The Arizona State Sun Devils basketball team still has a chance, albeit a very small chance, to punch its ticket to the Big Dance on Selection Sunday.
The Sun Devils (20-8, 9-6 Pac-12) are hoping for a wee bit of luck on this St. Patrick’s Day. If they win their final three regular-season games on the road, there should be no need for luck.
Their resume is admirable but not impressive. The Devils notched only their seventh 20-win season in the past 25 years, the fourth in Herb Sendek’s seven-year tenure as head coach.
The Sun Devils have only played seven games on the road this year with an early non-conference victory over Texas Tech but then split their road trips to Oregon, Washington and the Rocky Mountain schools.
They can’t afford a split at the Los Angeles schools as they meet the UCLA Bruins Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m. EST in storied Pauley Pavilion.
Arizona State is 5-2 against the other top-six teams in the conference, and I will break down its tournament resume and hope for the best.
The Sun Devils started the season with four victories, including a convincing 25-point win over the Arkansas Razorbacks, who has defeated then-No. 2 Florida. They cruised through non-conference play with an amazing 11-2 record, with their only speed bumps coming from No. 14 Creighton and a scrappy DePaul Blue Demons team that seemed to have the Devils’ number.
They began conference play on shaky ground, needing overtime to beat the Utah Runnin’ Utes. After easily beating Colorado and Oregon State, the Devils lost two straight to the top two teams in the league, Oregon and Arizona.
They won four of their next five dropping a heartbreaker at Washington. After dispatching the Cal Bears, the Devils had another two-game losing streak with losses to Stanford and at Utah. They won their next two in dramatic fashion, sweeping Colorado in overtime and Washington State by 12 at home.
Saturday’s loss to Washington may have dashed the Devils’ tournament hopes unless they can finish strong on the road.
Ratings Percentage Index (RPI)
The Ratings Percentage Index or RPI is the most common and well-known ranking system since it has been in use for over 30 years. It is believed by some to give an unfair advantage to larger schools and decried by others as an overly simplistic system.
The formula to determine a teams RPI is (WP * 0.25) + (OWP * 0.50) + (OOWP * 0.25)
WP = Winning Percentage
OWP = Opponents’ Winning Percentage
OOWP = Opponents’ Opponents’ Winning Percentage
According to ESPN, the Sun Devils RPI is .5510, the No. 85 team in Division I. They have only played one team with an RPI in the Top 25, Arizona, and lost. However, they have played six teams with an RPI between 26 and 50 and have a 4-2 record.
Their strength of schedule is 137 overall, 90 in conference and a horrible 290 non-conference. The SOS factors into the RPI but only if the team wins some of the tough games. USC’s SOS is an amazingly low 27, but since it was 1-11 against RPI top-50 teams, its RPI is over 100.
The Devils need to find a happy medium between cupcakes and top-ranked teams to improve their RPI in the future.
Basketball Power Index (BPI)
ESPN explains the Basketball Power Index or BPI as:
A men’s team rating that accounts for a team’s scores in all D-I games, by location, result, the strength of their opponent, and whether any of their top five players (by minutes per game) was missing.
They go on to explain that it differs from the RPI in that:
- Scoring margin, adjusted for pace, matters
- Strength of Schedule (SOS) calculation uses more information
- De-weights games with missing key players
In this newfangled power ranking system, the Sun Devils have a BPI of 70.2, good enough for the No. 65 team in Division I.
According to the BPI, the Sun Devils are currently projected to be the No. 80 team, missing the tournament by a large margin.
For the purpose of this article, I have quantified a quality win as a victory over a team that currently has a RPI in the top 50 in Division I.
As mentioned earlier, Arizona State is 4-3 against the RPI top 50, which is amazing since Arizona and Oregon have both lost four games to the same group.
Jan. 6—defeated 10-3 Colorado, 65-56, at home. Colorado led early 20-7 and held a 33-30 lead at halftime but only scored 23 in the second half.
Jan. 26—defeated 16-4 UCLA, 78-60, at home. UCLA was coming off a big win over No. 6 Arizona and came out flat shooting only 35 percent from the field, giving up 46 points in the paint and were out-rebounded, 52-33.
Feb. 7—defeated 13-8 California, 66-62, at home. Cal has simply been on fire as of late, winning seven of its last eight, including No. 7 Arizona, No. 10 Oregon (twice) and UCLA.
Feb. 16—defeated 17-7 Colorado, 63-62, on the road. The Buffs trailed by six with just over a minute to go and roared back to tie the game in regulation at 52. A signature road win for the Devils.
This was only the sixth loss at home for Tad Boyle in the last 49 games.
Dec. 12—Lost at home to DePaul, 78-61. Arguably the worst game of the season for the Sun Devils. Coming into the game at 8-1, the Devils were embarrassed at home surrendering a 17-4 streak in the second half. DePaul has an RPI raking of 180 and an 11-16 record.
Feb. 13—Lost at home to Utah, 60-55. The Devils opened this game slowly, trailing 29-22 at the half. They took the lead with 11 minutes remaining and began to pull away, leading by eight with only seven minutes to go. They would then go ice cold, being outscored 19-6 on 2-of-9 shooting.
Final Stats and Notes
The UCLA Bruins and the Arizona Wildcats are No. 1 and No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring, while the Sun Devils are fifth. These teams are obviously beatable, but the Devils need to bring their A-game.
The main area for concern for the Devils is their free-throw shooting. Their 62.1 percent from the charity stripe is not only the worst in the Pac-12 but ranks 333rd out of 347 Division I teams.
They average 21 three-point attempts per game, the most in the league but only sink one-third of them for eighth in the league. Conversely, their two-point percentage of 53.2 percent is the best in the Pac-12; maybe they need to stick with what works well for them.
Defensively, Arizona State is No. 1 in the conference and No. 5 in the country in blocks, averaging 6.43 per game. They are No. 6 in steals and No. 9 in rebounds per game behind UCLA and Arizona in each category.
Individually, Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA is No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring with 18.2 points per game and Jahii Carson is right behind him at No. 4 and 17.5 points per game. Larry Drew II from UCLA leads the league with 7.6 assists per game and is No. 4 in the country. Carson is right behind LD II at No. 3 in the Pac-12. Jordan Bachynski leads the conference in blocks per game and is No. 3 in field-goal percentage.
Can the Sun Devils win out on the road? Stranger things have happened, but the bulk of the upsets this season have been when the top teams are on the road, not at home.
There still is the Pac-12 tournament if things don’t go well on this road trip.