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ASU Basketball: Q and A with Arizona expert ahead of Saturday’s rivalry matchup in Tempe

A once-promising rivalry game lost some of the buzz following ASU’s last game

Morgan State v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Just over a week ago, the New Year’s Eve matchup between Arizona State (11-2, 2-0 Pac-12) and Arizona (12-1, 1-1) looked to be one of the conference’s key contests of early-Pac-12 play. San Francisco then dented the Sun Devils’s reputation when the Dons clobbered ASU 97-60 in The Bay, and now the Wildcats look, once again, like the clear favorite.

To better understand the 2022-2023 iteration of Wildcat hoops, we reached out to the always-helpful Brian Pedersen of SB Nation site Arizona Desert Swarm, who offered his insights.

Arizona holds the top adjusted offense ranking in Kenpom. How does ASU stand-up to their up-tempo attack?

Brian Pedersen: “Trying to slow down Arizona is the best recipe for success against its pace, but so too is being handsy on defense and trying and force turnovers. The Wildcats allow 8.7 steals per game, a byproduct of playing fast, but where they’ve been able to avoid that being a problem is by getting back in transition to avoid easy buckets. The Sun Devils will need to convert those takeaways into points, otherwise it will have to hope Arizona takes a bad shot in the half-court.”

Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo form possibly the nation’s top scoring front court. Devan Cambridge and Warren Washington have excelled at closing the paint and forcing teams to rely on threes. How will these players match-up?

“Flooding the paint has become a common approach for opponents, with little to no success. Tubelis and Ballo take almost 23 shots per game combined, and both are also great at drawing fouls. If ASU cannot deny the high-low entry pass, just doubling the ball handler won’t work because both can pass (each have 1:1 assist/TO ratio).”

How can the Devils slow the game down early and often to get Arizona uncomfortable? What are the Wildcats’ weaknesses?

“As mentioned above, turning it over is Arizona’s biggest flaw. It gives it away on 19 percent of possessions, but with the pace it plays that still provides plenty of scoring opportunities. ASU may try to press in the backcourt but Arizona is too fast to make that work, so the key for the Sun Devils will be getting back on defense (on made or missed baskets) and not letting the bigs run down the court behind the defenders.

“Forced to take 3s, Arizona runs hot and cold. It was 4 of 28 in the loss to Utah, but also has five games hitting 10 or more from outside and seven games making 40 percent of perimeter shots.”

The free-throw numbers for Arizona are somewhat-shaky. Can they withstand a physical game in the paint that relies on free throws?

“Making free throws is important, but just getting to the line as much as Arizona does accomplishes a big goal. The Wildcats attempt more than 25 foul shots per game, the result of drawing almost 18 fouls per game. Wing Pelle Larsson drew 10 fouls in the win over Tennessee two weeks ago, while Ballo and Tubelis also get bigs into foul trouble very easily.

“Arizona has caused eight opposing players to foul out, and another 16 have had four fouls. Alonzo Gaffney, Warren Washington and Duke Brennan will have to try to defend without fouling or ASU will be in trouble.”

How can an inconsistent ASU offense keep up with the furious scoring pace of UofA? What is your score prediction?

“Arizona’s defense is still a work in progress, so I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see ASU come out hot and make a bunch of shots, especially from 3. This happens often against the Wildcats, which causes opponents to get overconfident, so the Sun Devils will need to avoid falling in love with a particular shot and try to stay balanced with their offensive approach.

“That being said, Arizona scored 75 against KenPom’s No. 1 defense (Tennessee) and topped 80 points against three other Top 25 defenses. Barring a woefully cold shooting performance, Wildcats win by at least 7.”