ASU coach Herb Sendek won only 22 games overall in the two previous seasons. The Sun Devils won only 10 conference games in that span. The rumblings over his lack of job security — especially with the AD that hired him (Lisa Love) gone — grew louder with each negative twist and turn.
Talented players such as Keala King and Trent Lockett — a couple of guys who can energize a program — transferred from ASU.
The Sun Devils opened 2012-13 with a lineup heavily reliant on its starters, especially top returners Carrick Felix and Jordan Bachynski. Redshirt freshman point guard Jahii Carson brought some flash to the program, but how he would perform at the major-college level was unknown after he was forced to sit last season because of academic reasons.
With a cloud hanging over him, Sendek changed from a deliberate approach to a more transition style and chucked the zone defense for man-to-man. He has the Sun Devils 14-3 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12 heading into Saturday’s game with No. 7 Arizona (15-1 and 3-1) at Wells Fargo Arena.
ASU managed to beat Arizona 87-80 in Tempe to conclude last year’s 10-21 season. That Arizona team, however, was far from the vintage dominant teams ASU faced previously in the rivalry.
The Wildcats, who failed to make the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round of the NIT at home to Bucknell, were also far below Sean Miller’s standards. Miller has coached two Elite Eight teams (one each at Xavier and Arizona) and has attracted recruiting classes that are reminiscent of the groups Lute Olson attracted to Tucson.
|With the UA highly ranked and ASU competitive again similar to when James Harden was around, this rivalry game is the most significant for Sendek and Miller since they started coaching their respective programs. The magnitude of this game, especially with it in Tempe, is particularly significant for Sendek. This is why:
– Sendek is 7-6 against the Wildcats since taking over the the ASU program in 2006-07 but that winning mark is not as impressive when considering five of the wins (consecutively) were against Arizona’s interim coaching staffs of Kevin O’Neill in 2008 and Russ Pennell/Mike Dunlap in 2009. Arizona was without Olson and on unstable ground.
It can be argued that the 2008-09 team advanced to the Sweet 16 but the Wildcats had fortuitous matchups with Utah and Cleveland State before being routed by Louisville in the Sweet 16.
– ASU’s 73-69 win over Arizona at McKale Center in 2010 came against Miller’s 16-15 team in his first year. That team failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 25 years.
– The Sun Devils’ victory last year was Sendek’s most impressive against Arizona because the Wildcats needed a win to strengthen their NCAA tournament bid. The win made the season for the 10-21 Sun Devils. The Wildcats, however, still did not make the tournament after winning two games in the Pac-12 tournament and falling by two points in the title game to Colorado.
– All told, ASU’s seven wins over Arizona under Sendek were against Wildcat teams that averaged 13.8 losses a season and failed to make the NCAA tournament twice (from 2007-10 and last season) — hardly the level of competition Arizona has shown under Olson and Miller (in the UA’s Elite season of 2010-11).
Sendek gets his chance Saturday to have his most redeeming victory over Arizona.
Why this game is very important to Miller:
– While it is not fair to compare Miller to Olson because of the different eras, Miller undoubtedly wants to establish a stronghold on the state like Olson. Miller is 4-2 against ASU at Arizona. Olson did not lose his third game against the Sun Devils until his 11th season in Tucson. Miller, who for seven years was an assistant under Sendek at Miami of Ohio and North Carolina State, is in his fourth season with the Wildcats.
– For recruiting purposes, a victory shows in-state talent that Miller is continuing what Olson started.
Overall, Miller’s work since coming to Tucson in 2009 shows recruits that he is capable of keeping Arizona a premier program. He has attracted highly-rated recruiting classes, taken the UA to the Elite Eight and elevated the Wildcats to become a Top 10 program again.
This is a rivalry game. It takes on added significance. Sendek vs. Miller has an opportunity to be Ned Wulk vs. Fred Snowden in their hey day. Arizona fans would rather keep it Olson vs. … fill in the blank.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner