(Photo: Brooke Faber/WCSN)
As the 2-seed Arizona State Sun Devils get set to begin their NCAA tournament journey, the coverage team has come together to answer some important questions. How will ASU fare? How does their position on the bracket bode for them? Can anybody beat UConn this year? (SPOILER: Probably not…) Anyway, here it is.
1. Does the way ASU ended the season concern you?
Drew Martin: Not in the slightest. The team was on the road for four of the last six weeks of the season, and most of those road trips were to play some of the best teams in the Pac-12. They immediately had to turn around from a tough loss against UCLA and head to Seattle, where Cal scored a big upset. The Sun Devils had to move around a lot and play quite a few games, and that’ll take a lot out of a team, so I think those two consecutive losses to end the year have a direct correlation to just being out of gas. ASU has had two weeks to get their legs back under them, so they should be back to full strength come the opening round of the tournament.
Bailey O’Carroll: While it may concern a lot of people that the Sun Devils have lost their last two games, I am not too concerned. I think that this team will use it as motivation, they have come too far this season and have too much experience to drop three straight. I also think that team mentality change once March comes along is that it’s a blank slate, and really anything is possible.
Tyler Strachan: The next time the Sun Devils play like they did in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament, their season will surely end. That Cal game was an absolute nightmare on the defensive end, as ASU was dominated by a talented, but still inexperienced California frontcourt. The Bears finished the game with a field goal percentage just under 70% in a contest that showed just how ugly things can get when a defensive-minded team like Arizona State doesn’t show up on that end of the floor.
Max Bechtoldt: The back to back losses to end the season does concern me just a bit for the second round matchup against either Tennessee or Green Bay. The UCLA game concerns me more as the lifeless effort in the California game felt like an outlier and not a true measure in where this team is at right now. I still do believe they should be able to get through the first weekend but there are some doubts.
2. What was your initial reaction to ASU’s seeding and region?
Drew Martin: Just like everyone else, I was baffled with the committee’s decision to make ASU a 2-seed. It’s not that I don’t think the Sun Devils have the talent of a 2-seed, it’s just that two losses to end the year generally don’t translate into high seeding. ASU was also ranked No. 11 on the AP Top 25 Poll to end the season, so a 3-seed was pretty much what everyone expected. As for the region, any region that doesn’t have UConn in it is acceptable, so I’m sure the team is ecstatic to have a legitimate opportunity to make the Final Four,
Bailey O’Carroll: I was happy with the seeding that ASU got, it’s the highest seeding in school history. As for the region, I also can’t complain the toughest team they would possibly have to face would be South Carolina, who they lost to at the beginning of the season without star Sophie Brunner. Both teams have improved a lot since their first meeting but I think ASU could definitely come out on top of the Sioux Falls region.
Tyler Strachan: I was shocked (and I think the team was as well) that they ended up with a 2-seed. It seemed unlikely that they would be seeded so high after finishing the season ranked No. 11 in the final AP poll of the year. It seems the team was also pleased to hear that they avoided being placed in the same region as UCONN, and instead are looking at South Carolina (a team they nearly beat earlier this season) as their main obstacle in reaching the Final Four.
Max Bechtoldt: I was pretty shocked to see that ASU ended up on the 2 line especially after the loss to Cal, but satisfied because I do truly believe that’s where this team belongs. Seeing them in the same region as South Carolina was encouraging for the team as well, back in November ASU nearly beat them on a neutral site. All in all, I believe they got a great draw.
3. How far does ASU get in this tournament?
Drew Martin: Ideally, the Sun Devils will make it to the Elite Eight, one round further than they went a season ago, but how far they’ll go in this tournament is a toss-up. With the exception of the first round matchup with New Mexico State, ASU will have a relatively tough matchup in every other round they advance to. The way I see it, anything short of an Elite Eight trip is a disappointment for the highest seeded Sun Devils team in program history, and that’s about where they’ll end up.
Bailey O’Carroll: I think it is most likely for the Sun Devils to make it to the Final Four with a slight chance of making it to the Championship game where they or anyone else who makes it to the championship game will most likely be playing UConn.
Tyler Strachan: While I don’t think a Final Four appearance is completely out of the question, I don’t think it’s likely for ASU to get past Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks if they end up facing off in a rematch. I understand that the Sun Devils were within two-points of an upset of USC in November, but we’re five months removed from that, and I think it’d be a tall order for ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne to get this team to have that kind of success against South Carolina for a second time.
Max Bechtoldt: I think ASU will make it to the Elite Eight. ASU will dominate New Mexico State and I think take care of business against Tennessee or Green Bay on their home court. I think they sneak past Ohio State in a close one, setting up the rematch with South Carolina. ASU gets knocked out here in a very respectable showing that comes down to the last few possessions.
4. What would you consider a successful showing for ASU in the tournament?
Drew Martin: As I said before, anything short of an Elite Eight appearance will be a disappointment for this ASU team. The Sun Devils won their sub-regional a season ago, making a trip to the Sweet Sixteen where they lost to Florida State, so obviously Turner Thorne and ASU would like to take it a step further this year. They’ll have to make it through some tough teams to get there and would likely face a rematch with 1-seed South Carolina, but if they can make it to the Elite Eight, who’s to say they don’t appear in the Final Four?
Bailey O’Carroll: I would consider anything less than an Elite Eight appearance to be an under performance for the Sun Devils. With the talent they have, they are able to beat anyone in the country. Especially in their region there isn’t any one opponent that sticks out as an especially hard competition, the only close match up should be against South Carolina, which ASU is more than capable of beating.
Tyler Strachan: I’m sure Turner Thorne and her players will tell you it’s Final Four or bust, because I think that’s been the outlook for them since before this season tipped-off. And with this being the highest-seeded team in program history, it’s reasonable that they have some pretty big expectations for themselves going into the tournament. I, however, am just a bit skeptical of their chances of reaching Indianapolis, and think that their journey ends with an Elite Eight loss to South Carolina. I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if they we’re knocked out even earlier by an under-seeded Ohio State team, but I’m going formally predict that ASU’s season ends at the hands of the Gamecocks.
Max Bechtoldt: I would consider a run to the elite eight as a successful showing. Last year ASU got knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen. The program needs to show their progression by making it farther than that and not getting beat by a lower seed. Beating South Carolina would be an amazing bonus but I don’t think fans should be disappointed if they suffer a loss there.
5. Which team has the best chance of taking down three-time defending champion and undefeated UConn?
Drew Martin: The realistic answer is nobody. But that would be no fun, which is why I posed the question in the first place. Sure, the Huskies have a 70 percent chance of cutting down the nets yet again this year according to fivethirtyeight.com, but that means there’s still a chance they don’t! Of all the teams in the field, my pick is another perennial Final Four contender, Notre Dame. In their last 109 games, the Irish are 104-5, with four of those five losses coming at the hands of UConn, and I think that a fifth meeting in this year’s championship game is nearly inevitable. The Irish will have to play the game of their lives while also catching UConn on an off night, but I think the window is open for the David to take down Goliath.
Bailey O’Carroll: I think that the Baylor Bears have the best shot at beating UCONN. While the Huskies have a projected 70-percent chance at winning the National Championship again this year. Baylor is incredibly competitive on the defensive end, and will have help from their star power forward Nina Davis. She is undersized but has the ability to score over anyone in the country. I think it’s doubtful that they will be beaten but Baylor will put up the best fight.
Tyler Strachan: Here’s a list of the Top-25 teams who the Huskies have beaten by ten points or more during their 2016 campaign. Ohio State, DePaul, Notre Dame, Florida State, Maryland, South Carolina and South Florida (twice). I just want to make it clear that exactly 0 teams have any chance of beating UCONN in this tournament. The Huskies are 32-0, have already played and smashed two of the other 3 number 1 seeds in the bracket, and oh yeah, currently suit up with Breanna Stewart, who will go down as arguably the greatest player in the history of women’s college basketball.
Now the question does read, “Which team has the best chance of beating UCONN,” so I guess Drew is forcing me to pick somebody. In that case, I’ll say the Baylor Bears, with a 0.000000001% chance of pulling the upset in the semi-finals.
Max Bechtoldt: To me, this one is a no brainer: Notre Dame. Notre Dame and UConn have developed a bit of a rivalry, meeting in the Final Four or National title game in each of the last 5 seasons. The two teams played earlier this season and Notre Dame lost by only 10 points (which is a close game for UConn), despite missing two key players, Brianna Turner and Taya Reimer with injuries. I still believe UConn will win it all, but if anyone has a shot to beat them it’s the Irish.