ASU Snubbed by NCAA Tournament, NIT Bound

Even after a controversial loss to USC in the Pac-10 tournament, there was still hope that the Sun Devils would receive an invitation to the NCAA tournament. Ultimately, ASU's quality wins didn't carry the same weight as the RPI and strength of schedule. Thus, the maroon and gold will host Alabama State in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night at 8 pm PT.

"My basic message to them (the ASU squad) was that first let's recognize and celebrate what we accomplished to this point," said Coach Herb Sendek. "We've had some great wins, we had an excellent season but if our initial reaction is to point the finger – let's first take inventory of some of the opportunities that we had along the way, that we could have taken better advantage of, where we could have played, where we could have done more."

"If you want to start and end and play the role of the victim, you'll let a great opportunity slide by to learn from the experience…having said all that, obviously it's a very disappointing moment for us. We were anxious all weekend following our game against USC. At this point, the coaches and the players hurt a great deal. There's no getting around that."

The biggest outcry from the Sun Devil nation following the selection show, was the fact that their archrival Arizona, who not only was swept by ASU but was also ranked below the Sun Devils with a sub .500 record, did get an invitation to the big dance.

"It's merely a function of where you want to put weight in the equation. What variables are you going to give weight to? If head-to-head competition doesn't weigh as heavily as the composition of your non-conference schedule, then there's a chance that Arizona goes in ahead of us, and that's obviously what happened," said Sendek on that topic. "Where you finish in the conference and head-to-head competition today wasn't as important, obviously, as some of the other considerations, for whatever reason. That's what the committee went with."

The fact that ASU wasn't included in the field of 65 was largely attributed to its RPI ranking. That index has certainly come under fire, as it does reward teams for losing to better opponents. For example, when Kentucky (who is in the field of 65) lost by 41 to Vanderbilt, one of the SEC conference powerhouses, its RPI actually improved.

The Sun Devils' strength of schedule, or lack of in some experts' eyes, is a significant component of the RPI. Thus, it's easy to attack ASU for lining up contests against considerably inferior non Pac-10 opponents. Nonetheless, Sendek believes that there are several factors that need to be taken in consideration when making that assumption.

"First, our basketball team won two conference games last year and eight games overall," he explained. "We knew we were going to be extraordinarily young this season. We started with a great field in Maui, we had an obvious top 10 or 15 team in Xavier and we had the Big 12 Challenge. So we had five non-conference games that could have come against five top 25 teams."

"You add that to what was expected to be the top conference in the country, 19 games. Now we're at 24. So you're sitting there in your office, last year is when this had to be done, and you're saying, we just won eight, we got 24 on the ledger right now, how many more is prudent? Should we go to 25? Should we go to 26? Should we schedule the Suns? Should we include the Lakers? How do you do that, unless you're clairvoyant?"

"The other factor in scheduling is, how do you always predict who's going to have a really good RPI? And, just because you want to schedule someone doesn't mean they want to schedule you. Who's to know that Princeton, a team that nobody ever wants to play, when you match up with them in Maui, is going to have a 313 on the RPI? Whereas if you would have played Chaminade in Hawaii, it doesn't count because they're non-Division I. So, there are those kinds of idiosyncrasies that make it very difficult to put your arms around."

Weak RPI or not, the consensus is that if the maroon and gold were victorious in just one more contest, whether it be the USC game in the Pac-10 tournament or any other conference game, ASU would be celebrating their inclusion in March Madness.

"I think if we would have won one more game anywhere along the trail, it would have been very difficult to keep us out," Sendek stated. "I think we were one game away in a lot of different directions, winning one more game, having the cards fall another direction in a conference here or there. I think you can reasonably say we were one game away, here, there or somewhere else."

"If we would have beat them, I think we would have been in, but I don't think it cost us," said forward Jeff Pendergraph on the USC game. "We can look back through the whole year and see a bunch of games that cost us, losing to Washington and Washington State at home, losing to Cal at home after we beat Stanford, losing at Washington State cost us, Nebraska cost us, and Illinois cost us. Just some more wins here and there would have helped."

Alabama State, ASU's first round opponent in the NIT, is from the SWAC conference and finished the season 20-10. Their season ended when they last Friday in the second round of their conference tournament to Jackson State 77-72 in overtime. In some of their more notable games they lost 63-60 to Auburn and 83-74 to Miami (Fla.).

The Hornets average 70.4 ppg while allowing 64.7ppg. They are led by junior guard Andrew Hayles who averages 14.6 ppg. They also feature a 7-1 junior center by the name Chief Kickingstallionsims who plays just over 16 minutes a game.

Sendek admitted that he felt that it would be hard for his team to put aside the disappointment and getting ready for the NIT. On the other hand, Pendergraph feels that this situation is par for the course for the maroon and gold.

"We've been dusting off and moving on all year," he said. "I don't think it's gonna be that bad or that hard to just keep it moving. We've had some disappointing losses and some big wins here. So we're just gonna pick it up, keep moving and not dwell about it."

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