The Arizona State Basketball team is walking on thin ice right now or should I say a thin bubble.
The Sun Devils (19-7, 8-5 Pac-12) are looking for the elusive 20th victory when they host the Washington State Cougars in Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday night at 10 p.m. EST. This game is a must-win if they hope to keep their tournament hopes alive.
While several teams in the country win 20 games year in and year out, this will be head coach Herb Sendek's fourth 20-win season in his seven years at the helm. The Devils had only three 20-win seasons in the quarter-century prior to Sendek's arrival—talk about elusive.
With two home games remaining, the Devils are 14-3 at home and need both of them to tie the school record for most home wins with 16, a feat not accomplished since a beardless James Harden dominated the hardwood.
The home games are not going to be the problem for the Sun Devils; it is a couple upcoming road games that are going to test their mettle and will make or break their NCAA tournament bid. Granted, if they lose to either Washington or Washington State, they can kiss their chances goodbye, but this article is written with the assumption that they win out at home this week.
Arizona State travels to Pauley Pavilion next Wednesday for a late-night matchup with the UCLA Bruins. The game is set for an 11:30 pm EST tip-off and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.
The Bruins (19-7, 9-4 Pac-12) are in the middle of an eight-day break before heading across town to exact revenge on their rival, the USC Trojans. Revenge will also be at the forefront of Ben Howland's mind when the Sun Devils visit on Feb. 27.
The Sun Devils humiliated the Bruins in Tempe in late January by starting off strong and pummeling them by 18 points when all was said and done. The Bruins shot 34 percent from the field and a miserable 5-of-24 from beyond the arc.
This is a game that has drastic implications for both teams as they are both fighting to stay alive down the final stretch. The Bruins and the Sun Devils both still have to face the No. 12 Arizona Wildcats and it is highly doubtful that they both beat the 'Cats, so this game takes on even more importance.
Speaking of the basketball team from Tucson, the Devils and Wildcats will each have a week-long break in preparation of the basketball version of the Duel in the Desert.
Arizona State held strong with the 'Cats in their first meeting in Tempe. The Sun Devils even led for a bit in the first half. The final 10 minutes of the game were disastrous for the Devils as they were outscored 25-10 and the crowd was left muttering about "the same old Devils."
Arizona has struggled as of late, losing two of its last three, but is looking to rebound with wins over the Washington schools at home this week and at the Los Angeles schools next week. The 'Cats aren't going to miss the NCAA tournament if they lose at home to Arizona State—it will take a lot more losses for them to be snubbed by the selection committee.
For the Sun Devils, winning out with road wins at UCLA and Arizona would guarantee an invite, but winning the next four and losing to a top-15 team in Arizona might still get them in, and that's a mighty big might.
David is a Featured Columnist of Arizona State Athletics for B/R. Follow him on Twitter at @asudave.
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