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Don’t Look Now, But Bobby Hurley’s ASU Team Is Top Five Bound

Probably anyway. We’ll see later Monday.

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NCAA Basketball: St. John at Arizona State
Dec 8, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Bobby Hurley argues a call in the first half of the game against the St. John's Red Storm at Staples Center. 
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

When Herb Sendek fled Raleigh for Arizona State, he presumably sought to flee the long shadows of Duke and UNC basketball.

He probably didn’t understand the dynamics of Arizona and Arizona State very well.

It may be worse in Tucson than Tempe but the rancor of that rivalry far outstrips any we know of. It’s not a better rivalry; it’s just incredibly nasty.

In Tucson, the U of A is it. Tucson is kind of an island far away from most of the rest of country and most of - well all of - the athletic pride comes from the Wildcats.

Lute Olson elevated that program into a different orbit where it has stayed, more or less, since 1988.

That hasn't happened in Tempe and it’s been immensely frustrating for Arizona State fans as the Sun Devils have been consistently outperformed by folks from what to them is a cowtown.

This peaked in some ways when ASU fans taunted Steve Kerr after his father Malcolm, who was president of the American University, was assassinated in Beirut, but it never really simmers down. Arizona beats the crap out of ASU in basketball, holds its own in football, and ASU fans never catch a break.

Not really.

Sendek found out. Pretty much every coach ASU has had for years has failed: Bob Weinhauer, Steve Patterson, Bill Frieder, Rob Evans and Sendek.

Weinhauer was well regarded, Patterson was a John Wooden product, Frieder did quite well at Michigan before flaming out at ASU, Evans has not been a head coach since and Sendek most of you know of.

In his first two years, former Duke legend Bobby Hurley won 30 games, 15 each year, and was thought by some to be on the proverbial hot seat. This year though ASU is surging.

The 9-0 Sun Devils have put at least 90 points on every opponent other than San Francisco and St. John’s, averaged 91 ppg, and beaten Kansas State, #15 Xavier soundly (102-86), an improving St. John’s by 12 and, on Sunday, Kansas, 95-85.

At Kansas.

Winning at Allen Field House is extraordinarily difficult but Arizona State did it and did it with aplomb.

The Sun Devils fell behind 15-2 before cutting the lead to three by halftime.

After the game, Bill Self lamented his team’s defense and one of his players seemed a bit shocked that three guards had scored 72 points.

Hurley’s path to this point has been a bit unconventional. He was brilliant at Duke and with the Select Team in 1992, the only team that beat the Dream Team, people were stunned to find that he ran faster while dribbling than he did without the ball.

He got into horsebreeding after nearly losing his life in an accident that ultimately ended his NBA career prematurely.

But for a guy who grew up as Bob Hurley’s son and then played for Coach K, coaching was probably unavoidable. He got back in as his brother Danny’s assistant before moving on to Buffalo and now Arizona State.

His body of knowledge must be profound and playing for two of the toughest coaches in history...can you imagine what he imparts to his players? The lessons he’s learned?

A lot of people think that ASU’s win over Kansas is the biggest statement game of the year so far and there’s a chance that Arizona State could be the #1 team in the country Monday.

If that happens, the circus will descend on Tempe in force.

Fortunately, Coach Hurley has been through that plenty. That team is in good hands.

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