Arizona concludes its three game road swing with a matchup against the hated rust and mustard team in Tempe. This is always an important game, as state bragging rights are on the line. Even in the past, when Arizona was a perennial juggernaut and Arizona State was a perennial bottom feeder, this game carried more weight than most. After all, a true Wildcat fan doesn’t want the Sun Devils to have the satisfaction of stealing even a single game. This year's showdown, however, may elevate the rivalry to an unprecedented level.
For the first time in years, both teams are contenders. There are no cupcakes in this game. You won’t see a typical overmatched ASU squad devoid of athletes trying to slow the pace in order to have a prayer of winning at the end. Nor will you see a rebuilding Arizona squad trying to overcome personnel deficiencies resulting from four coaches in four years. Both teams are locked and loaded. No matter who comes out on top, it won’t be a shocker.
ASU has its best team since the James Harden years. In fact, this year’s version could be better. Far from a one man show, the Sun Devils have a trio of stars leading the way. Jahii Carson is the most skilled of these players. The redshirt freshman leads the team in scoring and assists, with 17.1 and 5.2 per game respectively. He is undoubtedly the Sun Devil’s floor general. Similar to Mark Lyons, this scoring minded point guard does things other point guards don’t and creates matchup problems for opponents.
Jordan Bachynski gives the Sun Devils an imposing presence in the paint. He doesn’t bring much beef to the post, but he’s taller than any Arizona player and leads the conference in blocked shots with 4.5 per game. He’s not explosive on offense, but he contributes a respectable 10.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest. Bachynski is more seasoned and polished than any Wildcat post player. Frankly, at this point in his career, he’s the top big man in this game. Arizona has more depth, and will have to counter him by committee. If Bachynski gets in foul trouble, it could spell doom for ASU. His backup is another 7-footer, Ruslan Pateev, who is basically the Sun Devils equivalent of former Wildcat Kyryl Natyazhko.
ASU’s X-factor is Carrick Felix. He’s an athletic forward who plays above his size. At only 6’6”, Felix leads his team with 8.1 rebounds per game. He also averages 15.1 points, which is second behind Carson. He’s a senior who has made impressive strides each season to reach the high level he is at now. Furthermore, Felix helps bring balance to ASU. The Sun Devils have a superstar point guard and a reliable center, and Felix is the explosive slasher on the wing that makes ASU a complete team. A likely pairing with Solomon Hill may rival Lyons-Carson as the key matchup of the game. Outlook:
Arizona and ASU appear about as even as they’ve ever been. Sure, Arizona has the better record, but both squads have played eerily similar as of late. Take away a head scratching blowout home loss to DePaul, and ASU has looked like a quality team all season. The Sun Devils’ top three players may be as good as any three players the Wildcats have (Lyons, Hill, and Johnson may have something to say about it). Arizona’s advantage lies in its depth of talent. While Jonathan Gilling and Evan Gordon are nice role players, they don’t have as high of a ceiling right now as Kevin Parrom, Brandon Ashley, and Grant Jerrett. While all eyes will be on both teams’ stars, the game may be won or lost by complimentary players. Arizona has the advantage in this category, and it could be what carries it to victory if enough Wildcats step up. Still, this game is a close call and may entail another nail biting finish.
For those attending, get your vocal chords warmed up. ASU will likely have more fan support than usual, so the “U of A” chants will need to be louder than ever. This is a huge matchup with conference championship implications. The rivalry game stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. The combined talent of the teams is as high as it’s ever been. Unlike most seasons, ASU is brimming with hope and confidence. Crushing that hope is one of the greatest gifts Arizona can give its fans. Bear down! SPECIAL PointGuardU Private Forum Offer. Click the link below.