Talk about high drama. Because of the order in which CBS announced the NCAA men's basketball tournament field, it came down to the very last spot a Pac-10 team would have been placed.
And so after revealing that the West Regional No. 7 seed was Memphis, the bottom line of the bracket turned over with Arizona State (19-11) as the No. 10 seed opponent.
The Sun Devils basketball family and about 150 fans gathered at Wells Fargo Arena let out a yell Sunday that could have been heard on Mill Avenue.
"My heart was pounding," said senior forward Tommy Smith, now wearing a gleeful smile.
"It was a little nerve wracking," said Ike Diogu, the Sun Devils’ All-Pac-10 center. "When they called our name, it was really a big sigh of relief."
When earlier announcements showed that the Pac-10 received seeds of No. 4 (Stanford) and No. 8 (California, Oregon) and that all the No. 9 seeds had been announced, it came down to one slot.
Eleventh and lower is usually reserved for mid-major automatic qualifiers from the plethora of conferences hardly anyone but basketball junkies are familiar with. After the 10th seed, only the No. 11 and No. 14 seeds in the West were left.
It had to be No. 10. Or nothing.
"The (CBS) people tried to make us wait until the last minute," ASU coach Rob Evans told the crowd at Wells Fargo Arena. "We waited eight years. So we could wait a few more minutes."
The Sun Devils, participating in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995, will play Memphis on Thursday at the sold out Ford Center in Oklahoma City.
The NCAA's emphasis on keeping teams closer to home spared the Devils of an initiation to tourney play with a trip East. ASU played in Memphis (1995) and Atlanta (1991) in its two most recent appearances.
Pac-10 champion and West No. 1 seed Arizona (sent to Salt Lake City) and runner-up Stanford (Spokane, Wash.) got favorable sites. Conference tournament winner Oregon (Nashville, Tenn.) did not. The Devils will get to commiserate with league brother California in Oklahoma City. The Golden Bears play North Carolina State in the East Regional.
Asked about being a No. 10 seed, Evans said he wasn't surprised "after I saw the other (Pac-10) teams get low seeds.
"When you haven't been in, in a long time the committee gives you a low seed because they think you should be excited to be there."
Well, in truth, the Sun Devils are excited.
"It's about time," Smith said. "It's what we've worked for, for four years."
"I'm just really overjoyed," Diogu said. "It feels really good."
Memphis (23-6) won the Conference USA National Division with a 13-3 record and was the second seed in the conference tournament. The Tigers lost to eventual champion Louisville on a last-second 3-pointer in the semifinals. Memphis, formerly Memphis State, is coached by former Massachusetts coach John Calipari.
Evans said he's never coached against Calipari. He called Calipari "a friend."
"I'm familiar with some of the things he does," Evans said. "He'll change defenses on you. He likes up tempo and the muscle game. They're athletic. It'll make for a real good ballgame."
Memphis, ranked No. 16 nationally, perhaps received a lower seed than expected. The Tigers own wins over Big East champion Syracuse and Illinois. Their loss to Louisville snapped a 12-game win streak.
The Devils were seeded fifth in ’95 and eighth in ’91. They were seeded second in 1981 and fifth in 1980.
This is the first time ASU will be an underdog in the first round since the NCAA began seeding the tournament in 1979.
"We'll be relaxed," Evans said. "This team has been businesslike. They're not giddy about it."
Evans said he anticipated ASU playing in Oklahoma City.
"I don't know why. I just had a hunch," he said.
ASU athletic director Gene Smith, a past member of the NCAA basketball committee, was confident the Devils were in the tournament despite the drama CBS presented.
"I was comfortable we were in," he said. "Some people were saying if USC had won (the Pac-10 tournament) . . . I still believe we were still in. That's the respect this league has."
The Pac-10 has only had six teams in the 65-team field once — last year. And this wasn't one of the strongest years for the conference.
Gene Smith was pleased to see the hard work of Evans, his staff and the players rewarded with an NCAA bid.
"This is huge for Rob," Gene Smith said. "Now he can go out and recruit in any living room. This is what I can do for your son. Now we can show we play at a high level. We need to make this an annual."