The big game is almost here as the University of Arizona Wildcats seek vengeance for their football brethren by trying to defeat the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe this Saturday. The Wildcats (15-1, 3-1) were considered the better team entering the college hoops season, but with a 70-66 defeat at the hands of Oregon, many are now wondering if the Sun Devils (14-3, 3-1) can steal a win from their Tucson foes.
History has been on Arizona's side, as they lead the all-time series 142-80. But the Devils have a different, younger team this year with an offense run by freshman Jahii Carson and a defense anchored in the middle by improved junior center, Jordan Bachynski.
Speaking of Carson and Bachynski, both may have a future in playing basketball beyond the Sun Devils program. Carson is considered an undersized prospect, standing in at just 5-10, but his elite quickness, playmaking ability and leadership skills may help him find a spot in the pros one day.
As a freshman, Carson is already a finalist for the Bob Cousy award, given to the nation's top point guard. He is the strength of the offense, as most of it revolves around his ability to get into the paint and create shots for his teammates.
Perhaps the more intriguing NBA prospect in Tempe is Bachynski.
At 7-2, he is going to make front offices clamor for his height. And it doesn't go to waste, either. He leads the Pac-12 in blocked shots, averaging 4.5 per game with 76 total. On offense, he is still very limited and his rebounding could improve, but he will no doubt be on scouts' radars both after this season and the next if he stays in school.
Lastly for ASU, there is senior wing man Carrick Felix. Felix was not really thought of as a top prospect that would make it to the NBA until this season. He has been the heart of the ASU team, delivering in whatever area they need him. He can block shots, rebound, shoot threes and take it inside for the slam dunk. He is gaining popularity and although he isn't showing up on many mock drafts just yet, expect that to change.
Obviously, Felix will be gone after this season, and will probably go either in the second round if he is drafted. He could be a great rotation player on the wing for someone if given the chance to develop a bit more.
If Bachynski decides to leave school a year early, I can actually envision him being a first round pick, although it would be later in the round. There are plenty of teams desperate to find that next big man to protect the paint. His offensive skills are still raw, as I said, which makes me believe that he will stay in school for his senior season.
As for Carson, I don't envision him leaving school just yet, so I am not willing to wager a guess as to where he might be selected. He still has plenty of learning to do at the point guard position.
Now for the Wildcats. For this section, I spoke with Scott Coleman, an avid fan of the Wildcats and an SB Nation writer. Although he chose the wrong school, he still provided some very interesting info on the current Arizona roster.
There are probably seven players on Arizona that will play professionally one day.
The three seniors, Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons and Kevin Parrom, are all looking like second round picks if the draft was tomorrow. Hill has made great strides this season, though, and a strong showing the rest of the year and in pre-draft workouts could move him into the late first round. I don't think any of these three become stars in the NBA, but all three could be solid rotational players.
Nick Johnson, a sophomore, has the talent and athleticism needed to play in the league, although he's not a point guard and is undersized for the two. Johnson figures to be a four-year guy and will likely be a role player at the next level.
The three freshmen bigs have the highest ceilings. Brandon Ashley, a 6'8 forward who plays similarly to Derrick Williams, projects to be a typical wing in the NBA. His game is still raw and getting consistent effort is a work in progress, but he has shown flashes of brilliance on the court.
Grant Jerrett, a 6'10 forward, has great touch and is one of the better shooters on the team. With his ability to play all over the court, he could be a matchup nightmare if he continues to develop. Another year in the weight room will do him wonders.
Kaleb Tarczewski, who is a legit 7'0 and 250 lb., has a long way to go on offense and defense, but he has the size to dominate the paint. He's also more athletic than most his size, and his aggression could turn him into a force one day.
I think it's just about guaranteed Jerrett and Tarczewski return next year. There's a chance Ashley bolts early, but he'd be going purely on potential and not on-court production. In the end, I think all three return to Tucson.
As you can see, there is plenty of future pro level talent that will be participating in Saturday's game. The question is, which players will shine through and bring home the victory?