It couldn’t get any more big-time than this.
The world’s most famous city, the world’s most famous basketball arena and college basketball’s premier program as the opponent.
That is the stage set for the ASU men’s basketball team as it prepares for Wednesday night’s NIT Season Tip-Off semifinal against No. 7 Duke at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“It’ll be a great experience to take the guys to New York; I don’t know how many of them have been to the city,” ASU head coach Herb Sendek said. “You know Madison Square Garden has so much tradition and legend, so it’ll be a great experience for them to be there.”
Matching the prestige and history of Madison Square Garden is ASU’s opponent. One of the top programs in college basketball history awaits the Sun Devils, who are 4-0 for just the fourth time in 23 years.
Duke has already established itself as one of the top teams in the country with a 4-0 start. In their four games, the Blue Devils have won by an average of 34.5 points.
Leading the way for Duke is junior guard Nolan Smith, who is averaging 22 points per game in two games after returning from suspension.
Four other players are averaging double-digit points per game for Duke, including junior forward Kyle Singler (18.3 points per game), senior guard Jon Scheyer (16.5), sophomore forward Miles Plumlee (11.8) and freshman guard Andre Dawkins (11.5).
“When you look at what Duke has done over the years, the achievements of Coach Krzyzewski, it’s remarkable,” Sendek said. “I don’t think there is a team in college basketball over the course of 30 years that plays any harder; they just play so hard.”
The contest also marks the return to the ACC for Sendek. It will be the first time the fourth-year ASU coach will face an opponent from the ACC since his departure from North Carolina State in 2005.
In his 10 years coaching in the ACC, Sendek went just 3-21 against the Blue Devils, something that has haunted the coach ever since. Sendek doesn’t believe that his prior experiences coaching against Duke will help him prepare ASU, and even if it did, it would work in favor of Krzyzewski, as well.
“I didn’t have a great record against Duke,” Sendek said. “I don’t know anybody who did though during that same stretch, and they got to coach against me, so they are probably really prepared too.”
With a young and inexperienced team facing a big stage and a big-time opponent, Sendek isn’t changing anything from the routine and preparation from ASU’s first four games of the season.
“We’ll prepare like we always do,” Sendek said. “We’ll watch film, and we’ll try to determine what game plan makes the most sense, and then we’ll go try to execute.”
New York City also presents a lot of potential distractions for a team that has yet to play on a big stage.
“I’ll make sure they don’t have too much fun,” Sendek said with a laugh. “That’s one of my best attributes.”
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