Ahead of Saturday night’s monumental conference opener in Tucson between the Arizona State Sun Devils (12-0) and the Arizona Wildcats (10-3), we sat down with Ryan Kelapire of AZ Desert Swarm to talk about the Territorial Cup — Hardwood Edition.
Maxwel Madden: Much was made of the Wildcats' slow start out of the gate this season, how did they overcome it and have any early issues lingered?
Ryan Kelapire: I wouldn't say they have totally overcome it, but their biggest issue was their defense and that has definitely improved since the Bahamas. However, it is still not great to answer your second question. The Wildcats have trouble stopping dribble penetration and defending in transition, plus they don't have an intimidating rim-protector even though Ayton profiles as one.
The return of Rawle Alkins cannot be understated, though. He does a little bit of everything for this Arizona team, and gives the Wildcats some much-needed edge on defense.
MM: Many know about the star studded roster in Allonzo Trier, Deandre Ayton and Rawle Alkins, who are some other impact players that don't receive as much attention?
RK: Arizona's seniors — point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and center Dusan Ristic. Neither of them are great players, but they are pretty reliable. Jackson-Cartwright is a diminutive point guard who doesn't turn the ball over much and is one of the top shooters in the country this year. He provides great spacing for the three players you mentioned and is decent on defense (though limited because of his size).
Ristic is a traditional back-to-the-basket center. Scoring is his best attribute, by far, but he has improved as a rebounder and defender. One interesting storyline about this game is how Arizona's tall frontcourt will defend ASU's small-ball approach. Ayton and Ristic have had trouble defending smaller lineups when on the court together but Miller likes to play them at the same time anyway, which could come back to bite Arizona in this game.
Brandon Randolph is really Arizona's only scorer off the bench that I would consider to be dangerous. The Wildcats were supposed to have a lot of depth this season, but the highly-touted freshman class just hasn't panned out except for Ayton and, to a much lesser extent, Randolph.
ASU has had quite the incredible start to its season thus far, how does the Arizona fanbase feel about the Sun Devils' emerging basketball program?
There are generally three ways UA fans view ASU's recent basketball success. One, they aren't happy because they never want to see ASU succeed at anything. Two, UA fans are indifferent because they don't consider ASU much of a rival in basketball. Three, Arizona fans are happy because it helps the Pac-12 and makes Arizona road trips tougher for opposing Pac-12 schools.
The Cats just moved up to No. 17 in the AP Poll, do you feel that's a fair ranking considering their talent level and body of work and where do you see them ending up at the end?
Yeah, it's more than fair. But now that Alkins is back, Arizona has as much talent as anybody and because the Pac-12 is so weak, it wouldn't be outlandish to see them finish in the Top 5 or Top 10 by season's end.
I don't think the three losses in the Bahamas have ended the national title dreams for UA's fanbase.
How do you see this weekend's matchup playing out?
I think Arizona will win in a close, high-scoring game, then ASU will return the favor in Tempe later in the season. I think I'm higher on the Sun Devils than most, but winning in McKale Center is tough (yes, I know ASU won at Kansas), especially since Arizona is starting play like it was expected to.