Is this a bubble team or a real contender for the field of 65 in March? The Arizona State Sun Devils (6-5, 16-7) will have every chance to claim that they belong as they continue to play down the stretch of their PAC-10 schedule.
After losing five straight - to Stanford, Washington, Washington St., USC and UCLA - the rest of the conference was about to write them off. But, with their second straight win, they are suddenly back in the thick of it, just a 1/2-game behind third place Washington St. (7-5), with 9-3 Stanford and 9-2 UCLA ahead.
The PAC-10 will likely send 5 or even six teams to the national tourney, and Arizona State has a legitimate chance at being one of the chosen few.
With seven games left on their schedule, they have the opportunity to avenge all of their losses, they've already swept in-state rival Arizona, and the remaining games are with Cal, Oregon and Oregon State, three teams they've already beaten. Supposing they win those three and split the revenge/avenge games, they'd finish up at 21-9 and 11-7 in the conference, and it would depend on which of the teams (USC, UCLA or the two Washington teams) they beat and how those teams finish.
They may be firmly on the bubble for a couple of weeks, but after last night's win, the Sun Devils have everything in front of them. The big home win over highly ranked (#7) Stanford, in which they rallied from seven points behind in the final two minutes of regulation, could be just the juice they needed.
Elsewhere in the Top 25, the Butler Bulldogs (23-2, 12-2) easily dispatched Youngstown St., 89-73, to maintain their two-game lead in the Horizon league, and #21 Washington State won their second straight after three consecutive losses, going on the road to defeat Oregon St., 70-57.
Tonight's schedule is light, with only one top 25 team in action. #22 Pittsburgh travels to Marquette for a pivotal Big East showdown. The Panthers are 7-4 in the conference and have won two straight, while rebounded with a win at Seton Hall after losing to Louisville and Notre Dame. The Golden Eagles are 7-5. Point guard Lavance Fields is expected to see action for the Panthers. He's been out 7 weeks with a broken foot.
The weekend has a number of great games on tap with all Top 25 teams taking to the hardwood. Saturday's Texas at Baylor game stirs some interest, along with Missouri at Kansas State. A late Saturday game sends Michigan State to Indiana in a battle of Big Ten powerhouses.
On Sunday, #2 Duke visits Wake Forest, while out West, UCLA tangles with crosstown rival USC.