Arizona State continued their hot start with an impressive win over Oregon State in that ASU simply has not won many road games in the last few seasons so to open the road slate with a victory spoke volumes about the program's current direction. Jahii Carson scored 20 and the Devils had a +15 rebounding margin over OSU. Facing the Ducks was a different story as the game teetered back and forth all game before losing at the buzzer when Carrick Felix's game-tying three missed the mark. Carson was electrifying but free throws ultimately doomed ASU as Oregon shot 93% from the line to the Devils measly 56% showing.
While Arizona has a lovely basketball tradition, it hasn't been coming up roses in Tempe for the last handful of years starting when Lute Ols0n left the program and Herb Sendek arrived. Before the new coach landed in Tempe, UofA claimed ownership of the series and it was hardly a rivalry but the recent trends favor ASU as the Sun Devils have won seven of the last 11 in this series including three of the last five at home. In the most recent matchup, the Devils single-handedly torpedoed Arizona's NCAA Tournament hopes with a shocking upset led by Jon Gilling's scorching shooting night (21 points on 5-6 from deep). Will ASU keep Arizona's number or will the Wildcats exact their revenge from a season ago?
Sean Miller: 4th season at Arizona – 84-36; 204-83 career
Herb Sendek: 7th season at ASU – 112-98; 366-266 career
G – Mark Lyons (14.6 PPG, 3.3 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (17.1 PPG, 5.2 APG)
G – Nick Johnson (12.3 PPG, 36% 3PT) vs. Evan Gordon (9.9 PPG, 36% 3PT)
F – Solomon Hill (13.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG) vs. Carrick Felix (15.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG)
F – Brandon Ashley (8.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG)
Why Arizona Can Win:
This team isn't accidentally ranked 7th in the country. Arizona closes out games better than anyone in the country and they are solid everywhere. The rotation runs seven deep and they shoot the ball very well from both three-point land and the charity stripe. Their only potential weakness is a youthful interior that has lacked consistency at times but the guard play from Lyons and Johnson is spectacular and Solomon Hill can do it all.
That doesn't even include Kevin Parrom off the bench who would probably be a first or second option on 98% of teams in college basketball. Arizona needs to execute their game plan and not let the opposing crowd get into a frenzy and throw everything off. As long as they have five guys on the floor, they are in the game.
Why ASU Can Win:
The Sun Devils win this game if they can get a balanced attack from all five starters. Every game, one of these guys steps up and has a huge game but when you're going up against one of the nation's elite teams – there needs to be a breakout from the entire rotation. Playing well will beat Coppin State every time but just playing well against Arizona is not enough. Carson will get his and Felix will be his usual freak-of-nature but Bachynski will need to play extremely physical against a very young Arizona front line. Jon Gilling and Evan Gordon need play inside and out to keep the Arizona defense honest. If four starters can get into double digits – the Sun Devils pull off the upset.
Key Stat: 61%. As a team, Arizona State shoots just 61% from the free-throw line. Jahii Carson is the only player on the entire team shooting above 70% while Carrick Felix, Jordan Bachynski and Chris Colvin are all below 60% with Colvin at 43%. Worse yet, in Pac-12 play it is staggering 54% as a team. For a team that plays in a lot of close games – this will haunt them if they don't reverse course quickly.
X-Factor: The Crowd. As it turns out, ASU basketball games are not quite the social events on the calendar that everyone circles and attends en masse. This program has not been able to fill the arena on a regular basis for a long, long time but when the Wildcats come to town, there isn't a seat to be had in Wells Fargo Arena. The crowd is often split down the middle in terms of allegiance but the energy in the arena can fuel the Sun Devils more than most think. A raucous student section can swing a few possessions and in a close game – that can be enormous.
Final Score: Arizona 74 ASU 70