Can the Sun Devils rise to the challenge in Tucson on Saturday? - Christian Petersen
The Sun Devils' slim NCAA tournament chances have all but slipped away. Can an upset win in Tucson give Arizona State new life?
Few teams exemplify exactly how crazy this college basketball season has been better than the Arizona State Sun Devils.
This season, most of the country has watched as teams atop the NCAA lose mind-boggling matchups and throw away their chances at high tournament seeds. Meanwhile, the folks in Tempe have seen their beloved Sun Devils struggle down the stretch and all but slash their hopes at reaching March Madness.
Less than three weeks ago, Arizona State held a 20-7 record and appeared to be in control of its own destiny heading into the final games of the conference schedule. Unfortunately, the Sun Devils failed to take advantage of their situation and have dropped three consecutive games heading into the weekend rivalry showdown with the Arizona Wildcats.
A strong finish might have propelled the Sun Devils into the tournament, but now they'll need a victory in Tucson and a myriad of other factors to go their way to sneak in with an at-large berth.
After losing to Washington, UCLA and USC in a matter of seven days, the significance of this Saturday's game is not lost on anyone.
A win would give the Sun Devils a glimmer of hope to keep fighting against long odds.
A loss would force Arizona State to win the Pac-12 conference tournament in Las Vegas next week if the season is to continue on a grand stage.
If the Pac-12 has taught fans something this season, it's that anything is possible. The Sun Devils must take that mentality into Tucson and fight for a full 40 minutes.
State of the Sun Devils: Remarkably, this Arizona State team remains upbeat about the remaining games this season. The Sun Devils believe they can beat the Wildcats, and they have no qualms about going into the conference tournament with an NCAA tournament berth on the line.
This mentality is a testament to the leadership of Carrick Felix, the play of Jahii Carson and the coaching style of Herb Sendek. Though Sendek has been maligned at times this season, it's easy to forget that his team was picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 conference in the preseason media poll.
When Arizona State heads to Tucson, the Sun Devils will be looking to avenge a 17-point loss that came in Tempe earlier this season. However, the defeat came during Felix's worst game of the season, a five-point and five-rebound effort that included seven turnovers.
The Sun Devils kept up with the Wildcats until the final 10 minutes of the game. At that point, Carson picked up his fourth foul of the contest and Arizona quickly pulled away.
If Arizona State wants a chance against the Wildcats, it will need an exceptional defensive effort. The Wildcats are explosive, and guards Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson torched the Sun Devils in their last outing.
Like any Pac-12 conference game, rivalries are up in the air, so the Wildcats can't chalk up a win just yet.
State of the Wildcats: Fortunately for the Sun Devils, Arizona's greatest struggles this season happen to be upon them.
After picking up three victories in a row in a mid-February stretch, the Wildcats lost both games on their Southern California road trip last week.
The Wildcat defense struggled mightily against USC as Arizona allowed 89 points to a sub .500 Trojans team that averages just 66.1 points per game.
Meanwhile, in the UCLA contest, the Wildcats lost a hard-fought contest against a rising Bruins team that appears to be hitting its stride at the right time.
What the two losses do reveal about the Wildcats is that they are susceptible on any given day.
Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson make for a dynamic trio, but like the Sun Devils, the drop off in contributions from the bench players is substantial.
Kevin Parrow averages 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds, but beyond his efforts as a sixth man, the Wildcats have a pedestrian second line.
If Arizona State can force a player like Lyons or Hill into early foul trouble, the Sun Devils' chances of stealing a road win will greatly increase.
Matchup of the Week: Jahii Carson vs. Mark Lyons
The Pac-12 is stacked with quality guards, but few matchups are as exciting to watch as the one featured on Saturday.
In the January 19th matchup between the two, Carson kept his team in the game with 22 points, but an outstanding 24-point performance from Lyons helped the Wildcats secure the victory.
The pair had trouble guarding one another and both struggled with foul trouble throughout the afternoon, so expect offense to dominate Saturday's battle yet again.