In this space, I've written about the greatness of Jahii Carson, the improvement of Carrick Felix, the spurts of tenacity from Jordan Bachynski, the versatility of Jon Gilling and the importance of Evan Gordon but not once have I even sniffed the elevation in Ruslan Pateev's game.
The Senior from Moscow has always displayed a solid basketball IQ but has never been able to put it all together. Even this season, Eric Jacobsen overtook Pateev for the primary reserve behind Bachynski but the Russian roared back.
Against Cal, in the midst of a sloppy game on both sides, Pateev dazzled the home crowd with 12 points, 8 rebounds, three blocks and two assists highlighted by a pair of thunderous dunks and a gorgeous no look dish that led to a bucket. Before the night was over, the home crowd gave him a standing ovation and was chanting his name in unison.
The Tournament committee will frown at ASU's at the RPI and non-conference schedule but they will dismiss a 23-win regular season by a Pac-12 team. Thus, the seemingly magic number is five. A handful more victories in their last eight regular season contests will likely get the Sun Devils on the right side of the Bubble. The schedule gets rigid after this home tilt as ASU plays five of its next seven contests on the road. With a 14-2 record at home and just 3-2 in true road games, Saturday's game is extremely important.
Johnny Dawkins: 5th season at Stanford – 89-68
Herb Sendek: 7th season at ASU – 112-99; 366-267 career
G – Aaron Bright (8.7 PPG, 2.9 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (18.0 PPG, 5.2 APG)
G – Chasso Randle (14.0 PPG, 32% 3PT) vs. Evan Gordon (11.4 PPG, 36% 3PT)
F – Andy Brown (6.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG) vs. Carrick Felix (14.3 PPG, 7.9 RPG)
F – Josh Huestis (9.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG)
F – Dwight Powell (14.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (9.9 PPG, 4.0 BPG)
Why Stanford Can Win:
Where Arizona State has been exposed is where Stanford is at its strongest – the Cardinal have two very impressive players in the frontcourt with Powell and Huestis. Arguably the best big man in the Pac-12, Powell has been in double figures in all ten conference games and has four double-double outings in that span.
On the other hand, Huestis has been solid all year long but has really ignited things in the past month with three consecutive double-doubles all while keeping defenses honest as he can hit the three and make his free throws.
Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle are similar in stature to that of the Sun Devils' backcourt and can really dictate the tempo of any game. While neither is dangerous from beyond the arch, they are lights out from the charity stripe and that is a huge factor in a close game.
Why ASU Can Win:
The Sun Devils have proven they can protect their home court and every night someone new provides a lift. As a team, the Devils are averaging over 79 points in the last five contests while Evan Gordon has been a key cog in that statistic with 16.2 points per game in the same span. Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski are providing a solid presence underneath but their defense against Powell will be the most important matchup of the game.
Carrick Felix has slowed down a bit and Jon Gilling is a different shooter every night but the steady presence of Jahii Carson can put everyone at ease – the freshman phenom continues to shine and make his case for not just the Freshman of the Year but also the Pac-12 Player of the Year as his presence alone has turned the Sun Devils from an also ran into a squad aiming to capture the regular season conference title.
Key Stat: The good: according to Arizona State SID and my former boss, Doug Tammaro (@DougTammaro), the Sun Devils have 160 blocks (7.0 per game) on the season and need just 39 more to break UCLA's Pac-12 record set two seasons ago. The bad: As a team, the Devils are shooting just 62.5% from the free-throw line which ranks out at 327th in the country out of 347 total teams.
X-Factor: Over the last five games, Jon Gilling has averaged 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists which is all fine and dandy but he has shot just 36% from the field and 37% from three-point range. If you take out his scorching night in Seattle when he put up 22 points on 6-8 from beyond the arc, he is hitting just 24% of his shots and 27% from three-point land in four of those five games.
Against Stanford, the Dane will need to find more of what got him hot in Seattle. This is a chance for a big sweep before the Sun Devils really get into the meat of the schedule with an NCAA Tournament berth within reach and Herb Sendek will have his team ready to play.
Final Score: ASU 69 Stanford 67