So let me see if I get this straight…
Grand Canyon opens its men’s basketball season at Duke. Gets beat 96-61. Phoenix sports media praises the Lopes for going to Durham in spite of overwhelming odds against winning.
Arizona State goes to the Bahamas, plays top ranked Kentucky, gets beat 115-69, and the media questions the wisdom of traveling so far to get its doors blown off.
Am I missing something here?
Why is it okay for one team to schedule a college basketball heavyweight and get blown out, and a terrible move for the other?
Don’t believe me? ASU has been roundly criticized for scheduling Kentucky in the Bahamas, yet in November 2014, Head Coach Dan Majerle’s first year at GCU, his team went to Lexington and got handed a 40-point loss, and Majerle’s program was praised for its courage.
Now, this is not a column designed to be critical of GCU. A program being essentially being built from the ground up needs to be willing to go anywhere to play anyone, even at the risk of being embarrassed. So, GCU and Majerle are doing the exact right thing to get their program ready for NCAA Tournament eligibility next year. That, and the Lopes win more than they lose.
Here’s the part few want to admit – ASU Head Coach Bobby Hurley is doing the exact same thing.
Well, almost. Obviously, Arizona State is tournament eligible right now, but aside from that, Hurley is doing what he needs to do to establish his program. Last year, Hurley’s Devils played neutral site games against North Carolina State and Marquette, road games at UNLV, Creighton and Kentucky (the Devils lost that one by 14, which the media here called an embarrassment), and its most impressive non conference win was at home over Texas A and M.
Yet, this year, when the ASU schedule was released, fans and media alike wondered aloud what in the name of Naismith was going on.
Roll the tape back a few years, and those questioning the wisdom of a 4,000 mile trip to get a whipping from Kentucky were the same people complaining that ASU never played ANYBODY in November and December.
Make up your mind, Phoenix sports media, what do you want? More games against Idaho State and Maryland-Baltimore County, or games against schools you’ve heard of?
The obvious response is to ask why ASU can’t get more marquee teams to come to Tempe. It doesn’t work that way. You have to take your lumps on the road AND get better as a program before Coach K and John Calipari will consider a game at Wells Fargo Arena.
If you don’t believe that, look at the other basketball team that plays at WFA. In the early days of the Charli Turner Thorne era, her ASU women’s teams would take on any and all heavyweight contenders, most of the time in the contender’s building. Early on, it wasn’t fun. Games at places like UConn and Tennessee were easy to forget.
However, ASU picked up valuable lessons along the way. Turner Thorne’s approach was simple – you learn more about how to improve when you play great competition. Before long, Tennessee and UConn were coming here, and ASU became a regular NCAA Tournament participant.
Again, Hurley is doing the exact same thing.
And that’s wrong?
Majerle’s well-earned place in the hearts of fans and media in Phoenix has afforded him more understanding than Hurley, who, while gruff with referees, has been very accessible to reporters and cameras. They just don’t show up to talk to Hurley very often.
Still, read the paper and listen to talk shows, and you come to the conclusion that Majerle is right and Hurley is wrong. Majerle, according to one Phoenix sports radio outlet, has an edge in recruiting because he has Louisville and San Diego State on his schedule. Guess what? Right after San Diego State plays GCU, they have a home game against….wait for it….Arizona State.
And, Purdue, UNLV and Kentucky aren’t coming through that door to play Grand Canyon. Aside from the Cardinals and Aztecs, the Lopes have non conference home matchups with Illinois-Chicago, Mississippi Valley State, Alcorn State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. In other words, the kind of schedule ASU fans have been complaining about since Ned Wulk’s days.
It’s hard to find fairness very often in college athletics, but it’s not too much to ask people to be fair in assessing the scheduling efforts of the Valley’s two D-1 schools.