To fully appreciate what defeating Big East favorite Marquette on Monday night meant to Arizona State, take a glance at the above photo of the jubilant post-game locker room by associate athletic director Dawn Rogers.
Yes, that's Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek standing on a table with his arms outstretched as his players clap and pump their fists around him.
A 79-77 home victory over the Golden Eagles certainly doesn't guarantee Arizona State will reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since the James Harden era, but it qualifies as an important step in that direction. The Sun Devils are now 6-0 for the first time in Sendek's seven-plus years in Tempe, a torrid start that also includes a quality road win at UNLV.
Outlasting Marquette was probably an even bigger win for Arizona State both because of the quality of the 25th-ranked Golden Eagles (3-2) and the timing on the schedule. The Sun Devils were beginning a week viewed as a litmus test for whether this year's team is NCAA tournament-caliber or more likely to fall a couple wins short as several of Sendek's better teams have in the past.
In addition to Monday night's Marquette game, Arizona State will travel to Anaheim for the Wooden Legacy tournament. The Sun Devils will face Doug McDermott and unbeaten Creighton on Thursday night, with the winner likely facing San Diego State on Friday and oddly enough perhaps Marquette again in Sunday's title game.
If Arizona State somehow does see the Golden Eagles once more, the Sun Devils will hope for similar performances from its three top players.
Jahii Carson, a lightning-quick All-American candidate at point guard, lit up Marquette off the dribble, scoring 23 points, dishing out five assists and committing just three turnovers. Jermaine Marshall, a high-scoring Penn State transfer, alleviated the perimeter scoring pressure on Carson, tallying an efficient 21 points of his own. And Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State's towering 7-foot-2 center, notched his sixth straight double-double and made the game's biggest play, swatting away Derrick Wilson's runner at the buzzer to ensure Marquette couldn't force overtime.
Arizona State's heavy reliance on its three stars serves as a double-edged sword for the Sun Devils program.
On one hand, Sendek has three standouts he can count on as he tries to get the program back to the NCAA tournament. On the other hand, he clearly only has a one-year window since Marshall and Bachynski are seniors and Carson has already said he's NBA-bound after this season.
The good news is Arizona State is taking full advantage of that window thus far. A team projected sixth or seventh in the Pac-12 is off to an unbeaten start, has posted two quality wins and has a chance to notch a few more before the end of the week.