Arizona State is back in the NCAA tournament, just the second time in eight seasons under coach Herb Sendek. Now the Sun Devils have to rediscover their winning ways.
ASU is the No. 10 seed in the Midwest Regional. The Sun Devils open the tournament Thursday in Milwaukee against No. 7 Texas. The Longhorns are 23-10, tying for third in the rugged Big 12. An ASU win could set up a matchup with No. 2 Michigan.
“Everybody has a sense of rebirth going into the tournament,” Sendek said Sunday. “I don’t think the games that were most recently played necessarily carry over. I’ve done it long enough to see so many stark examples of that.”
ASU enters the tournament at 21-11. The Sun Devils went 10-8 in the Pac-12, tying for third place, but struggled the final two weeks. The Sun Devils lost five of their last seven, including their final three.
“Anything can happen now,” sophomore point guard Jahii Carson said. “We’re in there.”
The Sun Devils watched the NCAA selection show from a warehouse turned “mancave” owned by one of their donors. Staff members handed out gold T-shirts that read “Hot Game.” The team ate while huddled around six televisions, including one that took up an entire wall. It was a moment they have not experienced in five years, the previous time the Sun Devils heard their name on Selection Sunday.
Before the show, associate head coach Eric Musselman walked up to senior forward Shaquielle McKissic and asked simply, “You nervous?”
“A little,” McKissic replied.
Jermaine Marshall, who played in the NCAA tournament during his time at Penn State, overheard the conversation.
“I’m not nervous,” the senior guard said. “Just tell me where we’re playing.”
Like ASU, Texas struggled during the final weeks of the regular season, losing five of eight. The Longhorns were projected to finish eighth in the Big 12 preseason poll, but surprised in Rick Barnes’ 16th season. Texas posted wins over North Carolina, Iowa State and Kansas, rising to as high as 14th in the AP Top 25 poll.
The Longhorns don’t shoot well — just 32.4 percent from three-point range — but hit the offensive boards nearly as well as anyone in the country. Throughout the season, ASU has struggled against such teams.
“We believe in ourselves,” senior center Jordan Bachynski said. “We’ve had a rough road lately, but you know, that’s behind us.”