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ASU Basketball: Arizona preview

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With UA in a funk, does Bobby Hurley get his first win over the Wildcats?

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at UCLA Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona

Record: 14-7, (5-3)

VS ASU last year: 2-0

NET Ranking: 67

Points scored: 73.0 (191 of 353)

Points allowed: 67.8 (95 of 353)

Every season when the men’s basketball schedule is released, there is one game that everyone around Tempe looks forward to.

The matchup with rival Arizona at Wells Fargo Arena. This particular rivalry meeting presents a golden opportunity for the Sun Devils. Head coach Bobby Hurley still hasn’t beaten UA during his tenure with ASU, going 0-6 in his first six games.

For the first time in the matchup, the Sun Devils have the more talented roster and will be hosting the first meeting between the schools this year. With both teams looking like fringe NCAA Tournament contenders, it’s a must-win for both but especially Arizona State.

Expecting a strong crowd to pack ‘The Bank’, ASU will have a big crowd that’s hungry for a victory over their rivals. Another huge bonus for the Sun Devils is they won’t have to deal with both Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic like they did a year ago.

It’s been a rough stretch of late for UA, as they were missing their best player in junior forward Chase Jeter as they were blown out by USC and UCLA. Sophomore wing Emmanuel Akot also transferred out of the program earlier this month, leaving them with even less depth in the front court.

The lack of size should benefit the Sun Devils’ interior players including senior forward Zylan Cheatham and sophomore forward Romello White. Both have played well this season, and White will probably be looking to get back at Arizona after struggling to contain their size last season is their two meetings.

Outside of Jeter, UA’s backcourt features some talented but very streaky players. Freshman guard Brandon Williams was about the only positive against the L.A. schools, and sophomore guard Brandon Randolph can be a big problem if he's shooting well.

Both have been pressed into big roles this season, with Williams rotating from point guard and shooting guard, and Randolph being the primary scorer after only receiving limited minutes his freshman year.

Randolph leads the ‘Cats in scoring averaging 14.9 points per contest, but hasn’t shot too efficiently as he’s only 41 percent from the field for the season.

After two brutal shooting nights without Jeter, expect the Sun Devils to try and use a zone defense to limit Arizona’s offense. Both USC and UCLA used this defense very effectively, and with Arizona State’s extra length and athleticism it should lead to difficult shots.

While both Sean Miller and Hurley pride their teams in strong man-to-man defense, it could be to each other’s benefit that they switch up their looks throughout. Hurley has been more willing to throw zone and different points of a game, but certainly prefers the one-on-one matchups that give his better defenders like sophomore guard Remy Martin and Cheatham opportunities to make plays.

For the Sun Devils coming off an emotional road loss, they will be more than pumped for Thursday’s game. The key will be whether or not they can manage their emotions and not let the moment get too big.

With Arizona expected to land the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class next season, this will likely be Hurley and company’s best chance to get even with their most hated rival.