Midway through the conference season, everything is going just about as planned for Sean Miller and Arizona.
The Wildcats sit atop the Pac-12 standings. A one seed on Selection Sunday is still in striking distance. Stanley Johnson is putting up All-American numbers and he’s arguably not even the most valuable member of the team.
Oh, and since that loss in Corvallis, Arizona has reeled off six straight victories with an average winning margin of 20 points. It doesn’t get any more dominant than that.
On Saturday afternoon, the No. 6 ranked Wildcats will try to keep the good times rolling when they travel up to Tempe to face rival ASU.
Wells Fargo Arena is still a harbor of bitter memories for Arizona after last year’s controversial double-overtime defeat. The Wildcats can put any existing nightmares to rest with a victory over a Sun Devils team that is 3-6 in Pac-12 play.
On paper, this one shouldn’t be very close. After all, Arizona demolished ASU 73-49 a month ago.
In the previous matchup in Tucson, not a single Sun Devil player broke double digits as ASU was held to under 33 percent from the field and committed 22 turnovers.
It’s fair to say ASU has progressed since then, evidenced by an 18 point win over Oregon State last week (before falling to Oregon in overtime).
The Sun Devils have a number of guys who can shoot it from deep, and if just one or two of them get going, they could keep it a game.
But the differential in talent and depth should allow Arizona to cruise in and out of Tempe without much traffic.
While Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s absence certainly hurts Arizona’s back-court, TJ McConnell should be well rested to play as much as Sean Miller needs him.
McConnell is arguing his case for Pac-12 Player of the Year consideration not only for his offensive distribution skills but also his defensive prowess. McConnell’s eight steals against Oregon State last week were a career-high.
Offensively, it looks like Arizona has most of its kinks figured out.
It was against ASU at McKale that the Wildcats had one of their more efficient scoring nights of the year – making 5-10 three pointers and 16 of 19 free throw attempts.
Arizona will face the infamous Curtain of Distraction at the charity stripe Saturday, but it is actually the Sun Devils who are lagging at the line.
Since losing to the Wildcats, ASU is making just 62 percent of its foul shots including a 7-15 outing against Oregon.
While this game shouldn’t come down to late free throws, the Sun Devils’ struggles at the stripe could become a major factor.