Preview & Prediction: By Fairway Jay
#15 Arizona State (15-3, 4-2) travels to Tucson to take on in-state rival Arizona (11-7/2-4) Wednesday. The Sun Devils enter off a big road win over conference kingpin UCLA, as ASU prevailed 61-58 in overtime at Pauley Pavilion. Sophomore star James Harden poured in 24 points and the Sun Devils match-up zone proved problematic for the Bruins. Arizona State is actually favored on the road tonight despite Arizona’s strength at home where they also lead the Pac-10 in home attendance. However, ASU is the better team and will clearly be motivated after beating the Wildcats in both meetings last season only to see Arizona receive an invitation to the NCAA tournament while Arizona State was snubbed for the big dance.
Clear coaching advantage here as ASU’s Herb Sendek has continued to get the most out of his players while playing within the confines of his Princeton influenced offense and zone defense.
The Sun Devils experience and strong play is led by the league’s top player James Harden, who is scoring 22 ppg and leads the league in steals. Senior forward Jeff Pendergraph has hit 20/24 FG his last three games and leads the Pac-10 in FG shooting in conference play (75%). ASU is shooting over 50% overall, but under Sendek the Sun Devils also lead the league in scoring defense (59 ppg) and hold opponents to just 42% shooting. Sophomore Ty Abbott handles the ball and defends well, while point guard Derek Glasser directs the offense and leads the league in 3-point shooting (57%), assists (5.8) and free throw shooting (95%). Rihards Kuksiks has taken more 3-pointers than any player in conference play while hitting 53% from the arch. The Sun Devils share the ball and are an extremely efficient offensive team. All five starters have significant experience from last year and the results are paying off this season.
Arizona is shooting a league-low 28% from the arch and they look disjointed on offense. Head coach Russ Pennell has not been able to get consistent play out of his players. The Wildcats have more success when they get the ball inside to strong forward Jordan Hill, who averages 16 ppg in conference play is #2 in rebounding with over 10 boards per contest while leading the league in offensive rebounding. Chase Budinger (16 ppg) has been better recently after some shooting struggles, while point guard Nic Wise has been part of the problem for Arizona’s league worst turnover margin. Arizona lacks offensive production outside of the big 3 above with forward Jamelle Horne providing some rebounding strength but just 16 total points his last three games. Phoenix native Zane Johnson started his first game last time out at USC and looks to be getting more involved with his outside shooting stroke much needed for the Wildcats. With ASU’s zone and ability to collapse down low on Hill, the Wildcats will need some production from Budinger and Johnson from the perimeter.
Arizona has dominated this series since 1989, going 34-7 against their in-state rival. But with ASU winning both contests last season and having the better personnel, team play and motivation for last season’s NCAA snub, look for the Sun Devils to rise again and claw the Wildcats
Winner: Arizona State Margin 4-8 points
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About Fairway Jay
Previews & Predictions
Jay Ginsbach, also known as "Fairway Jay’"joins the CHN team and staff this season from Sportsmemo.com. He’ll provide his insight and expertise covering the college basketball scene with periodic thoughts from a Las Vegas perspective.