|Hurley, balanced Arizona State back in First Four|
Arizona State is in the First Four for the second consecutive season, but this time around, coach Bobby Hurley is bringing a much different team to Dayton, Ohio.
Last year's team relied heavily on the 3-point shot and didn't have enough easy offense to get past Syracuse in the First Four, losing 60-56. The Sun Devils are bigger and more balanced, and will try to advance Wednesday night with a game against St. John's, which was announced as the last at-large team into the field after starting the season 12-0.
The winner of the game between the Sun Devils (22-10) and Red Storm (21-12) will be the 11th seed in the West, taking on sixth-seeded Buffalo on Friday in Tulsa, Okla.
"The whole look of our team is completely different from last year ... and to get the chemistry and develop that, it's very gratifying to see how far we have taken the season," Hurley said on the Pac-12 Network.
St. John's is making its first NCAA appearance under Chris Mullin, the school legend who is in his fourth season as head coach, making steady improvement. St. John's last made the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and hasn't won a game in the tourney since 2000.
"It's a good step forward," Mullin said Sunday night.
"Historically, traditionally, this is where St. John's has always been. To get back to this point, I'm happy for my players first and foremost. ... Every year, we've gotten progressively better."
Arizona State was up and down this season but nonconference victories over Kansas, Mississippi State and Utah State -- combined with a second-place finish in the Pac-12 regular season -- helped the Sun Devils get into the NCAA field. They lost in overtime to red-hot Oregon in the conference tournament semifinals.
"We played a lot of big games this year against great competition," Hurley said.
"I thought we played at a really high level against Oregon, and Oregon is playing great basketball right now. I like the way our team played the last month. I always felt this team had a chance to get better as the year went along because we have so many young guys."
Physically-imposing freshman Luguentz Dort averages a team-high 16.4 points per game. Sophomore point guard Remy Martin is fast and fearless, averaging 13.4 points and 5.1 assists. San Diego State transfer Zylan Cheatham, a redshirt senior in his first season of eligibility at ASU, has some Dennis Rodman-like tendencies, averaging 11.8 points and 10.4 rebounds.
Cleveland State transfer Rob Edwards, another newcomer, is the team's primary 3-point threat.
St. John's has lost four of its past five games but all five starters average double-digit points. And any team that has guard Shamorie Ponds can't be counted out.
Ponds is averaging 19.5 points and 5.2 assists per game. He had a streak this season of nine consecutive Big East games with at least 20 points. He scored more than 25 points in 10 of his 32 games.
Guard Mustapha Heron averages 14.9 points and wing LJ Figueroa is at 14.3, but the Red Storm (minus-6.2 rebounding margin) will have to work to keep Cheatham and Arizona State (plus-4.8 margin) off the glass.
"This brings new life to everybody," Mullin said about the NCAA Tournament. "Everybody starts with a clean slate."
Arizona State, albeit as a First Four team, is making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1981.
"It's a privilege to play in the NCAA Tournament," Hurley said. "Our guys are really juiced to Wednesday."
--Field Level Media