Jake Goodrick

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Same city, different result: That’s NCAA Tournament goal for ASU men’s team

DAYTON, Ohio – Back in a city known for its aviation history, Arizona State is flying high with a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and finds itself in a familiar position.

The No. 11-seeded Sun Devils (22-10) take on No.11 St. John’s (21-12) in a First Four game Wednesday night with the opportunity to advance to Tulsa and play No. 6 Buffalo in the first round of the tournament’s West Region.

Once again, after sneaking into the tournament with a late at-large bid, Arizona State is pitted against a similarly positioned team in St. John’s, and left to fight its way into the first round for a second straight year.

“Yeah, obviously some people would look at it as not the most ideal situation,” senior forward Zylan Cheatham said. “But we find positives in every situation.”

Last year, the No. 11-seeded Syracuse Orange defeated Arizona State in the First Four play-in game and carried that pre-tourney momentum into a tournament run and Sweet 16 appearance, where they ultimately lost to No. 2-seeded Duke.

Freshman guard Luguentz Dort has expressed confidence going into Arizona State’s NCAA Tournament game. (Photo by John Mendoza/Cronkite News)

The First Four play-in game does tack an extra game on to an already packed tournament schedule that requires extensive travel and quick turnarounds, but there is a history of success from teams that survive the First Four.

Since the First Four began in 2011, at least one of the advancing teams has gone on to win its next game and make it out of the first round of the tournament.

Some of the teams have gone on to make deeper runs, such as Virginia Commonwealth’s Final Four birth in 2011, La Salle’s Sweet 16 appearance in 2013, Tennessee’s Sweet 16 run in 2014 and the Syracuse team last year.

“And we’re going to try to turn that into an advantage for us as far as coming off of a really good game against Oregon,” Cheatham said. “Obviously we lost, but we played really well. We competed really hard. And we want to try to carry those type of qualities over into this tournament. And with this quick turnaround, I think it’s going to be a lot better for us.”

In his final season of college basketball, this will be Cheatham’s first time in the Big Dance.

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“Considering how much tournament I’ve watched just over my five years of college and pretty much my whole life, I mean, it almost seems to a certain extent like you’ve been here,” Cheatham said.

Arizona State has several players who gained tournament experience in last year’s First Four loss to Syracuse. One of them is sophomore guard Remy Martin, who played in the First Four last season and is again an integral part of the Sun Devils’ rotation.

Martin injured his groin against Oregon during the Pac-12 Tournament semifinal loss but is optimistic that he will be healthy for the game against St. John’s.

“We’re at March Madness,” Martin said. “I’m healthy. I’ll be healthy when I get on the court. I’m just here to help my team win. But I’m feeling good.”

With a shot at redemption and an extended tournament run, Arizona State players and coach Bobby Hurley are prepared to learn from last season’s First Four loss and make it further this year.
“I’ll do whatever I can,” Martin said. “It’s now March. It’s win, lose – or go home. And we’re here to stay.”

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