(Photo: Brady Klain/WCSN)
Just two weeks ago in Tucson, ASU men’s basketball was a few plays away from being ranked No. 1 in the country. Now, after barely pulling out a comeback victory over Oregon State on Saturday, the Sun Devils (14-3, 2-3 Pac-12) were just a play away from falling to 1-4 in conference.
But the important thing is they didn’t.
It’s no secret that ASU hasn’t looked the same since its 12-game romp through non-conference play. One of the most dangerous offensive teams in the country has fallen victim to changing pace, opposing defensive adjustments and matchup problems against Pac-12 foes.
Simply put: The Sun Devils are slumping. That’s why it was so important for them to get this win over the Beavers.
ASU needed to beat Oregon State to split a two-game home stand, but even more for confidence and momentum’s sake. Two consecutive home losses — and a 1-4 conference record — could have sent this team into a tailspin. Instead, ASU can reflect on what hasn’t been working and adjust without panic.
“We may not be playing exactly like we were earlier in the season,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “I know you go through different parts of the year where that’s going to be the case. We’ve just got to push through the tough times.”
Hurley’s team has an important week of practice ahead. ASU has dealt with issues against zone defenses, struggles on the boards, poor shooting from its backcourt and minimal contributions from its frontcourt. Returning to its non-conference level of play will require major adjustments in all of those areas.
Whether that means changes to lineups or schemes — or both — remains to be seen. What’s clear is the Sun Devils recognize the problems they face, and they’ve addressed that in team meetings over the last few days.
“Guys just want to get back on a winning streak,” Shannon Evans said. “We want to get back to what we did in the non-conference. I feel like we just woke up and came to play in the second half (tonight).”
ASU trailed Oregon State by 13 with 11:32 to go. It was the bleakest moment of the Sun Devils’ season, but they stormed back in the ensuing 10 minutes to take the lead for good with 1:57 remaining.
Those are the moments that can define a season. Making the right plays at the right time can change a team’s fortunes and allow them to reclaim the narrative. If ASU hadn’t made those plays on Saturday in Tempe, you’d be reading stories that claim the sky is falling.
A win means the sky remains very much intact. It might be partly cloudy after so many consecutive days of sunshine, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to rain. ASU will be fine if it makes the necessary adjustments and breaks out of this slump. They might even win the Pac-12 when all is said and done.
College basketball seasons are far more volatile than weather patterns. They aren’t as easy to forecast, either.