Sun Devils gunning for NCAA tourney berth as they open practice

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TEMPE -- Arizona State senior forward Jeff Pendergraph leaves 10 minutes early for class every day.

The reason? He needs to allow time for the students and faculty wanting to slap him on the back and tell him how much they're looking forward to the upcoming season.

This is a change from Pendergraph's freshman year, when basketball players enjoyed a certain degree of anonymity on this sun-splashed campus.

With James Harden and Pendergraph both returning, the Sun Devils are popping up in various preseason rankings.

The rankings won't mean much when the Sun Devils open the season on November 14th against Mississippi Valley State, but they are a sign of growing respect for the program in coach Herb Sendek's third year.

The Sun Devils went 21-13 in Sendek's second season -- a marked improvement over an 8-22 season that included a school-record 15-game losing streak in 2006-07.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)