If the Sun Devils want a shot at beating the Wildcats on Saturday, they know they will have to play as close to a perfect game as possible. Arizona possesses a dangerous scoring threat at each of the five positions, the ability to come back from a large deficit late in the game, and a number of veteran leaders with revenge on their minds after last year's collapse in Tempe.
As the game draws closer, we unveil our keys to victory for the Sun Devils. If you had "Make Free Throws" in the office pool, congratulations! Unfortunately for you, everyone else had that point too.
Without further ado, here are our "5 Keys to Victory" for the Sun Devils to beat the Wildcats.
1. Make Free Throws
The Sun Devils' Achilles' heel this season has been their inability to knock down the freebies, and they learned a painful lesson against the Oregon Ducks. Arizona State took just nine shots from the charity stripe in Eugene, but missed four of those nine attempts.
Jahii Carson has taken double the amount of free throws that any of his teammates not named Bachynski have taken, and the freshman has actually been one of the Sun Devils' best from the line with a 71 percent clip.
If the Sun Devils want to contend with the Wildcats, Carson will have to take and make free throws, but so will someone else. Whether its Carrick Felix, Jonathan Gilling, or another player driving into the lane, the Sun Devils have to be fearless and invite contact on their shots.
2. Fight For Every Rebound
The Wildcats outscore their opponents by over 14 points per game, but perhaps more impressive is their rebounding prowess as they outboard their competition by nearly 10 rebounds per game.
Arizona doesn't have a player that averages over six boards per game, but the mentality of this Wildcats team is that every player must fight until a rebound is secured. Solomon Hill, Brandon Ashley, Kevin Parrom, and Kaleb Tarczewski each pull down over five rebounds per game, and the incredible balance in that statistic should give the Sun Devils plenty of incentive.
Carrick Felix, Jordan Bachynski, and Jonathan Gilling each average at least seven rebounds per game, but the maroon and gold will need a guard like Carson or Chris Colvin to step in and play a ferocious game against taller competition. Whether that guard picks up an additional five rebounds or just boxes out and helps his big guys doesn't matter, it will be the effort that makes the difference.
3. Defend Inside Then Out
The Wildcats and the Sun Devils are dead even from beyond the arc this season, as each team shoots 34 percent from the perimeter. What the Sun Devils have that the Wildcats don't is a game-changing shot blocker in center Jordan Bachynski. The maroon and gold need to use Bachynski to their advantage defensively and invite the Wildcats to penetrate the hoop.
Like any good team, the Wildcats can heat up from distance on any given night. However, they have yet to face a talent like Bachynski in the middle and his seemingly inflated statistic of 4.47 blocks per game has not decreased in Pac-12 play. Bachynski routinely flummoxes opponents who haven't seen anyone of his skill level deflect and affect shots, and the Sun Devils know their big guy is an asset.
Arizona State allows just 63.5 points per game, teams shoot just 38 percent against the maroon and gold, and Coach Herb Sendek knows Bachynski is a major reason for the defensive excellence. With lockdown defenders Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon playing well in the man-to-man scheme, Bachynski could be primed for another big afternoon.
4. Limit Turnovers
An age-old key to every game will have particular importance to the Arizona State on Saturday. Against Oregon, the Sun Devils proved that they can compete at a high level against quality opposition even though they turned the ball over 12 times. The majority of the giveaways came in the first half and not surprisingly, the Sun Devils outscored the Ducks after the break.
Point guard Jahii Carson has never played in a game with as much hype as this rivalry battle, and the decisions the freshman makes will be critical to his team's success. If Carson protects the rock, expect his teammates to follow suit and put the Sun Devils in position to beat the Wildcats.
5. Feed Off Of The Crowd
Every ticket has been sold, every media credential has been passed out, and every nook and cranny of Wells Fargo Arena should be filled with supporters come game time.
Jahii Carson has a wealth of moves to draw from, Jordan Bachynski has a natural inclination for highlight-reel blocks, and Carrick Felix has the potential to bring down the house with any of his monstrous dunks. If one of the aforementioned players can strike a chord early, the crowd could explode.
The fans will be waiting for one of their beloved Sun Devils to show the Wildcats that they aren't the only team playing quality basketball in Arizona, and it's time for Arizona State to cash in on the hot start to the season.