It is hard to complain about an 11-2 start, especially since this year's Sun Devils have already surpassed last season's win total. So I won't complain. I will, however, note that the two losses came against the two teams that receive any respect from hoops fans nationally – UTEP (projected to win the WAC) and UofA. The wins have mostly come against directional or teams most fans have not heard of before.
Consequently, it is hard to know how good this team can be. If one looks at the narrow victory over Cal State Northridge, the team can be pretty bad. However, even in losing against the rival Wildcats, the Sun Devils showed signs of being a pretty good team.
So, as we sit here 0-1 in the conference, the hoops team now needs to do what the football team did this year. Namely, it needs to "answer the scratch" and win some early conference games.
A sweep in the Bay area shows the Devils are for real and could finish in the top three of the conference and receive an NCAA Tournament bid. A split shows the potential for a top five conference finish. Getting swept on this weekend's trip would be disastrous, as recovering from a 0-3 conference start is very, very difficult.
It is time to separate the wheat from the chaffe, as the old saying goes.
Performances like the one given in Tucson will give the Devils an opportunity to win in Berkeley and Palo Alto. The Bears have not been impressive so far this season and Stanford has been very up and down. For example, the Cardinal lost to WSU but then gave conference favorite UW all they could handle.
Overall, the Sun Devils have already shown strong improvement over last year. First, the team has complimented Ike Diogu with much better outside shooting, thus allowing Ike to operate inside a little better. Second, the guard play has been much improved, with Jason Braxton and Steve Moore playing well for most of the season. Finally, the team is just more focused. They attack zones better and their defensive intensity is more consistent.
All of these improvements, when combined with the uncertainty surrounding many Pac 10 teams right now, mean that the Devils have a good chance at a top five conference finish, something that wouldn't have been projected by many outside the program after such a dismal season last year. However, the team has weathered the off-season storm, worked hard, added some pieces, and now looks like a real Pac 10 hoops team.
Of course, expectations now accompany ASU's gaudy record. Anything lower than an upper half conference finish will now be viewed unfavorably. Losing to the lower tier teams in the league (whoever they end up being) is unacceptable. This Sun Devil team is good and should be able to play that way consistently.
We'll see if Rob Evans can keep the team focused. So far, he has done a masterful job. The team has improved more since the beginning of this season than at any comparable time in recent memory. And that is a tribute to some solid coaching going on.
So, Devils, wheat or chaffe? Which will it be?
Wheat or Chaffe?
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