The Sun Devils and Wildcats face off for the first time this season down in Tucson with a Territorial Cup matchup to open up conference play for both squads. Last season ASU was able to split the season series with the Wildcats. We took some time out with Bryant Conger of AZ Desert Swarm to get some questions answered about Arizona this season.
House of Sparky: The McKale Center is always rocking, what weakness can ASU exploit early to quiet the crowd?
Bryant Conger: Arizona fans will bring their A game anytime ASU comes to town. This will likely mean that fans will be loud even if the Sun Devils get off to a quick start. It will take a sustained run early to knock the crowd out of the game.
HoS: Is there one stat that you can point to that really shows how dominant Stanley Johnson can be?
BC: Stanley Johnson leads Arizona in both points and rebounds. We have a big and athletic team with a strong front court. The fact that Stanley is pulling in the most rebounds per game shows how aggressive he is.
The key with Johnson though is he needs to play within himself. There are times like the UNLV when he tries to do too much and that can hurt the team.
HoS: What's the most glaring weakness about U of A this season?
BC: Our defense is elite and wins games we can go in to scoring droughts fairly easily. This team is not a great offensive squad and we do not have a true knock down outside shooter.
HoS: What are the expectations for this Wildcat team this season around Tucson?
BC: Sean Miller has put together a strong, deep, and athletic squad. If we fail to make it to the final four there will be a lot of disappointed Cats fans. I would say national championship or bust but that Kentucky squad looks like a level above everyone else right now.
HoS: Knowing the biggest potential weakness for ASU can be turnovers, who is the biggest threat for steals for the Wildcats?
BC: If turnovers are ASU's biggest weakness than this one could get out of hand. Arizona's defense is one of the best in the country and it is led by our point guard TJ McConnell who is averaging 2.5 steals per game. He really gets up in the grill of whomever he is guarding but normally doesn't over commit. We also have three long defenders in Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Brandon Ashley -- all of whom average more a steal a game.
HoS: Describe the non-conference season for UA, what were some of the higher and lower moments?
BC: Sean Miller normally puts together a tough non-conference schedule. This year is no exception. A home win over Gonzaga was huge for us. They are a balanced, talented, final four caliber team. We also roll into conference play with a win over San Diego State, a road win over a sneaky UTEP, and we ran Michigan out of our gym.
With all that said we dropped our last road game against a poorly coached, underachieving UNLV squad who exposed some holes in our interior defense.
HoS: Which player do you think could hurt ASU the most?
BC: Arizona has a lot of talented players who are elite on the defensive end but are streaky on the offensiveside of the ball. This is a team where we never know who is going to step up from game to game (if anyone). If I had to pick a player I would say Stanley Johnson. If heis playing smart and aggressive I can see him walking away with 17 points and 7 rebounds.
HoS: Which player has surprised the most this season in a positive way for the Wildcats? And one player in a negative sense.
BC: Shooting guard Gabe York really stepped up in the offseason and has really stepped up to help this team. He provides some offensive firepower that, at times, is desperately needed. York was a 4 star recruit who was overshadowed by a loaded class. There were rumors that he would transfer but he has stuck with the program and has developed nicely.
Power Forward Brandon Ashley's injury last year cost us a Final Four. He does so many things well and is nearly automatic from 20 feet out. But Brandon tended to fade in games. Kind of like Lamar Odom. I was hoping that he would enter this year with a stronger edge and that hasn't been the case.