“I think the days of cheering against a Pac-12 opponent ended many, many years ago,” the UA head coach said Wednesday. “I don’t know if everybody feels that way. It’s almost like human nature that you don’t want certain teams to win because it almost puts more pressure on you. That’s not the case here with how I feel or how we feel.”
ASU’s success has been one of the top headlines of the 2017-18 college basketball season. Boasting arguably the best offense in the country, the Sun Devils have started 9-0, rising all the way to No. 5 in the polls.
It is their first time being in the Top 10 since 1981. And that’s despite having a rigorous non-conference schedule.
ASU has wins over San Diego State, Kansas State, St. John’s, Xavier and then most recently No. 2 Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
“There couldn’t be a better moment for the Pac-12 than ASU’s win at Kansas,” Miller said. “It gives our conference credibility and allows more teams in our conference to get into the NCAA Tournament. Not just ASU, but when you have an RPI as high as they have, and are ranked as high as they are, it’s like a balloon — it pulls everybody else up in the league and it gives our conference a chance to add that one team in March that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to get. It helps us because we play ASU twice.”
The Pac-12 needs all the help it can get at this point. Arizona and ASU are the only ranked teams in the conference, which ranks sixth in country (by a wide margin) according to KenPom.com.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects only four Pac-12 teams will make the NCAA Tournament.
In some ways, ASU has prevented the Pac-12 from becoming the laughingstock of college basketball. USC, UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon have all failed to live up to expectations this season.
“Bobby Hurley is en route to be one of the coaches talked about for National Coach of the Year because of what he’s done with their program,” Miller said. “This is his third year, he’s played a tough non-conference schedule, it shows a lot of guts to play the schedule he’s played. What ends up happening when you do that is, you’re not going to win the game unless you show up at Phog Allen Fieldhouse and play them.
“But they showed up and they beat them and that’s quite a statement. I think they have a great team, they have those guards playing at a high level as far as I can see, but they have experience. I haven’t watched them a whole lot other than more from a fan’s perspective, but their results speak very clearly. They beat Xavier and I do know Xavier’s team very well and I think they’re one of the country’s best teams, so the fact that you can go to Kansas and Xavier, I imagine they might be underrated where they’re at right now. Whoever plays them is going to have a tough game, obviously.”
Soon that will be Arizona. The Wildcats host the Sun Devils on Dec. 30 to open Pac-12 play. Both teams may very well be in the Top 10 by then.
Miller has no problem with ASU winning games, just not that one.
“I think the more we win as a conference before we play each other, that’s only going to allow our conference to have the most teams in postseason play,” he said. “And that’s what we want."
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire