seems to suffice. But the perhaps curse of Sendek has been his swift success. He plucked James Harden out of the Los Angeles grips of Ben Howland and within three seasons in Tempe, Herb was finishing third in a six-bid league (read: tough Pac-10). Fairly or otherwise, it seems to me that expectations were set. And then they won just 20 games (ten per season) the next two years. Disappointment set in but expectations were not adjusted. After the Harden years, it would be five seasons before the Devils could have their dancing hearts ripped out again.