The past two years have not been kind to the Arizona State Sun Devils. Since 2008-09, when forward James Harden took Herb Sendek's team to the NCAA tournament, the program has failed to reach it again. Its only postseason visit, a 2010 trip to the NIT, ended in a first-round loss to Jacksonville. In 2011, Arizona State finished 12-19 overall, capping the season with a last place finish in the Pac-12, behind the likes of Oregon State and Stanford.
Needless to say, this is not the kind of progress Arizona State fans -- hardly the most demanding bunch, but still a group with expectations -- was hoping for. As the Arizona Republic's Doug Haller wrote this week, these struggles bring to mind the traditional troubles Arizona State has had remaining competitive; the program has gone to back-to-back NCAA tournaments just twice in its history. Sendek seemed the perfect coach to upend that tradition, and he's had some success. But Haller's piece showcases a team and a coach that realizes it has to get better, and quickly:
"That's definitely not what I expected, to be a junior (without) having played in an NCAA Tournament," guard Trent Lockett said. "But we're working hard to change that around."
[...] "I've never lost so much in my life, but in all honesty, it was a good experience because it hurt me," sophomore forward Kyle Cain said. "I saw that it hurt my coach and I saw that it hurt my teammates. . . . It's made us work harder."
It's not that Sendek can't coach; he's one of the more respected X's and O's minds in the country. His problem in recent seasons has been talent, or the lack thereof. There is some hope freshman Jahii Carson, an ESPNU top-100 point guard prospect, can help change that, but Carson's eligibility remains under NCAA consideration. Since 2009, five of Sendek's 13 recruits have left the program due to transfer, and so rather than slowly building a team through development and cohesion, Sendek has been forced to plug unexpected holes at the last minute.
That, then, may be Arizona State's first key: stability. Once Sendek gets there, he'll get the Sun Devils competitive. The question is whether his current team can get there quickly enough to give him the chance.