The Territorial Cup battle between in-state rivals Arizona and Arizona State has generally been at its biggest peak during football season. This year, however, the two basketball teams are right in the thick of the Pac-12 title race and are looking to knock the other down a notch.
With three teams remaining unbeaten in conference play, both the Sun Devils and the Wildcats will need a victory in order to keep pace. Both teams are 3-1 in the Pac-12, having lost in Eugene to the Oregon Ducks, who remain one of the conference unbeaten teams along with UCLA and Washington. The Ducks and Bruins will face off on Saturday night, which makes the game between Arizona and ASU that much more important in the overall conference race.
The Sun Devils have compiled a 14-3 overall season record this year, but have faced one of the weaker schedules in the Pac-12. Arizona State only lost to teams such Creighton and DePaul, but racked up victories over cupcakes like Central Arkansas, Sacramento State, and Coppin State.
The true tests have come in the conference play as Utah took ASU to overtime and Oregon won by three. Arizona State did beat Colorado, but the Buffs have been on the decline since losing in controversial fashion to the Wildcats in Tucson.
Herb Sendek coaches the Sun Devils and is currently in his seventh season with Arizona State and has seen a 112-98 record in that time span. Prior to coaching at ASU, Sendek was the Head Coach at North Carolina State. He led the Wolfpack to multiple NCAA tournament appearances before being lured to Tempe.
Arizona State will be led on the court by redshirt freshman Jahii Carson, who is playing his first season with the Sun Devils after having to sit out last season due to academic eligibility issues.
Carson is making the most of his time this season, averaging 17.1 points per game, leading the Sun Devils and ranking fifth in the conference. He is also second in the Pac-12 in assists, dishing out 5.2 per game, behind UCLA’s Larry Drew II with 8.11. He has been instrumental to ASU’s success this season and is a player that Arizona will likely give plenty of attention to throughout the game.
Joining Carson in the backcourt is junior guard Evan Gordon. The 6-foot-1 Sun Devil has started every game so far this season and is averaging just less than ten points in each one. Gordon, along with the other starters, is averaging just about thirty minutes a game, though he is more of a jack-of-all trades. He can rebound and pass, earning 3.1 boards and 2.2 helpers each night.
Matching up with Solomon Hill at the small forward position will be Carrick Felix. At just 6-foot-6, the senior leads the team in rebounding, grabbing 8.1 per game. Some of those rebounds have been at the offensive end, prompting easy buckets and soaring his scoring average to 15.1. Felix can be a playmaker and a game changer if he starts heating up. He has already done it once this year, going for 24 points in a win over Arkansas on the road.
At the power forward position, the Sun Devils will send out Jonathan Gilling. The sophomore from Denmark has been an asset to Arizona State since arriving last season. He is a shooting big man, hitting 34.5-percent of his long ball attempts on the year. Gilling is also a force on the glass, pulling down seven rebounds a night to go with his 9.6 points.
The final spot in the starting rotation is going to be filled with a big weapon for ASU. Jordan Bachynski stands 7-foot-2 and uses every inch of his height, as he has 76 blocked shots on the season for an average of 4.47 per game. That average stands as the best in the Pac-12 and the third best in the NCAA this season behind Chris Obekpa of St. John’s and Jeff Withey of Kansas. Bachynski is also scoring over ten points and pulling down seven rebounds a night. His effectiveness could be one of the deciding factors in the game.
First off the bench for the Sun Devils will be Chris Colvin. The senior is the last true rotational player for ASU and sees roughly twenty minutes a contest. Colvin has done some of everything for Arizona State, scoring almost six points per game, while passing for almost two assists per night.
While ASU usually only goes about six deep with the rotation, Eric Jacobson is a freshman forward that has played in every game this season. He is seeing ten minutes of action in each contest, but his minutes have been slowly decreasing as the season has gone on. Jacobson will likely be used if Bachynski and Gilling need rest or get in foul trouble.
Arizona will have its hands full with the state rival on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats may be the deeper team, but the Sun Devils have only lost once on their home court all season and both teams are coming off a one-loss road trip to Oregon.
The concern for Arizona State is that it has not fared well against top-flight competition in the few matchups over the course of the season. The Wildcats have come out on top against admirable foes throughout the year. It may seem like the team from Tucson has an advantage, but when state bragging rights are up for grabs, either team can come away with the victory.