ASU Basketball: Devils Visit UCONN in NIT


Today, the ASU men’s basketball team plays the Huskies of UCONN in the first round of the NIT.  The NIT (National Invitational Tournament) is an alternative tournament for teams that were not invited to the Big Dance. (National Championship Tournament).

With an overall record of 17-15, ASU is the #5 seed in the NIT, while Connecticut (20-14) is the #4 seed.  Unlike the Big Dance, the NIT’s first rounds are played at the home of the higher seed.  Therefore, ASU will be playing tonight at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, CT.  Tip-off is about an hour from now, at 4 pm, Arizona time.  The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

This is an interesting matchup.  For one, UCONN has been somewhat of a powerhouse in basketball over the last decade or so, winning a couple of National titles under now-departed coach Jim Calhoun.  While the Huskies returned some great players this season, they could not assert themselves as a dominant enough team to get an invitation to the National Championship Tournament.  For the UCONN program and their fans, playing in the NIT is a huge disappointment.

ASU on the other hand is quietly thrilled to still be playing basketball.  After their hear-breaking loss last week to USC, a game where they had a 15 point lead with 8 minutes remaining, the players are happy to have a chance to redeem themselves.  The Sun Devils heated up during the last six weeks of the season, going 9-5 and earning a #5 seed in the PAC-12 tournament.  They went to Las Vegas with the hope of making a legitimate run and impressing the selection committee to secure an at-large bid.

When that didn’t happen, most people assumed that the season was over.  But the NIT picked ASU and now coach Herb Sendek takes his team for the longest road trip of the season.  This will be the final charge for seniors Shaquielle McKissic, Jon Gilling and Bo Barnes.  Fans and people inside the program are hoping that these seniors, (as well as the rest of the team) take advantage of this opportunity.

But ASU will have their hands full.  UCONN is normally a tough place to play.  The Sun Devils road record of 2-12 probably doesn’t give fans a whole lot of confidence either.  Another significant factor will be if UCONN senior guard Ryan Boatright plays or not.  Boatright is a scoring machine, but is questionable for tonight.  ASU will also have to contend with 7 foot center Amidah Brimah, who is a prolific shot-blocker.

As always, for ASU the outcome of this game has more to do with their own mental focus and preparation than their opponent.  When this Sun Devil team is dialed in, they can hang with anybody.  (Arizona, Maryland)  With UCONN probably not too excited to be playing in this game and possibly without their best guard, the Sun Devils might be able to extend their season another night.  A victory tonight would surely wash out the bad taste in their mouth from that tragic loss against USC a week ago.