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A lot of people will look at Arizona's ranking and give them an easy win in this game, but with most in-state rivalries, this is by no means a gimme. Last year was a prime example of that as a 10-21 Arizona State team beat the 23-win Wildcats, 87-80. And there's no doubt about it this year, both of these schools are improved.
Arizona is a solid team and ranked No. 7 for a reason, but most of their big wins this year have come at home or on a neutral court. Down in Hawaii, they handedly beat Miami (FL) and squeaked by San Diego State. To start the Pac 12 season, they beat Colorado in overtime and Utah by only three points, both at home. Their biggest win of the season may have been their 65-64 comeback win over Florida in December. In their first true road test of the year, they had trouble matching Oregon's intensity from the start which led to their first loss.
The Sun Devils don't have quite the out of conference pedigree as the Wildcats, but they've actually played all of the same Pac 12 opponents. Arizona State beat Utah in OT, Colorado by nine points and at Oregon State by 10 points. Their only loss came at Oregon by only three points. Those four results were pretty identical to what Arizona did. Of course in non-conference games, the Sun Devils got destroyed by Creighton in their biggest game and even lost big to Depaul.
No matter, Arizona State is suddenly a relevant team this year with the addition of Jahii Carson who has done just about everything this year. The freshman leads the team in scoring (17.1 PPG), assists (5.2 APG) and minutes (36.3 MPG). What more could they have asked for? He is surrounded by a crew of veterans. Jordan Bachynski stands tall at 7'2" and is tough for anyone to deal with. He's actually not their leading rebounder though, as that goes to Carrick Felix who nabs 8.1 boards to go with 15.1 points per game. They don't use much of a bench as four of their players average at least 30 minutes per game. Senior Chris Colvin is their main substitute while no one else gets more than 10 minutes or three points per game.
Arizona is a little more of a balanced team with seven players getting at least 18 minutes per game. None of them really stand out on the stat sheet as they run a very balanced offense. Seniors Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill are the known commodities for the Wildcats, but sophomore Nick Johnson is one of the main reasons Arizona has been a better team this year. He's matured and become a big part of what the Wildcats do. While he can score, Johnson does a lot of damage defensively because of his length averaging 2.3 steals per game. Freshman Kaleb Tarczewski might be a bigger factor than usual in this game mainly because he's 7-feet tall and can guard Bachynski.
Sure, the Wildcats would like to get revenge on last year's loss, but it won't be as easy as some people think.
Predicted Score - Arizona 74 Arizona State 60
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