Even though the Sun Devils lost to the Arizona Wildcats last weekend, they still find themselves in a position that is better than most would have expected. Overall, ASU is 14-4 (3-2 in the Pac-12) as they prepare themselves for the USC Trojans (8-11, 3-3) on Thursday night in Wells Fargo Arena. The Sun Devils hold a 5-1 record against USC under coach Herb Sendek while playing in Tempe.
The Trojans have not had a season to remember. Things only seem to be spiraling even more out of control after head coach Kevin O'Neill was fired earlier this month. Bob Cantu has taken over as the interim coach and the Trojans have gone 1-1 under his control. The O'Neill firing should not have come as a surprise after USC finished at a 6-26 mark, setting a record for the most losses in team history, last season.
The key matchup to look out for in tonight's game will be between Eric Wise and Carrick Felix. Wise leads the Trojans in scoring at the small forward position, as the other two big men spots are anchored by 7-footers. The UC Irvine senior transfer contributes 12.5 points per game to go along with about 5 rebounds and 1 1/2 assists. On the flip side, Felix struggled mightily in ASU's loss to U of A last weekend, scoring just 5 points while shooting 1-8 in 40 minutes of play.
Another player that will be interesting to watch is Jahii Carson. He leads the Pac-12 in minutes played with 36.1 per game and at the pace he plays at, one has to wonder if he will be able to keep it up all season long. He may be forced to log heavy minutes once again if Chris Colvin is still suspended (he was inactive last week for violating team rules).
Carson got into some early foul trouble against the Wildcats last week and his defensive aggressiveness suffered because of it. Look for him to set the tone, both offensively and defensively, early tonight.
With Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby and their seven foot statures setting the tone inside, it will be important for Jordan Bachynski to stay out of foul trouble and enforce his will. Given how undersized Jonathan Gilling is at 6-7, look for freshman F/C Eric Jacobsen and senior center Ruslan Pateev to possibly see more time on the court.
Lastly, will Evan Gordon be able to follow up on his tremendous outing against Arizona last week? As I noted previously, Colvin did not play last weekend, forcing Gordon to be on the court for the entire 40 minutes. In that time, he scored 14 points on 6-11 shooting, including 2-5 from downtown. However, Gordon has struggled with consistency at times this season, so proving that he can be relied on night in and night out will be important for both his and his teammates confidence in him.
This is really an important game for the Sun Devils, as it could represent a fork in the road. If they win, their confidence is restored and they can continue on the success they have had this year. If they lose, that will mark their third straight conference loss and perhaps shatter them.
To catch the game, tune into the Pac-12 Network at 8:30 PM.