Arizona reeled off victories in their first 21 games with wins over San Diego State, Duke and Michigan but the team that did all those great things and the team that is currently playing is missing a very key component. Brandon Ashley’s season was lost when we broke his foot against Cal and so to was Arizona’s perfect season and the team’s second leading scorer at the time as well as the third-leading rebounder. The Wildcats lost to Cal in Berkeley and then struggled to put away Oregon before beating lowly Oregon State. Ashley’s absence is big but Sean Miller has the luxury of pulling from a bench of 5-star recruits to replace his star. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has stepped in nicely with 15ppg and 7.5rpg as a starter since being inserted into the starting lineup.
For the third time in their last four games, Arizona State blew a big second half lead only to snatch victory from the claws of defeat. Against Oregon, the Devils went into halftime with a 20-point lead but the Ducks came out in a press that the Devils could not solve while Joseph Young went ballistic with all of his 29 points coming in the second half but Jordan Bachynski blocked his last-second attempt to force overtime and give ASU the win. That was just the cherry on top for Bachynski as he scored a career-high 26 points to go along with nine rebounds and nine blocks while Jahii Carson had 11 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
In their first meeting, Arizona had little trouble at home against ASU pulling away early and finishing with a 91-68 pounding. Seven Wildcats scored in double figures led by Aaron Gordon’s 16 points. Jermaine Marshall did not play for ASU as Jahii Carson scored 20 points while Jordan Bachynski was a non-factor with three points and no field goals.
The Sun Devils are mired in a three-way tie for third place in the Pac-12 and the upcoming schedule closely resembles a tree shredder but this team has won five of six and is 13-1 at home. With a victory over Arizona, the Sun Devils would make a gigantic step forward in their hopes for not only an NCAA Tournament bid but perhaps a favorable seeding in the Big Dance as well.
Sean Miller: 5th season at UA – 119-44; 239-91 career
Herb Sendek: 8th season at ASU – 137-113; 391-271 career
G – T.J. McConnell (7.5 PPG, 5.5 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (19.0 PPG, 4.7 APG)
G – Nick Johnson (15.9 PPG, 34% 3PT) vs. Jermaine Marshall (15.6 PPG, 44% 3PT)
F – Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (8.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG) vs. Shaq McKissic (8.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG)
F – Aaron Gordon (11.8 PPG, 41% FT) vs. Eric Jacobsen (2.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG)
C – Kaleb Tarczewski (9.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (12.2 PPG, 4.5 BPG)
Why Arizona Can Win:
Even though they lost one of the their biggest producers, the Wildcats are still loaded and they took care of business against Oregon and Oregon State in a statement that they are still just as potent as they were before the injury. This is the second-best team in college basketball and they can win in so many ways on both ends of the floor. This team possesses great length and they allow the third-fewest amount of points per game in the nation.
Why ASU Can Win:
Jahii Carson needs to create havoc all over the basketball court by getting into the lane and forcing Arizona to leave an open man or commit fouls. If McConnell and Johnson get into foul trouble, the Devils will force the Cats to lean on their backcourt depth that has some great shooters but has limited play-making ability. Same story in the frontcourt, a thin rotation for Arizona with Ashley’s injury could get exposed if Bachynski or Jacobsen can step up their physicality and force Miller to call on his reserves.
Key Stat: 2; Arizona has the second best RPI in the nation and a victory over an opponent of this caliber is absolutely huge for an NCAA Tournament resume. ASU currently has three victories over RPI Top 50 teams but those wins (Colorado, Cal and Oregon) do not hold a candle to Arizona and is just one extra nugget to consider in this rivalry game.
X-Factor: Jermaine Marshall has averaged over 20 points in his last four contests and his absence in the first game against Arizona was noticeable. Jahii Carson is exponentially more dangerous when his kickouts lead to made baskets and Marshall is the recipient of most of those passes. Although he struggled from the field against Oregon, he was nearly perfect from the free-throw line and helped clinch the close victory. A big game for Marshall against the Wildcats will lead the Devils to a huge upset.
Final Score: ASU 82 Arizona 79