The Arizona State Sun Devils and the Arizona Wildcats enter Thursday’s meeting between the two both near the bubble of the tournament. Yes, it’s also January, but this game can influence if either team makes it to the big dance. To learn more about the Wildcats’ current form with asked AZ Desert Swarm’s Scott Moran a few questions.
BV: How big of a difference maker is Chase Jeter?
SM: Anyone who thought he wasn’t the engine driving this team was proven wrong when Arizona got blown out twice without him this past week. His status for Thursday is uncertain, and frankly, there’s no way Arizona wins without him. He’s the only true big man the Wildcats have on their roster this season, and his absence makes Arizona a bunch of average three point shooters hoping they catch fire. If he plays, this should be an excellent game where either team can win. If he doesn’t, an Arizona win would probably be impossible.
BV: On a scale of 1-10, heading into this game how well or poorly is Arizona playing?
SM: Before Jeter was hurt, I’d give them a 6. There were some disappointing missteps, and there was no mistaking them for Arizona’s usual level of talent, but they looked like a tourney team most nights. Without Jeter during the LA road trip, they get a 2. Brandon Williams, Brandon Randolph, and Justin Coleman are all fine players, but with no inside presence Arizona was burned badly on both ends of the court. I think they can quickly bounce back to a 6 or 7 with Jeter in the lineup, but only time will tell.
BV: How different are the Wildcats going to be next year?
SM: Quite different, yet again. A lot of the roster will be returning, to be fair, but the starting lineup will be built around incoming freshmen Nico Mannion, Josh Green, and others. Jeter will probably return for another season for eligibility, and it’s likely both Brandon will return as well. A possible lineup of Randolph, Williams, Mannion, Green, and Jeter with some solid reserves is what’s keeping Arizona fans sane during this losing streak.
BV: With ASU being better in basketball of late, do you think it makes the rivalry more fun?
SM: It absolutely changes the rivalry, and for the better. I’m still pretty new to this rivalry, but I think no two teams in the west hate each other more across all sports than UA and ASU. There’s a lot of people invested in this rivalry with huge enrollments at both schools and both located in large, growing metropolitan areas (yes, I know, Phoenix is bigger). And now, in the second most prominent sport, both schools look to be conference heavyweights for years to come. It also helps that Bobby Hurley and Sean Miller are two of the most animated coaches out there. I’m excited for this edition of the rivalry and many more in the future.
BV: Your score prediction?
SM: It really does depend on whether Jeter plays. I still would give ASU the slight edge since it’s in Tempe, but since there’s a chance Jeter doesn’t play, I’m gonna hedge my bet and take the Devils 72-65. If Jeter plays when the two meet in Tucson, there’s a good chance this year’s series will end with a split.