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Feeling foul

ASU denied a Big Dance invite

 by Alex Espinoza
 published on Monday, March 17, 2008

<b>DASHED DREAMS:</b> Sun Devil head coach Herb Sendek addresses the media Sunday after the NCAA Selection Committee did not award the ASU menís basketball team with a seed in the NCAA Tournament, despite ASU finishing fifth during the regular season in the Pac-10./issues/news/704142
Bettina Hansen / THE STATE PRESS
DASHED DREAMS: Sun Devil head coach Herb Sendek addresses the media Sunday after the NCAA Selection Committee did not award the ASU menís basketball team with a seed in the NCAA Tournament, despite ASU finishing fifth during the regular season in the Pac-10.
 
<b>NEXT TIME, MAYBE:</b> Junior forward Jeff Pendergraph addresses the media Sunday after the NCAA Selection Committee did not award the ASU menís basketball team with a seed in the NCAA Tournament, despite ASU finishing fifth during the regular season in the Pac-10./issues/news/704142
Bettina Hansen / THE STATE PRESS
NEXT TIME, MAYBE: Junior forward Jeff Pendergraph addresses the media Sunday after the NCAA Selection Committee did not award the ASU menís basketball team with a seed in the NCAA Tournament, despite ASU finishing fifth during the regular season in the Pac-10.
 

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It happens every year.

A team with a good resume and all the makings of an NCAA Tournament team somehow remains on the outside and is left to only look on and wonder.

This year it happened to the ASU men's basketball team.

In today's world of computer rankings like Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and Strength of Schedule (SOS), W's and L's often get lost in the shuffle.

Despite its 19-12 overall record, 9-9 mark in arguably the nation's deepest conference and wins over tourney teams like Xavier, Stanford, USC, Oregon and Arizona twice, ASU couldn't crack the 65-team field.

What makes ASU's omission even more conspicuous are the selections of Pac-10 foes UA and Oregon. ASU had a similar record (UA went 19-13, 8-10, Oregon 18-13, 9-9), finished ahead of both schools in the conference's regular season (ASU was fifth, Oregon sixth and UA seventh) and split the series with Oregon but swept the Wildcats.

Oregon made it as a No. 9 seed and UA a No. 10.

In the end, ASU's weak computer figures (No. 83 in RPI and No. 77 SOS) may have cost it a bid to the Big Dance.

Just don't tell that to ASU coach Herb Sendek.

"If our initial reaction is to point the finger, let's first take inventory of some of the opportunities that we had along the way that we could have taken better advantage of," Sendek said. "Where we could have played better, where we could have done more. If you want to start and end by playing the role of the victim, you let a great opportunity slide by to learn from the experience.

"At this point, the coaches and the players hurt a great deal. There's no getting around that."

The Sun Devils certainly had a couple of chances to stamp their ticket to the NCAA Tournament in the closing weeks of the season. It seems one more win would have been enough to get the Sun Devils over the hump, making the controversial call in ASU's game against USC Thursday in the Pac-10 Tournament all the more magnified.

USC led the quarterfinal game 57-55 with 16 seconds left when ASU junior forward Jeff Pendergraph was called for an over-the-back foul by official Michael Eggers. Pendergraph dunked a missed layup by freshman guard James Harden over an USC player only to pick up his fifth foul to foul out. USC forward Davon Jefferson nailed the subsequent pair of free throws to give the Trojans a 59-55 win.

Sendek had a clear view of the play and said he thought it was a clean dunk. Pendergraph said he didn't feel anyone below him as he slammed it home. Even Jefferson acknowledged that he didn't feel contact.

"Not really," Jefferson told The Orange County Register. "I think it was just a great play on his behalf. I'd be very, very, very upset if that would have happened to me."

ASU associate head coach Mark Phelps scolded officials after the game, saying something to the effect of "You [expletive], you cost us a tournament bid."

Phelps reconvened later inside the Staples Center tunnel with officials once cooler heads prevailed to discuss what happened, though it appears Phelps may have had a point.

It wasn't the first time that ASU had been on the wrong side of a controversial play in the closing seconds of a game. Harden looked to have drawn contact from defenders on a last-second drive of the Jan. 26 contest against Washington State, but no foul was called and ASU fell 56-55.

What if the Sun Devils had got either of those calls? What if they scheduled better nonconference opponents to start the season? What if the selection committee just looked at the box score and didn't see how ASU's Pac-10 Tournament ended?

All these questions can be perpetuated, but when it comes down to it, ASU didn't have enough wins to be an undeniable choice.

Sendek said it best after the USC contest: "It is that it is."

What ASU is now, is a No. 1 seed in the NIT Tournament. The NIT selection committee announced its bracket shortly after the NCAA did Sunday afternoon and has ASU hosting Alabama State Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Arena.

The Sun Devils have come a long way since last year's abysmal 8-22 (2-16 in the Pac-10) campaign, but a season without an NCAA Tournament bid means no chance at the NCAA title.

"It's hard," Sendek said of preparing for the NIT. "I'm not going to kid you about that. It will require picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off, wiping some blood away, clearing some tears.

"It's not going to be easy, I'll tell you that right now."

Reach the reporter at: alex.espinoza@asu.edu.



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