There are always opportunities throughout a basketball season when certain teams must capitalize to stay competitive in their conference. For Arizona State, their time was now with the recent demise of the Oregon Ducks, but has since passed following a loss to Stanford.
Before Saturday’s slate of conference games began, the Sun Devils were sitting in a three-way tie with Oregon and UCLA, with the opportunity to change the entire outlook of their season. With a win over Stanford, and an assumed victory by the Bruins against Washington State, Arizona State and UCLA would have shoved the Ducks to the curb and moved one step closer to top ranked Arizona.
Instead, it appears no team is capable of seizing the moment in the PAC-12 Conference.
Oregon is on a landslide with no end in sight, Arizona is clearly the most talented, UCLA is their own worst enemy and then there’s the muck of teams fighting for contention in the middle (Colorado, Stanford, Washington, California and USC). The Wildcats have all but locked up the No. 1 seed in the PAC-12 Conference tournament, but the rest is completely up for grabs. Stanford appears to have the hungriest roster in the conference, but their lack of backcourt talent continues to be their major downfall.
So where does this leave Arizona State? Their destiny is completely in the hands of their roster, and with the play of Oregon and UCLA being incredibly unpredictable there’s no telling where the Sun Devils may land. In order to battle back from Saturday’s 62-59 loss, Arizona State will have to tighten up their perimeter defense, as they surrendered 10-or-18 three pointers to the Cardinal.
It’s unknown whether Oregon will be able to cleanup the mess they’ve created over the past four games, but with the return of freshman point guard Dominic Artis the Ducks are once again a threat to every team in the PAC-12.
The Sun Devils have the unique opportunity to mold their future through the remainder of conference play by taking advantage of the short falls of their frequent opponents. Arizona State was able to win the turnover battle against Stanford (8-14), but was unable to take advantage of their stingy defense. If there’s one thing most teams have in common in the PAC-12, it’s that they commit an unfathomable amount of turnovers. If the Sun Devils can stay focused on a grounded defensive attack, they could enter the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed, just behind their foes in Tucson, Ariz.
Even though Arizona State hasn’t been the most dazzling team this season, they have been the most consistent. If they can find a way to seize the opportunities that teams like UCLA and Oregon have made available, they could end up the silent favorite in conference tournament play.