Jordan Bachynski pictured the moment in his head a million times. But never like this.
The Arizona State senior center spent the past four years dreaming of reaching the NCAA tournament with his Sun Devils teammates. He imagined himself grouped with the rest of his team, eagerly watching the television as CBS revealed the bracket region by region.
So there he was on Sunday afternoon inside Wells Fargo Arena on ASU’s campus waiting for his moment.
Except his coaches stole it first.
Stationed at the opposite end of the room and watching a feed of the selection show that apparently wasn’t synced up with the TV he and his teammates were watching, Bachynski heard coach Herb Sendek and his assistants erupt with cheers.
A few seconds later, he understood the fuss.
His Sun Devils (21-11) were in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
“Once I finally heard our name and saw it with my own eyes, I just jumped up, yelled and hugged my wife,” Bachynski told the Star this week. “You work so hard from Day 1 to get a chance to make the tournament, and we haven’t been able to do it my first three years here. To do it as a senior is very special.”
ASU, the No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region, will open play tonight around 6:40 against No. 7 seed Texas (23-10) in Milwaukee.
And like any good first-round matchup, this one has plenty of intriguing storylines.
- The coaching connection. Sendek was an assistant coach at Providence under current Texas coach Rick Barnes during the 1988-89 season.
- The Patterson problem. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson used to be the boss at Arizona State before taking the job with the Longhorns last November, upsetting ASU President Michael Crow after Patterson initially told him he would stay at ASU.
- The players. The game features two dynamic point guards in Arizona State’s Jahii Carson and Texas’ Isaiah Taylor. Carson led ASU in scoring at 18.6 points per game and dished out 4.5 assists per game. Taylor, a freshman, was second on the Longhorns with 12.5 points per game and averaged 3.9 assists per contest.
Bachynski and Longhorns center Cameron Ridley also make for a fun matchup down low. Bachynski was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year this month and Ridley, a sophomore from Houston, averaged 11.2 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game to go with 71 blocks on the year.
“I’ve seen little bits of them on TV, and it’s definitely going to be a tough game,” Bachynski said. “They have a lot of talent down low, so I love that they have a challenge waiting for me. This is what it all comes down to, so I want to make sure I play my very best.”
That shouldn’t be a problem for the senior from Canada, who averaged 11.1 points per game and had 132 blocks on the season. He wasn’t sure he’d ever get this opportunity and is intent on making the best of it.
“My freshman year, we were horrible,” Bachynski said. “I didn’t play a lot, and it was a tough year. I always had that doubt — ‘Am I going to make it to the tournament?’ There are lots of people who play college basketball and don’t make it.
“I definitely had my moments where I didn’t know if it was going to happen for me or not.”
Now, ASU must play with Bachynski’s sense of urgency.
Sendek, in his eighth season with the Sun Devils, is taking his team to the NCAA tournament for just the second time. In 2009, ASU beat Temple in the first round 66-57 but lost to Syracuse in the second game 78-67.
Sendek and the Sun Devils set a clear goal in the summer to reach the tournament with a roster that featured Carson, Bachynski and Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall.
After compiling a 21-11 record and a 10-8 mark in Pac-12 play, it was mission accomplished for ASU.
“As a college basketball player, it’s a memory that you’re going to have the rest of your life,” Sendek said. “There’s a lot of good players, good teams, that don’t have this opportunity. I’m very happy for them.
“There’s no feeling like it. It’s hard to describe.”
Now that the Sun Devils have made it, the objective is to win a game or two. Sendek’s team enters the tournament in a bit of a funk having lost three straight games, including a first-round blowout loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament.
But Sendek, who made seven appearances in the tournament before he came to ASU as the coach at North Carolina State and Miami (Ohio), doesn’t think the recent skid will have a big impact on tonight’s game.
“Everybody has a sense of rebirth going into the tournament,” Sendek said. “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.”
The coach continued: “I don’t think we’ve necessarily played our best lately, but we’ve played very good teams. We’ve been on the road four of our last six games, not including the Pac-12 tournament, and our league is really good.”