The Wildcats will open their conference slate against Arizona State Sunday in Tempe (Noon local time/FS1). Like every other year, this will be the biggest game of Arizona State’s season. Having lost three out of the last four away to ASU, Arizona won’t be short on motivation. This game will also mark the start of Arizona’s toughest road trip of the season, as they travel to LA next week for UCLA and USC, respectively.
The Sun Devils are 10-3 (7-1 at McKale North) on the season, with good wins over NC State, Texas A&M, and UNLV. Sophomore guard Tra Holder has been their best player, averaging over 14 points per game to go along with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. It is unclear if they will again be without their second best player, junior forward Savon Goodman, who has missed the past four games due to “personal reasons” (similar to Elliott Pitts’ situation).
Without Goodman, ASU will rely on forwards Eric Jacobsen and Willie Atwood against the productive and efficient Wildcat frontcourt.
Like any annoying little brother, Arizona State is pesky, attempting to combat more talented teams by forcing them to shoot well from the outside to beat them. Arizona, in its own right, will look to contain the three point shooting of Holder, Gerry Blakes, and Kodi Justice.
Even though Sunday’s game will likely have a good number of Wildcat supporters present, it will provide Arizona a good test as their second true road game of the season (after the Gonzaga game).
The great news for Arizona, and a great sign for the rest of their season, is that Kaleb Tarczewski is expected to return after missing 8 games due to a foot injury. Zeus is an integral part of the Arizona team, especially defensively. Even if it is in a limited capacity for a couple games, Zeus is a huge part of the Wildcat team. While Dusan Ristic has played well recently, no one on the Arizona roster can replace Zeus’ abilities and importance defensively.
For Arizona, sustaining exceptional performances from the likes of Allonzo Trier, Ryan Anderson, and Kadeem Allen should be enough to stymie Arizona State’s dreams for another season. Bobby Hurley has shown that he can get some fight out of his players. How long it takes for that fight to get his team playing into March is another question.
With Arizona coming to town, expect for a raucous environment in Tempe. This is, after all, ASU’s “national championship”. When all that separates you from the real neighborhood bully is a thin piece of cloth called a “Curtain of Distraction”, perhaps there is good reason for the Sun Devils to be afraid of their big brother.