Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
ASU seeks a top-10 upset in Tempe as the U of A Wildcats come to town.
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SG: Evan Gordon (9.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG) vs. Nick Johnson (12.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG)
Seeing the Arizona schools tied for fourth in the Pac-12 is almost as confusing as the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax. Relax. I said almost.
The Sun Devils take on the Wildcats for the first time this season on Saturday afternoon with bragging rights on the line. The University of Arizona travels to Tempe ranked seventh in the country. It’ll be standing room only seating in Wells Fargo Arena and fans should expect a full throttle event.
"It’s going to come down to being a battle. It’s going to be played like both teams want it, like it’s the last game ever, like it’s the championship game… everybody’s going to come out to play, everybody’s going to have their kicks on, laced up ready to go," Carrick Felix said.
Senior transfer Mark Lyons leads the Wildcats with 14 plus points per game and is currently shooting a career best 43 percent from the field. Defensively, Nick Johnson will be one to watch as he averages over two strips a game and the team has multiple athletes to crash the boards.
U of A runs a quick tempo of offense that is stocked with a heavy arsenal. The Sun Devils will have their work cut out so they aren’t left defenseless on the shooting range. Carrick Felix will have his hands full on Saturday afternoon considering he is going to defend Solomon Hill.
"I’m already planning on guarding Solomon Hill. It’ll definitely be a good matchup. We’re both big wings, we’re both aggressive players; we kind of have a similar game," Felix said. "I’ll definitely be watching some film on him just to brush up on some of his moves and know what his tendencies are…obviously he’s an NBA-type player."
Jahii Carson has been the surprise of the Pac-12 thus far with his composure and maturity for a 20 year old calling the plays. Carson is currently averaging 17 points per game and 5.2 assists per contest. No freshman has finished with those numbers since the 1996-97 season when Seton Hall’s Shaheen Holloway did it.
On top of those accolades, he is a Bob Cousy award finalist, which is given to the nation’s best point guard. That’s the leadership ASU needs to beat Arizona because it will take a nearly flawless game to win its second straight game against the cross-state rival.
Senior swingman Carrick Felix plays so well with Carson on the hardwood, almost as if they are related. Felix already has five double-doubles on the year and has scored double-digit points in his last 16 games. Two years ago, Felix shot a pedestrian 39 percent and now he is making 55 percent of his shots.
So it’s safe to say that Carson and Felix will step up for every game, but they cannot do it by themselves against Arizona. This is where 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski steps in.
"[Switching to man-to-man defense has] definitely helped us out a lot. It put Jordan [Bachynski] in a position to protect the basket more and be more affective on defense," Felix said. "It’s put quicker guys in position to guard the ball and myself to get easy steals and get more hands on balls and get out and run in transition. Our defense fuels our offense."
Freshmen Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett are U of A’s best answer for Bachynski considering they have the height, but the Stormin’ Mormon has over two years of experience on them. In the last three Sun Devil victories, the Alberta native has averaged just over 13 points. If Bachynski can get hot in Tempe, the Sun Devils will establish a presence in the paint early and that will relieve some pressure from the guards.
ASU has the raw talent to make Saturday an interesting matchup for the Sun Devil faithful. Despite having BLOCK-chynski patrolling the paint, the Sun Devils only out rebound their opponents by one board per game. U of A’s two freshmen towers certainly help the Wildcats crash hard under the basket, and Solomon Hill and Brandon Ashley each grab over 5 boards per game as well. As a team, the Wildcats out rebound their foes by nearly ten a contest.
If the Sun Devils can keep up on the boards and find someone else not named Carson or Felix step up, it could result in ASU’s fourth conference win of the season.