Can Jordan Bachynski rise ot hte challenge against an athletic Stanford squad? - USA TODAY Sports
It's do or die time for the Sun Devil basketball team as it must win four games in a row to lock up the conference's automatic tournament bid. The work starts against a Stanford squad that dealt Arizona State a loss in Tempe earlier this year.
If parity makes for great basketball, then the Pac-12 featured some of the best matchups in the country this year.
Of the 12 teams that began the season with high hopes of winning a Pac-12 title, nine teams finished with a record of at least .500 in conference play.
Four teams including the Arizona State Sun Devils and the Stanford Cardinal finished at the .500 mark with overall Pac-12 records of nine wins and nine losses.
Throughout the first few months of 2013, fans have been blessed with incredibly close, hard-fought games that brought out the best in each team.
Arizona State rose to the occasion and picked up four wins against the conference's top four teams while Stanford swept rival California and picked up a blowout victory against the Oregon Ducks.
The Sun Devils and Cardinal will meet in the first round of what figures to be one of the most exciting conference tournaments in recent memory.
While the Pac-12 appears to be in position to receive four to five tournament berths come Sunday, mid-level teams like Arizona State and Stanford will do battle in Las Vegas for the rights to earn an automatic bid and secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
In a conference lacking a truly dominant team, the Pac-12 tournament is up for grabs.
State of the Sun Devils: At one point this season, Arizona State appeared primed for an NCAA Tournament appearance. The Sun Devils stood at 9-5 and owned marquee victories over California, Colorado, and UCLA.
Since that time, the Sun Devils have squandered nearly all hopes of joining the big dance. Arizona State dropped its final four games, and anything short of winning the conference tournament will likely lock the maroon and gold into the NIT.
Though stringing together four wins in four days is improbable, the Sun Devils do have a compelling resume.
Few players in the country are as electrifying as Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year Jahii Carson, and his presence will disrupt even the best defenses.
Carson averaged 20.8 points on the road this season, and scored 30 points against Creighton in his last visit to Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, teammate Carrick Felix's emergence helped lead Arizona State to the 20-win mark. The senior wing scored 14.2 points per game and grabbed a team-high 8.2 rebounds per contest in his final campaign as a Sun Devil.
Together, the pair has proved positively unstoppable when both are playing up to their capabilities. Unfortunately, finding the pieces to mesh with the dynamic duo has been Arizona State's downfall all season long.
It may sound like a broken record, but if Jordan Bachynski, Jonathan Gilling, or Evan Gordon can catch fire, this Sun Devil team will be a force to be reckoned with.
The maroon and gold have played 31 games and still haven't played their best basketball. However, their Pac-12 opponents would be lying if they said the Sun Devils were not a threat on any given night.
State of the Cardinal: Even though the Cardinal finished with the same conference record as the Sun Devils, they'll come into Wednesday's matchup with increased confidence.
Stanford compiled an 18-13 record, but the Cardinal won their final two games including an 83-70 bout with the Cal Golden Bears in which the outcome was almost never in question.
The Pac-12's Most Improved Player, Dwight Powell, led Stanford with 15.1 points per game, and he thrived in his matchup with Arizona State earlier this season.
Powell scored 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in the Cardinal's 62-59 win in Tempe. The junior wasn't the lone playmaker either, as junior forward Josh Huestis' athleticism gave the Sun Devils fits all night.
Huestis scored 13 points and added 12 rebounds, and his performance is alarming for Arizona State fans.
The Sun Devils have struggled to match up with athletic teams, and the Cardinal certainly fit that billing.
Arizona State coach Herb Sendek frequently used three guards to try to curtail the Stanford offense, but players like John Gage still hurt the Sun Devils from the perimeter.
If the Cardinal can maximize their success from beyond the arc and slow down either Carson or Felix, they'll have the best chance at advancing to the quarterfinals.