Archive for: February 2013

Analyzing Sun Devils’ NCAA Tournament Resume

Mark J. Rebilas-USA Today Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils basketball team still has a chance, albeit a very small chance, to punch its ticket to the Big Dance on Selection Sunday.

The Sun Devils (20-8, 9-6 Pac-12) are hoping for a wee bit of luck on this St. Patrick’s Day. If they win their final three regular-season games on the road, there should be no need for luck.

Their resume is admirable but not impressive. The Devils notched only their seventh 20-win season in the past 25 years, the fourth in Herb Sendek’s seven-year tenure as head coach.

The Sun Devils have only played seven games on the road this year with an early non-conference victory over Texas Tech but then split their road trips to Oregon, Washington and the Rocky Mountain schools.

They can’t afford a split at the Los Angeles schools as they meet the UCLA Bruins Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m. EST in storied Pauley Pavilion.

Arizona State is 5-2 against the other top-six teams in the conference, and I will break down its tournament resume and hope for the best.

Win-Loss Record

jahii blackThe Sun Devils started the season with four victories, including a convincing 25-point win over the Arkansas Razorbacks, who has defeated then-No. 2 Florida. They cruised through non-conference play with an amazing 11-2 record, with their only speed bumps coming from No. 14 Creighton and a scrappy DePaul Blue Demons team that seemed to have the Devils’ number.

They began conference play on shaky ground, needing overtime to beat the Utah Runnin’ Utes. After easily beating Colorado and Oregon State, the Devils lost two straight to the top two teams in the league, Oregon and Arizona.

They won four of their next five dropping a heartbreaker at Washington. After dispatching the Cal Bears, the Devils had another two-game losing streak with losses to Stanford and at Utah. They won their next two in dramatic fashion, sweeping Colorado in overtime and Washington State by 12 at home.

Saturday’s loss to Washington may have dashed the Devils’ tournament hopes unless they can finish strong on the road.

Ratings Percentage Index (RPI)

The Ratings Percentage Index or RPI is the most common and well-known ranking system since it has been in use for over 30 years. It is believed by some to give an unfair advantage to larger schools and decried by others as an overly simplistic system.

The formula to determine a teams RPI is (WP * 0.25) + (OWP * 0.50) + (OOWP * 0.25)

WP = Winning Percentage

OWP = Opponents’ Winning Percentage

OOWP = Opponents’ Opponents’ Winning Percentage

According to ESPN, the Sun Devils RPI is .5510, the No. 85 team in Division I. They have only played one team with an RPI in the Top 25, Arizona, and lost. However, they have played six teams with an RPI between 26 and 50 and have a 4-2 record.

Their strength of schedule is 137 overall, 90 in conference and a horrible 290 non-conference. The SOS factors into the RPI but only if the team wins some of the tough games. USC’s SOS is an amazingly low 27, but since it was 1-11 against RPI top-50 teams, its RPI is over 100.

The Devils need to find a happy medium between cupcakes and top-ranked teams to improve their RPI in the future.

Basketball Power Index (BPI)

felix dunkESPN explains the Basketball Power Index or BPI as:

A men’s team rating that accounts for a team’s scores in all D-I games, by location, result, the strength of their opponent, and whether any of their top five players (by minutes per game) was missing.

They go on to explain that it differs from the RPI in that:

  • Scoring margin, adjusted for pace, matters
  • Strength of Schedule (SOS) calculation uses more information
  • De-weights games with missing key players

In this newfangled power ranking system, the Sun Devils have a BPI of 70.2, good enough for the No. 65 team in Division I.

According to the BPI, the Sun Devils are currently projected to be the No. 80 team, missing the tournament by a large margin.

Quality Wins

For the purpose of this article, I have quantified a quality win as a victory over a team that currently has a RPI in the top 50 in Division I.

As mentioned earlier, Arizona State is 4-3 against the RPI top 50, which is amazing since Arizona and Oregon have both lost four games to the same group.

Jan. 6—defeated 10-3 Colorado, 65-56, at home. Colorado led early 20-7 and held a 33-30 lead at halftime but only scored 23 in the second half.

Jan. 26—defeated 16-4 UCLA, 78-60, at home. UCLA was coming off a big win over No. 6 Arizona and came out flat shooting only 35 percent from the field, giving up 46 points in the paint and were out-rebounded, 52-33.

Feb. 7—defeated 13-8 California, 66-62, at home. Cal has simply been on fire as of late, winning seven of its last eight, including No. 7 Arizona, No. 10 Oregon (twice) and UCLA.

Feb. 16—defeated 17-7 Colorado, 63-62, on the road. The Buffs trailed by six with just over a minute to go and roared back to tie the game in regulation at 52. A signature road win for the Devils.

This was only the sixth loss at home for Tad Boyle in the last 49 games.

Bad Losses

gilling depaulOnce again, for the purpose of this article, I need to define a bad loss. I quantify it as losing to a team that currently has an RPI of 100 or higher.

Dec. 12—Lost at home to DePaul, 78-61. Arguably the worst game of the season for the Sun Devils. Coming into the game at 8-1, the Devils were embarrassed at home surrendering a 17-4 streak in the second half. DePaul has an RPI raking of 180 and an 11-16 record.

Feb. 13—Lost at home to Utah, 60-55. The Devils opened this game slowly, trailing 29-22 at the half. They took the lead with 11 minutes remaining and began to pull away, leading by eight with only seven minutes to go. They would then go ice cold, being outscored 19-6 on 2-of-9 shooting.

Final Stats and Notes

The UCLA Bruins and the Arizona Wildcats are No. 1 and No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring, while the Sun Devils are fifth. These teams are obviously beatable, but the Devils need to bring their A-game.

The main area for concern for the Devils is their free-throw shooting. Their 62.1 percent from the charity stripe is not only the worst in the Pac-12 but ranks 333rd out of 347 Division I teams.

They average 21 three-point attempts per game, the most in the league but only sink one-third of them for eighth in the league. Conversely, their two-point percentage of 53.2 percent is the best in the Pac-12; maybe they need to stick with what works well for them.

colvin utahDefensively, Arizona State is No. 1 in the conference and No. 5 in the country in blocks, averaging 6.43 per game. They are No. 6 in steals and No. 9 in rebounds per game behind UCLA and Arizona in each category.

Individually, Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA is No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring with 18.2 points per game and Jahii Carson is right behind him at No. 4 and 17.5 points per game. Larry Drew II from UCLA leads the league with 7.6 assists per game and is No. 4 in the country. Carson is right behind LD II at No. 3 in the Pac-12. Jordan Bachynski leads the conference in blocks per game and is No. 3 in field-goal percentage.

Can the Sun Devils win out on the road? Stranger things have happened, but the bulk of the upsets this season have been when the top teams are on the road, not at home.

There still is the Pac-12 tournament if things don’t go well on this road trip.

Pac-12 Basketball Power Rankings and Tourney Predictions

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

The Pacific-12 Conference currently has two teams ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll, four teams in the RPI top 50, five teams in the BPI top 50 and four teams with 20 or more wins on the season.

The conference is in much better shape than last year when only the conference tournament champion Colorado Buffaloes made the NCAA tournament field of 64. The Cal Bears were invited but lost in the first four to South Florida.

A total of nine teams received postseason invitations with five going to the NIT and two headed to the CBI Tournament. It looks as if it may be possible to field five teams in the NCAA tournament if everything falls into place just so.

Here is the Pac-12 power rankings and tournament predictions entering the final two weeks of the regular season.

No. 1: Arizona Wildcats

It appears that the Wildcats are back on track. They have won their past three after suffering their first losing streak of the year. Not only did they win their past three contests, but they won by an average of 13 points, the best three-game stretch since entering Pac-12 play this year.

Two of their final games are on the road against the L.A. schools and their season finale is at home hosting their in-state rival, Arizona State Sun Devils.

Final Record Prediction: 26-4, 14-4 Pac-12

Postseason Prediction: NCAA tournament No. 3 seed

No. 2: Oregon Ducks

The Ducks are an odd bird. They dominated the Pac-12 at the beginning, defending their home court by beating Arizona and then-ranked UCLA at home. Then came the three-game slump including a 48-47 loss at home to Colorado. Just when it seemed as is they were back on track with three straight W’s, they lost at home to Cal in another low-scoring game, 48-46.

Oregon’s final home game is Thursday, hosting the Oregon State Beavers, then it finishes the season on the road against the rocky mountain teams in Colorado and Utah.

Final Season Prediction: 24-7, 13-5 Pac-12 (lose at Colorado)

Postseason Prediction: NCAA tournament No. 7 seed

No. 3: UCLA Bruins

The Bruins exacted sweet revenge on the cross-town USC Trojans with a 16-point victory at the Galen Center on Sunday. They have now won four of their last five after losing three of the prior four. With Sunday’s win, they reached the 11-win conference win plateau and 20-win overall win mark.

They are one of teams in the Pac-12 with four games remaining and host the Arizona schools this week and close out the season on the road at the Washington schools.

Final Season Prediction: 23-8,  14-5 Pac-12 (lose to Arizona)

Postseason Prediction: NCAA tournament No. 8 seed

No. 4: California Golden Bears

Although the Bears’ season started bumpy, they have been on fire as of late. Of their four nonconference losses, two of them were to teams ranked in the RPI Top 25 and their conference losses were all to teams in the top 100.

Cal has won five straight and seven of the their last eight with its only loss coming at Arizona State. The remaining games for the Bears are all at home and against teams below them in the conference ranking.

Final Season Prediction: 21-9,  13-5 Pac-12

Postseason Prediction: NCAA tournament No. 10 seed

No. 5: Colorado Buffaloes

Tad Boyle’s Buffs have had a roller-coaster season. They needed double-overtime to dispatch a Texas Southern team out of the SWAC and lost at Wyoming. They entered conference play losing four of their first five but have won seven of their past nine with only an embarrassing showing against Utah on the road and a heart-breaking overtime loss at home to Arizona State at home as blemishes.

Their final four games include going on the road to the Bay Area schools and then hosting the Oregon schools to close out the season.

Final Season Prediction: 21-9,  11-7 Pac-12 (lose at Cal)

Postseason Prediction: NCAA tournament No. 12 seed (first four)

No. 6: Arizona State Sun Devils

What a season it has been for the Sun Devils. Arizona State has revived its basketball program from life support. Since the departure of James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph to the NBA, the Devils have been doing good to win 10 games overall, they look to have 10 wins in conference this year.

The Devils won six of their first eight conference games and then hit a road block. They have lost four of their last seven but the two wins were against RPI Top 50 teams. If the season were to end today, the Sun Devils would definitely be in consideration for a tournament bid. Unfortunately, they still have three more games left in the regular season—and they are all on the road.

They travel to take on the Los Angeles schools this week then have a week to rest up for going to Tucson the following Saturday to take on the Wildcats who belittled them by 17 points at home earlier this season.

There are two ways for the Devils to get into the NCAA tournament, win out or win the conference tournament—so there is still hope in the desert for the Sun Devil faithful.

Final Season Prediction: 21-10,  10-8 Pac-12 (beating USC)

Postseason Prediction: NIT No. 1 seed

No. 7: Stanford Cardinal

The Cardinal never got any momentum going this year. They started off 3-0 and then lost three of their next four. They won the next three but then lost three of next five. This seemed to be the Cardinal’s M.O. going into conference play as well. After stringing together three wins including a 24-point victory over No. 10 Oregon, they have lost four of their past six.

They host the Rocky Mountain schools this week and close out the regular season at Cal on March 6.

Final Season Prediction: 17-14,  8-10 Pac-12

Postseason Prediction: NIT No. 2 seed.

No. 8: Washington Huskies

The Huskies love playing Arizona State and it shows. They have only won three of their past seven games and two of the victories were against the Sun Devils.After winning their first four conference games, the Husky faithful were hoping to repeat as regular-season champs. Since then, they have lost four straight and eight of their last 11.

The final three games for the Huskies are at home hosting Washington State and the L.A. schools. The Huskies should be able to pick up two of the three.

Final Season Prediction: 17-14,  9-9 Pac-12

Postseason Prediction: NIT No. 5 seed

No. 9: USC Trojans

You have to give it up for the Trojans for playing a tough schedule. The 26th-most difficult schedule is admirable, but in order for it to look impressive, you have to win more than one of them. A one point, the Trojans had lost five straight in non-conference play, however, three of those teams have a top 20 RPI ranking.

Southern Cal did put together a four-game win streak giving hope to the Men of Troy, but they have lost two straight now and the future looks bleak.

Of their four remaining home games, they host the Arizona schools and close out the regular season on the road against the Washington schools.

Final Season Prediction: 13-19,  8-10 Pac-12 (beating WSU)

Postseason Prediction: NIT No. 7 seed

Grading Arizona’s Sean Miller on 2013 Recruiting Trail

Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

 The other two players that Miller released are having a tough time since they left Tucson. Josiah Turner is on his third pro team in six months and Sidiki Johnson is reportedly off the team at Providence College.After the 2010-11 season when he led the Wildcats to a 30-win season and an Elite Eight performance, he was able to secure four players, three of them were ranked by Scout.com in the top ten in the country at their respective positions. Two of those players are still making solid contributions to the team in No. 7 shooting guard Nick Johnson and No. 10 power forward Angelo Chol.

This speaks volumes about Miller’s judgement of character and the Wildcats are fortunate to be rid of them.

Miller’s Wildcats went on to a miserable 2011-12 season finishing with a 23-12, 12-6 Pac-12 record and losing in the first round of the NIT to No. 8 seed Bucknell. This would not hamper Miller on the recruiting trail as he scored arguably one of the best recruiting classes in 2012.

Snagging three 5-star and one 4-star recruit, Miller had once again elevated the Wildcats program to new heights leading them to a 14-0 record and a month straight in the AP top five.

Let’s take a look at the future of Arizona Wildcats’ basketball and grade Miller’s recruiting.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

  • rondaePosition: Small Forward
  • Height: 6’7″
  • Weight: 215
  • Ranking: 5-star according to Scout.com and No. 4 SF in the country

Rondae Jefferson from Chester, Penn. is going to make an immediate impact for the Wildcats.

The five-star recruit is ranked No. 16 on the ESPN 100 as well as the top recruit out of Pennsylvania and the No. 5 small forward in the country.

Jefferson will fill in nicely for the departing Solomon Hill and might even exceed the current production of the starting forward. Jefferson has a dynamic range and can also play shooting guard as well as small forward if coach Sean Miller opts to not have him play the power forward position.

Miller told Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star that he was ecstatic about the new recruits in Jefferson, and Miller said that Jefferson is a physical player and a winner from one of the most competitive regions in the country, where he has led his team to 58-straight victories. He also said this to say of Jefferson in comparison to Hill:

He’s a warrior. He’s similar to Solomon in that he can do a lot of things. He can handle the ball, he has a chance to be a great defensive player, he’s almost 6’7″ and long, very unselfish, can pass and I think he is a player who is a great teammate. He can be at a lot of different spots. His versatility is the greatest thing that he has going for him.

Elliott Pitts

  • Position: Shooting Guard
  • Height: 6’5″
  • Weight: 190
  • Ranking: 4-star according to Scout.com and No. 20 SG in the country according to ESPN.com

Pitts is huge at the shooting guard position and has a great eye for the basket regardless of where he is. He can stop and pop from anywhere on the court or turn on a dime and drive the lane. Coach Miller said about Pitts:

The attributes that we love about him as a player is he’s a great passer, very skilled shooter and can play at more than one position.

2013 Grade

Although there is only two recruits committed to Arizona this year, it is still ranked as the No. 17 class in the country according to Scout.com.

They are once again battling a familiar foe in the UCLA Bruins who have the No. 16 class with three players, all of which are ranked in the top 100.

While the Wildcats may never reach the lofty heights of recruiting set forth by the likes of Kentucky, Duke and Kansas, they need to at least be the best in the Pac-12.

Grade: B+

Transfers

There are currently two players on the Arizona bench that are chomping at the bit to get into a game for Coach Miller and the Wildcats.

T.J. McConnell

  • mcconellPosition: Point Guard
  • Height: 6’1″
  • Weight: 190

The junior transfer student from Pittsburgh that played at Duquesne will be a great fill-in for the ‘Cats with the departure of Mark Lyons. The 2011 Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year ranked fourth nationally in steals and had the sixth-highest assist-to-turnover ratio, something that Lyons has been struggling with.

Matt Korcheck

  • Position: Power Forward
  • Height: 6’10”
  • Weight: 225

Korcheck is a local Tucson product and the first junior college student from Tucson recruited in over 30 years, so there must be something that Miller likes in this kid. The power forward position is log-jammed with three top-ranked players vying for minutes in Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Angelo Chol. It is unclear what kind of contribution Korcheck will be able to make in his two remaining years.

Grade: B-

2014 Grade

Parker Jackson-Cartwright

  • PJCPosition: Point Guard
  • Height: 5’8″
  • Weight: 150
  • Ranking: 5-star according to Scout.com and No. 30 overall recruit in the country according to ESPN.com

Jackson-Cartwright is from Los Angeles and was being heavily recruited by UCLA and Gonzaga. He visited Tucson this past weekend and committed to Coach Miller on Sunday.

Eric Cooper, Jr.

  • Position: Shooting Guard
  • Height: 6’2″
  • Weight: 160

Cooper committed to Arizona in December, 2010 alongside LaVerne Lutheran teammate Grant Jerrett. Cooper is now playing for St. Anthony High School in Los Angeles and is still as committed today as he was over two years ago.

Pulling big time recruits from the hotbed of Los Angeles is great for Miller and a definite step in the right direction. They are still considered to be in the hunt for the best player to come out of California in Aaron Gordon, but we know all too well about how crowded the team is at the power forward position.

Another big state that Miller needs to do well in is Texas. The 2014 class, according to ESPN.com has several top-ranked players coming out of Texas including the the No. 1 and No. 3 small forwards in Justise Winslow and Justin Jackson. Arizona has made offers to both juniors.

The highest-rated player out of Arizona, power forward Payton Dastrup from Mesa has received offers from eight schools including Arizona, Arizona State, BYU and Florida. A commitment from Dastrup would be huge and ensure that the best players in Arizona stay in Arizona.

Grade: A

Arizona State Football 2013 Spring Game Info

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

The Annual Maroon and Gold Spring Game is just under seven weeks away and the 16 returning Sun Devil starters are already pumped to get back on the field.

Four new players have enrolled in January and will be joining the team for spring drills. The list of new players includes three local products in freshman linebacker Chans Cox from Lakeside, as well as freshman defensive lineman Kisima Jagne and redshirt sophomore Christian Westerman, both from Chandler. Sophomore center Nick Kelly from Orangevale, Calif. rounds out the list of spring enrollees.

Spring practice will begin on Tuesday, March 19 and is scheduled for 14 more dates over the next month with the Annual Spring Game being held on Saturday, April 13 at 11 a.m. local time.

The game will be broadcast nationally on the Pac-12 Network and it doesn’t look as if there will be any deal with DirecTV prior to the game, so if you want your first look at Cox, Jagne, Westerman and Kelly, your best bet is to head down to Sun Devil Stadium for the game—it’s free to attend.

SD StadiumAll practices will be held at the Bill Kajikawa Practice Facility, unless otherwise noted, and are open to the public. Below is the scheduled practice dates and times:

  • Tuesday, March 19 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Wednesday, March 20 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Thursday, March 21 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Saturday, March 23 – 9:00 a.m. – Sun Devil Stadium
  • Tuesday, March 26 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Thursday, March 28 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Saturday, March 30 – Time TBD
  • Tuesday, April 2 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Thursday, April 4 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Saturday, March 23 – Time TBD
  • Tuesday, April 9 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Thursday, April 11 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Tuesday, April 16 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Thursday, April 18 – 8:30 a.m.

Following the Saturday, March 23 practice, Coach Graham and the team will host a Football Youth Experience Clinic at Sun Devil Stadium at 11:30 a.m. The clinic will allow the first 700 boys and girls age 8-13 to participate in skill drills with the Sun Devils coaching staff and current players.

Headlining players that are returning to the Sun Devils include Consensus All-American defensive end Will Sutton and second team All Pac-12 defensive back Alden Darby.

TK-GriceOther notable returning players include quarterback Taylor Kelly, running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster, tight end Chris Coyle, linebacker Carl Bradford, defensive back Osahon Irabor, offensive linemen Evan Finkenberg and Jaxon Hood. Since they were good enough to be honorably mentioned by the Pac-12 Conference, they also receive mention here.

It will be exciting to see how both sides of the ball operate with the loss of the seniors and prior to the arrival of the full 2013 class. There are many things to be hopeful for in the Sun Devils’ football future, and it is safe to say that they are all due to the environment that Coach Graham has created.

Breaking Down ASU’s Wide Receivers for the 2013 Season

Doug Pensinger-Getty Images

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly had a great 2012 season, with over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns.

His top three targets weren’t even wide receivers, and the two leading receivers that did contribute, Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles, have graduated. This leaves a huge opening in the wide receiver position for 2013.

Head coach Todd Graham went all-out in recruiting for the open slots.

I will break down the remaining receivers and also look at the new crop of recruits at the wide receiver position. And I will spice it up with reports on the tight end and running backs out of the backfield.

Chris Coyle

  • coyleHeight: 6’3″
  • Weight: 230
  • Year: Redshirt Senior

The Sun Devils’ leading receiver in the 2012 season came out of the H-Back position in the big, strong Chris Coyle out of Westlake Village, Calif. Coyle’s father, Rick, is a retired Navy man and has taught him well about discipline and mental toughness.

2012 was Coyle’s breakout season, as he finished with 57 receptions for 696 yards and five touchdowns. His 57 receptions also broke the school record for single-season receptions by a Sun Devil tight end. The record was previously held by Seattle Seahawks stud Zach Miller.

Coyle had two multiple-touchdown games in 2012 against Washington State and Illinois. The Illinois game, in which he had 10 receptions for 131 yards, was his best performance of the year. His two touchdowns were quick, goal-line outlets from Michael Eubank.

Coyle led the Sun Devils in receptions with 57, total yards with 696 and average yards per game with 53.5. Look for him to continue his stellar play as he prepares for the 2014 NFL draft.

Kevin Ozier

  • Height: 6’2″
  • Weight: 196
  • Year: Redshirt Senior

Kevin Ozier will be playing in his final season for the Sun Devils in 2013 and will be lining up as the Y receiver once again.

Ozier finished the 2012 campaign with 21 receptions for 324 yards, averaging 15.4 yards per carry. He scored five touchdowns, including two against California on Sept. 29. He has not racked up a 100-yard game in his career, but that’s due to limited receptions.

Ozier’s career-long reception was 52 yards against Utah, but he has had several 20-plus-yard receptions, which garnered him second-highest yards per reception on the team.

Richard Smith

  • r smithHeight: 5’9″
  • Weight: 164
  • Year: Sophomore

Richard Smith is a small but very quick receiver. He will be starting out of the Z position in 2013 with the departure of Jamal Miles. Smith will also be handling return duties left vacant by Miles and Rashad Ross.

Smith played in all 13 games as a true freshman—a true testament to his football acumen and ability to quickly adapt to the football scheme at the Division I level. He recorded 14 receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

In the 2012 season opener against Northern Arizona, Smith also had three rushing attempts for 29 yards, including a 17-yard scamper. Once he hits open field, his speed makes him deadly.

His best game came against Colorado, where he had four receptions for 51 yards and a 31-yard touchdown.

Alonzo Agwuenu

  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 211
  • Year: Redshirt Senior

The junior college transfer from Mt. San Antonio played in 11 games in the 2012 season behind leading wide receiver Rashad Ross. He will be starting his final season at the X position vacated by Ross.

Agwuenu finished with 11 receptions on the year for 115 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown came against Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

He was instrumental in the Sun Devils’ final three games and proved that he deserves the starting spot heading into the 2013 season.

Kyle Middlebrooks

  • kyle midHeight: 5’9″
  • Weight: 183
  • Year: Junior

Kyle Middlebrooks was converted from running back to wide receiver in the 2012 season due to the crowded backfield and thin receiver depth.

He saw action in 10 games, but only recorded a single reception on the year in the Sept. 22 game against Utah.

Middlebrooks is very fast and is tough to bring down once he gains separation. He may join Richard Smith in kickoff and punt return duties.

It is unsure if he will make an impact with so many new receivers being signed to the roster. But he has experience and veteran leadership that the younger kids can look to.

Tight Ends

Grant Martinez

  • Height: 6’5″
  • Weight: 210
  • Year: True Freshman

Grant Martinez is a hometown product out of Scottsdale’s Notre Dame Preparatory. He ranked as the No. 12 recruit out of Arizona and the No. 31 tight end in the country, according to Rivals.

De’Marieya Nelson

  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 230
  • Year: Redshirt Junior

De’Marieya Nelson is a junior college transfer from San Joaquin Delta College. He has two years remaining of eligibility. Rated by ESPN as the nation’s No. 8 junior college tight end and No. 78 prospect overall, look for Nelson to fill Coyle’s spot as the No. 1 TE/H-Back in the 2014 season.

Darwin Rogers

  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 243
  • Year: Senior

Darwin Rogers joined the Sun Devils at the beginning of 2012 after graduating from Arizona Western in Yuma, Ariz. He saw action in 12 games last season, starting one against Cal. He recorded three receptions for 31 yards and a touchdown against Cal.

The New Guys

Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham knew that he needed to go strong for wide receivers on national signing day and came away with five receivers that can make an immediate impact.

Graham stated in his national signing day press conference that his “number one offensive goal was dynamic players at wide receiver.”

Along with Martinez and Nelson joining at the tight end position, Graham signed two junior college transfers and three true freshmen at the wide receiver position.

Jaelen Strong

  • jaelenHeight: 6’4″
  • Weight: 205
  • Year: Redshirt Sophomore

The transfer student from Pierce Community College was heavily recruited by 13 different schools. Strong will have four years to play three at Arizona State and joins Pierce teammate Joseph Morris.

He was rated as a 4-star prospect, the No. 6 junior college wide receiver and the No. 15 overall prospect by ESPN.

Coach Graham had this to say about Strong: “He’s the most dynamic receiver I’ve seen in a long time on film. Our fans will love this guy.”

Ronald Lewis

  • Height: 6’0″
  • Weight: 185
  • Year: True Freshman

Ronald Lewis comes to Arizona State all the way from Harvey, La. He was the No. 27 recruit out of Louisiana, according to Rivals, and the No. 127 wide receiver prospect in the nation, according to ESPN. He had many offers, including from Nebraska and Texas A&M, but chose Arizona State to be part of something great.

He will also get time in the return game, as Coach Graham said about him: “You’ll see with watching his film that he is one of the most dynamic play makers in return game. When the ball is in his hand he is electrifying.”

More New Faces

Cameron Smith

  • Height: 6’0″
  • Weight: 185
  • Year: True Freshman

Smith is a very fast and very smart athlete from Coppell, Texas. He had several offers, including ones from Wisconsin, Iowa and Houston and was rated as the No. 123 wide receiver prospect in the country by Scout.com.

Graham on Smith: “He’s a big time deep threat, a guy who can stress the field vertically, a guy who is a dynamic wide receiver, so we’re excited about Cameron.”

Joseph Morris

  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 200
  • Year: Junior

A junior college transfer from Pierce College, Morris signed with Jaelen Strong. He’s rated by ESPN as the country’s No. 16 junior college wide receiver prospect and the No. 61 prospect overall.

Graham on Morris: “One of the most physical wide receivers in the country. We think he will be a very great pack with what we are doing.”

Ellis Jefferson

  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 200
  • Year: True Freshman

Jefferson is the same size as Morris, so that says something about what Graham was looking for in receivers.

The Denton, Texas, native travels to Arizona State after turning down offers from Michigan State, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, among others. Scout.com rated him as the No. 82 wide receiver prospect in the nation, and he was ranked No. 136 by ESPN.

Graham on Jefferson: “He is a guy that comes in and knows what it takes to win.”

Final Wrap-Up

Two of the top three receivers for the Sun Devils in 2012 were running backs.

Marion Grice not only led the team in rushing with 679 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he also pulled in 425 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.

grice RBHe finished No. 24 in scoring in Division I with 114 total points and 12.7 per game. His eight receiving touchdowns were the most by any running back in the country—quite a feat for the senior who was a junior college transfer from Blinn Community College following in Cam Newton’s footsteps.

True freshman D.J. Foster was the team’s No. 3 receiver with 38 receptions for 533 yards and four touchdowns. His average of 14 yards per reception was No. 5 in the nation among running backs. Foster carried for over 500 yards on 102 attempts and tallied two touchdowns on the ground.

With the departure of the heart of the running game, Cameron Marshall, and the addition of several new receivers, will Grice and Foster return to a more conventional running scheme?

That is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure: It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Two Games That Will Make or Break ASU’s Tourney Bid

evan cu

The Arizona State Basketball team is walking on thin ice right now or should I say a thin bubble.

The Sun Devils (19-7, 8-5 Pac-12) are looking for the elusive 20th victory when they host the Washington State Cougars in Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday night at 10 p.m. EST. This game is a must-win if they hope to keep their tournament hopes alive.

While several teams in the country win 20 games year in and year out, this will be head coach Herb Sendek’s fourth 20-win season in his seven years at the helm. The Devils had only three 20-win seasons in the quarter-century prior to Sendek’s arrival—talk about elusive.

With two home games remaining, the Devils are 14-3 at home and need both of them to tie the school record for most home wins with 16, a feat not accomplished since a beardless James Harden dominated the hardwood.

The home games are not going to be the problem for the Sun Devils; it is a couple upcoming road games that are going to test their mettle and will make or break their NCAA tournament bid. Granted, if they lose to either Washington or Washington State, they can kiss their chances goodbye, but this article is written with the assumption that they win out at home this week.

Jb-uclaArizona State travels to Pauley Pavilion next Wednesday for a late-night matchup with the UCLA Bruins. The game is set for an 11:30 pm EST tip-off and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.

The Bruins (19-7, 9-4 Pac-12) are in the middle of an eight-day break before heading across town to exact revenge on their rival, the USC Trojans. Revenge will also be at the forefront of Ben Howland’s mind when the Sun Devils visit on Feb. 27.

The Sun Devils humiliated the Bruins in Tempe in late January by starting off strong and pummeling them by 18 points when all was said and done. The Bruins shot 34 percent from the field and a miserable 5-of-24 from beyond the arc.

This is a game that has drastic implications for both teams as they are both fighting to stay alive down the final stretch. The Bruins and the Sun Devils both still have to face the No. 12 Arizona Wildcats and it is highly doubtful that they both beat the ‘Cats, so this game takes on even more importance.

Speaking of the basketball team from Tucson, the Devils and Wildcats will each have a week-long break in preparation of the basketball version of the Duel in the Desert.

jahii-catsArizona State held strong with the ‘Cats in their first meeting in Tempe. The Sun Devils even led for a bit in the first half. The final 10 minutes of the game were disastrous for the Devils as they were outscored 25-10 and the crowd was left muttering about “the same old Devils.”

Arizona has struggled as of late, losing two of its last three, but is looking to rebound with wins over the Washington schools at home this week and at the Los Angeles schools next week. The ‘Cats aren’t going to miss the NCAA tournament if they lose at home to Arizona State—it will take a lot more losses for them to be snubbed by the selection committee.

For the Sun Devils, winning out with road wins at UCLA and Arizona would guarantee an invite, but winning the next four and losing to a top-15 team in Arizona might still get them in, and that’s a mighty big might.

Who’s In and Who’s on the Bubble in Pac-12 Basketball?

Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

Pac-12 basketball has done a good job of redeeming itself this year. After a miserable showing in the 2011-12 season, there have been at least two teams in the Top 25 all year long.

There have been some surprises this year, as well. In what was predicted to be a two-team race between the UCLA Bruins and Arizona Wildcats has since turned into a five-team race to the finish with the Oregon Ducks currently holding the top spot.

Who will be dancing come March and NCAA Tournament time? Nobody knows for sure, but with five games remaining in the regular season, here are my predictions of where every team will be spending their time after the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.

Arizona Wildcats: In

  • Record: 21-4, 9-4 Pac-12
  • RPI: 10
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 15
  • Key Wins: Florida, Miami
  • Tough Losses: Cal, Colorado

The Arizona Wildcats basketball team lit the court on fire, winning their first 14 games including last-second victories over No. 4 Florida and No. 17 San Diego State in Hawaii.

They had reached as high as No. 3 in the AP poll, but have hit hard times lately, losing two of their past three games to Cal and Colorado.

Fortunately, their remaining schedule looks to be winnable with the only possible roadblocks being against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion and the regular season finale at home versus their in-state rival Arizona State Sun Devils.

Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament No. 3 or No. 4 seed

Oregon Ducks: In

  • duck hoopsRecord: 21-5, 10-3 Pac-12
  • RPI: 38
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 121
  • Key Wins: Arizona, UCLA
  • Tough Losses: UTEP, Stanford

The Oregon Ducks started off the season like a team possessed. They whipped through their non-conference schedule going 11-2, with their only losses being to No. 22 Cincinnati and a triple-overtime heartbreaker to UTEP.

They won their first seven Pac-12 games, including wins over No. 4 Arizona and No. 24 UCLA, and seemed unstoppable until starting point guard Dominic Artis went down with a left foot injury. The Ducks lost three straight, but have rebounded to win their last three games, including a stunner over Washington State in overtime on Saturday.

Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament mid-range seed

UCLA Bruins: On the Bubble

  • Record: 19-7, 9-4 Pac-12
  • RPI: 41
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 36
  • Key Wins: Missouri, Arizona
  • Bad Losses: Cal Poly, USC

The UCLA Bruins are an anomaly. They struggled out of the gate, losing to Georgetown and San Diego State at neutral sites, but their biggest embarrassment was the 70-68 loss to Cal Poly—at home.

After the loss to SDSU, the Bruins went on to win 10 straight, including an impressive overtime victory against No. 7 Missouri. They won their first five Pac-12 games and six of their first seven with a statement 84-73 win over the No. 6 Arizona Wildcats in Tucson.

They once again stumbled after that, losing two straight to Arizona State and USC in overtime. It seems as if they have recovered, having won three of their last four, and are only a game out of the conference lead.

They don’t need to win out to make the tourney, but they cannot lose more than one or add a bad loss to USC or Washington State.

Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament high seed

California Golden Bears: On the Bubble

  • cal hoopsRecord: 16-9, 8-5 Pac-12
  • RPI: 54
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 35
  • Key Wins: Oregon, Arizona
  • Bad Losses: Harvard, Washington

The Cal Golden Bears are the giant killers of the Pac-12. They have won five of their past six games, including wins over two top 10 teams in Oregon and Arizona.

Cal won its first six games out of the chute before losing to Wisconsin, UNLV and Creighton. It finished its non-conference schedule at 8-4 with a paltry 4-3 record at home.

It lost four of its first seven Pac-12 games before it caught fire. Its remaining schedule looks easily winnable, with its biggest obstacle coming Thursday night at No. 23 Oregon.

If the Bears sweep Oregon and finish with 21 wins on the season, I can see them getting the invite to the dance.

Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament high seed

Arizona State Sun Devils: On the Bubble

  • Record: 19-7, 8-5 Pac-12
  • RPI: 70
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 125
  • Key Wins: UCLA, Colorado (twice)
  • Bad Losses: DePaul, Utah

The Sun Devils are one of the biggest surprises this year coming out of the Pac-12. With the infusion of two former NBA coaches to Herb Sendek’s staff and the tremendous play of redshirt freshman Jahii Carson, Arizona State is having a renaissance.

The Sun Devils began the year on a tear and had one of the best starts in school history, starting 14-2. They won their first three Pac-12 games and six of their first eight, with their only losses coming to ranked teams in Oregon and Arizona. They dismantled the UCLA Bruins by 18 points and are a perfect 3-0 in overtime this year.

The bubble may have burst for the Sun Devils after losing three of their past four games, including a loss to a Utah that was 2-9 in conference play before it hosted the Devils.

Arizona State is on very shaky ground and will need to have big wins at home against the Washington schools as well as on the road in Los Angeles. Wins against UCLA and at Arizona will all but ensure a tourney bid.

Postseason prediction: NIT No. 1 seed

Colorado Buffaloes: On the Bubble

  • buff hoopsRecord: 17-8, 7-6 Pac-12
  • RPI: 21
  • Strength of Schedule Rank: 9
  • Key Wins: Baylor, Colorado St.
  • Bad Losses: Wyoming, Utah

The Buffs have the second highest RPI in the Pac-12 and the highest SOS rank; the tournament committee loves those numbers when it comes down to selecting at-large invitations. Unfortunately, they also frown upon teams with win-loss records such as the Buffaloes.

They finished their non-conference schedule with an admirable 10-2 record, losing to Wyoming and getting blown out at Kansas. They began Pac-12 play in Tucson against No. 3 Arizona and all but defeated the Wildcats until the officials waved off Colorado’s last-ditch three-point basket. The Buffs returned the favor, handing the No. 9 Wildcats a 13-point beatdown on Valentine’s Day.

If the Buffs win out, I can see them getting an invite, but playing at Cal and hosting Oregon will be difficult for coach Tad Boyle and crew.

Postseason prediction: NIT No. 1 seed

Outside Looking In

The remaining teams in the conference will have to win the conference tournament in order to punch their ticket to the dance as there is no possibility of them garnering at-large bids.

USC Trojans

  • Record: 12-14, 7-6 Pac-12
  • RPI: 102
  • SOS: 33
  • Remaining games: UCLA, Arizona, ASU, Washington and WSU
  • Postseason prediction: 14-17, 9-9 Pac-12, NIT mid-level seed

Stanford Cardinal

  • card hoopsRecord: 15-11, 6-7 Pac-12
  • RPI: 73
  • SOS: 42
  • Remaining games: Oregon, OSU, Colorado, Utah and Cal
  • Postseason prediction: 17-14, 8-10 Pac-12, NIT mid-level seed

Washington Huskies

  • Record: 14-12, 6-7 Pac-12
  • RPI: 84
  • SOS: 29
  • Remaining games: Arizona, ASU, WSU, USC and UCLA
  • Postseason prediction: 16-15, 8-10 Pac-12, NIT mid-level seed 

Utah Utes

  • Record: 11-14, 3-10 Pac-12
  • RPI: 166
  • SOS: 60
  • Remaining games: Colorado, Cal, Stanford, Oregon and OSU
  • Postseason prediction: 12-18, 4-14 Pac-12, CBI mid-level seed

Oregon State Beavers

  • Record: 13-13, 3-10 Pac-12
  • RPI: 172
  • SOS: 139
  • Remaining games: Stanford, Cal, Oregon, Colorado and Utah
  • Postseason prediction: 13-17, 3-15 Pac-12, no postseason

Washington State Cougars

  • Record: 11-15, 2-11 Pac-12
  • RPI: 188
  • SOS: 99
  • Remaining games: ASU, Arizona, Washington, UCLA and USC
  • Postseason prediction: 11-20, 2-16 Pac-12, no postseason

Is Pac-12 Baseball Too Good for Its Own Good?

Harry How-Getty Images

The Pacific-12 Conference had a great opening weekend on the baseball diamond.

There are currently four teams in the top 10 of National College Baseball Writers of America (NCBWA) Poll and three more in the Top 35.

With seven of the 11 schools (Colorado doesn’t field a team) being ranked in the Top 35, will the Pac-12 do more harm than good when conference play begins in mid-March?

Two other polls, Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball, also have five Pac-12 teams listed in their Top 25, but their top 10 rankings are considerably different with Baseball America only giving Oregon State a nod while Collegiate Baseball has three teams in the top 10.

Let’s take a closer look at the top-ranked teams from the Conference of Champions.

Oregon State Beavers

  • Record: 4-0
  • NCBWA Rank: No. 8
  • Baseball America Rank: No. 6
  • Collegiate Baseball Rank: No. 9
  • Composite Rank: No. 7.66

The Oregon State Beavers participated in the Palm Springs Tournament over the weekend and were victorious beating Utah Valley, Gonzaga and UC Riverside twice.

Next up for the Beavers is a Thursday to Sunday four-game stretch at San Diego State. The Aztecs are 3-0 and ranked No. 22 by Collegiate Baseball.

UCLA Bruins

  • bruin baseRecord: 2-1
  • NCBWA Rank: No. 6
  • Baseball America Rank: No. 12
  • Collegiate Baseball Rank: No. 6
  • Composite Rank: No. 8

The UCLA Bruins dropped their season opener 6-2 to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and then went on to pummel the Gophers by a combined score of 28-1 in the next two games.

The Bruins travel to Waco, Tex. this weekend to take on the Baylor Bears. UCLA then makes the short trip to Santa Barbara to take on the UCSB Gauchos on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Oregon Ducks

  • Record: 4-0
  • NCBWA Rank: No. 5
  • Baseball America Rank: No. 14
  • Collegiate Baseball Rank: No. 5
  • Composite Rank: No. 8

The Oregon Ducks traveled to Honolulu, Haw. and swept University of Hawaii in four straight games, outscoring the Rainbow Warriors 21-11.

Next up for the Ducks is a three-game home stand this weekend against Loyola Marymount and a Tuesday night contest hosting Portland.

Arizona Wildcats

  • cat baseRecord: 3-0
  • NCBWA Rank: No. 10
  • Baseball America Rank: No. 23
  • Collegiate Baseball Rank: No. 15
  • Composite Rank: No. 16

The defending NCAA College World Series Champion Arizona Wildcats are not getting any respect from the polls. They swept their weekend series against Coppin State, scoring 43 runs in three games while only giving up 10.

Next up for the ‘Cats is a short two-game stand at Long Beach State on Tuesday and Wednesday, then back home for a three-game set hosting San Jose State.

The Dirtbags of Long Beach State are a perennially solid team and stole one of three last weekend from a Vanderbilt team that is ranked in the top five of all three polls.

Stanford Cardinal

  • Record: 1-2
  • NCBWA Rank: No. 14
  • Baseball America Rank: No. 15
  • Collegiate Baseball Rank: No. 11
  • Composite Rank: No. 13.33

The Stanford Cardinal had a tough opening weekend in Houston. They lost two of three to the Rice Owls, being outscored 10-4 over the three games.

Rice jumped in all three rankings while the Cardinal took a tumble. The Owls are now ranked above Stanford in all three polls.

The Cardinal were scheduled to play the Cal Bears on Tuesday night, but the game has been postponed until Wednesday night due to rain. Stanford hosts Fresno State this weekend at the Sunken Diamond.

Arizona State Sun Devils

  • devil baseRecord: 2-1
  • NCBWA Rank: No. 22
  • Baseball America Rank: NR
  • Collegiate Baseball Rank: No. 23
  • Composite Rank: No. 22.5

The Arizona State Sun Devils welcomed Bethune-Cookman over the weekend and got a little more than they bargained for from the Daytona Beach school. The Devils needed extra innings to win the season-opener and a late-inning rally fell short in the final game, losing 7-6.

Arizona State travels to Knoxville this weekend to take on the Volunteers in a three-game set. This will be a good test for the new Sun Devil squad that is replacing several players that were drafted by MLB teams.

 

 

California Golden Bears

  • Record: 3-0
  • NCBWA Rank: No. 34
  • Baseball America Rank: NR
  • Collegiate Baseball Rank: NR
  • Composite Rank: No. 34

The Cal Bears had an eventful opening weekend against the Michigan Wolverines. They needed extra innings to finish off the scrappy Wolverines in the first two games and nipped them 2-1 in the series finale.

The Bears will travel to Stanford on Wednesday to take on the Cardinal and then travel to Irvine for a four-game set against the Anteaters.

A Final Thought

In looking at all the ranked teams and which teams they will have to play in conference, it looks as if Oregon and Arizona State are the big winners with four of the six series against ranked teams at home while Oregon State and Arizona play four of the six on the road.

Here is the breakdown for the ranked teams.

Oregon State

  • Home vs. Arizona State and Cal
  • Travel to Arizona, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon
  • Two single games hosting Oregon

UCLA

  • Home vs. Cal, Oregon State and Arizona
  • Travel to Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford

CWS_LogoOregon

  • Home vs. Arizona, Stanford, UCLA and Oregon State
  • Travel to Arizona State and Cal
  • Two single games at Oregon State

Arizona

  • Home vs. Oregon State and Cal
  • Travel to Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Arizona State
  • Two single games hosting Arizona State

Stanford

  • Home vs. Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA
  • Travel to Oregon, Arizona State and Cal
  • Two single games hosting Cal

Arizona State

  • Home vs. UCLA, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona
  • Travel to Oregon State and Cal
  • Two single games at Arizona

California

  • Home vs. Oregon, Arizona State and Stanford
  • Travel to UCLA, Arizona and Oregon State
  • Two single games at Stanford

This will be an interesting season to see how well the Pac-12 does in the regular season and more importantly in the postseason. It would be a shame to pit teams against each other in the Super Regionals as it would be great to see as many schools repping the Pac-12 as possible in Omaha.

5 Keys For Arizona Beating Washington in Pac-12 Showdown

Ron Chenoy-USA Today Sports

The Arizona Wildcats (21-4, 9-4 Pac-12) have lost two of their last three games and coach Sean Miller has had enough of the losing.

They went into the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday to face a Utah team that has only won three games in conference and have yet to string two wins together. The Utes stole a game from Arizona State earlier in the week and they were ready to take down the ‘Cats.

Arizona took a 13-point lead in the second half but then allowed Utah back in the game to tie it at 51 with 6:23 remaining. The Wildcats once again turned on the afterburner and pulled away from Utah to win 68-64.

Their shooting against Utah was much more on point than the previous two games when they lost by eight and 13 points respectively.

After closely examining the Wildcats’ past wins and losses, here are the five keys to beating Washington on Wednesday night.

Contain C.J. Wilcox

cjJunior guard C.J. Wilcox is the catalyst for this Husky team. When he is hitting his shots and scoring big, the Huskies are tough to beat.

Wilcox is averaging 20.9 points per game in their six conference wins and only 13.5 per game in their seven conference losses.

It seems that Wilcox can get easily flustered as is evidenced by his 32 percent field goal percentage in the aforementioned conference losses.His 17.6 points per game average is No. 5 in the Pac-12, so it is evident that when he finds his shot, he can light it up.

 

Don’t Allow Aziz N’Diaye to Control the Glass

The senior Senegalese center is a monster on the boards. Checking in at 7’0″ and 260 pounds, N’Diaye is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

His 9.6 rebounds per game is tied for No. 3 in the Pac-12 and his 3.6 offensive boards per game is best in the conference. He also leads the conference in field goal percentage. This is due largely to the fact that his myriad offensive rebounds are turned into points.

Averaging nearly a double-double per game with 10.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, N’Diaye is a big man that gives his all in every game.

Start off Strong and Don’t Let Up

cats 13We have seen it countless times, the Wildcats seem to have a problem with getting primed for games and they start off flat. If they can come out with a big opening and keep the pedal to the medal throughout the game, the Huskies won’t stand a chance.

Senior swingman Kevin Parrom got the start on Sunday against Utah and perhaps that was what they needed to break their two-game losing streak. Parrom played 29 minutes and scored nine points to go along with his nine rebounds and three assists.

Brandon Ashley, who usually starts, also had a good game with 10 points, four rebounds and three steals in 22 minutes of playing time.

Create Turnovers

The Wildcats are the No. 3 team in the Pac-12 with 7.2 steals per game and Nick Johnson’s 2.2 steals per game is the second best in the conference. The Huskies have had troubles in the past keeping a handle on the ball and currently have the third most in the Pac-12 with 13.58 per game.

Forcing turnovers is the quickest way for the ‘Cats to build up a quick lead and bury the Huskies. They have all the skills to do it, it just comes down to execution.

Free Throws, Free Throws, Free Throws

parromArizona has done a great job from the charity stripe this year and it shows in its 21-4 record. As a team, they are No. 2 in the Pac-12 Conference with 74.4 percent and also have the second-most field goals made per game with 15.9.

Senior point guard, Mark Lyons is money at the line, hitting a team-leading 85.3 percent while Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson and Brandon Ashley are all hitting over 70-percent from the line.

With as close as Arizona likes to play in games, it is imperative that it makes as many free throws as possible, because a single point here and there can be make a big difference for the “Cardiac Cats.”

Game-by-Game Schedule Predictions for ASU Football in 2013

Rick Scuteri-USA Today Sports

Rick Scuteri-USA Today Sports

The 2013 schedule for Arizona State football looks daunting.

The Sun Devils will face three teams that were featured in BCS bowl games last year, including both Rose Bowl teams and the National Championship runner-up.

Long gone are the days of two to three light games to ease into the schedule, as the Sun Devils welcome Wisconsin to Sun Devil Stadium in Week 2 and then travel to take on the Pac-12 Champion Stanford Cardinal in Week 3.

The buzz around head coach Todd Graham and the future of the Sun Devil program is huge. It begins with the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Will Sutton, returning to play his senior year, and it continues with the solid National Signing Day class of 27 new recruits, including three early enrollees that will participate in the Maroon and Gold Spring Game on April 13.

If the Devils are going to be the best, they are going to have to beat the best, and ASU Vice President for University Athletics Steve Patterson couldn’t be happier:

With the loaded non-conference schedule and the always tough Pac-12, I think our football team has one of the marquee schedules in the nation. I’m looking forward to the chance to prove ourselves against some of the toughest teams in the country, and this is yet another reason for Sun Devil fans to be excited about the 2013 season.

Here is my breakdown of the 2013 schedule for the Arizona State Sun Devils along with predictions for each contest.

Week 1: Sacramento State Hornets

  • sac st.Date: Sept. 5, 2013
  • Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 6-5, 4-4 Big Sky 

Arizona State and Stanford will start the 2013 season later than the rest of the country by having the dreaded Week 1 bye. The Sun Devils have started their season on Thursday night a couple times over the past decade and next year’s opening game seems slightly off.

One benefit is that it allows the Devils more time to practice for their upcoming matchup. Arizona State’s traditional opening game foe, Northern Arizona, will open up the year at Arizona in 2013.

Sacramento State finished fifth in the Big Sky Conference in 2012, behind a Northern Arizona team that the Sun Devils walloped, 63-6. The Hornets’ big win last year was a 30-28 victory over the Colorado Buffaloes.

I don’t see the Hornets being able to keep up with the speed and high-octane offense of the Sun Devils.

Final Score Prediction: Arizona State 56, Sacramento State 10

Week 2: Wisconsin Badgers

  • Date: Sept. 14, 2013
  • Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 8-6, 4-4 Big Ten 

The Badgers will head to Tempe after the Badgers escaped with a narrow victory over the Sun Devils in Camp Randall during the 2010 season.

This will be a much different team than the one they faced on that day; it will even be different than the one that played in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

New head coach Gary Andersen has taken the reigns in Wisconsin, and Doak Walker Award winner Montee Ball will be noticeably absent from the backfield. Offensive lineman Ray Ball will go against his younger brother Marcus Ball for the first time in their careers.

I believe that the Badgers are in for a tough game in Tempe, and it will only get tougher for them in Big Ten play.

Final Score Prediction: Arizona State 38, Wisconsin 21

Week 3: Stanford Cardinal

  • luckDate: Sept. 21, 2013
  • Location: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, Calif.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12

This game scares me. The Sun Devils missed out on playing the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl Champion the past two years, but they will travel to Stanford for the second game of the Pac-12 season in 2013.

Stanford head coach David Shaw is building a dynasty in Stanford, and he will be returning with several starters for the 2013 season.

A couple of big time players that will not be returning to the Cardinal are the two tight ends that were two of the team’s top three receivers in 2012.

I like the Devils chances in this game, but I believe they will not get past the Cardinal.

Final Score Prediction: Stanford 35, Arizona St. 21

Week 4: USC Trojans

  • Date: Sept. 28, 2013
  • Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 7-6, 5-4 Pac-12 

The biggest question that needs to be answered here is which USC team is going to show up in the desert? Will it be the preseason AP No. 1 team that won six of their first seven games in 2012 or will it be the one that finished the season losing five of their last six contests?

The only solace for coach Lane Kiffin and the Trojans is that this Sun Devils team is the only team that they beat in that miserable nose-dive last season.

The team is just different than it was last year. Kiffin has been doing all he can to rectify the situation and to bring the Trojans back to respectability. The most important piece of the puzzle is recruiting, in which he has done extremely well.

According to Scout.com, the Trojans signed the second-most 5-star recruits with five and the second most Top 100 recruits with eight.

I still like the Devils in this one at home in a nail-biter.

Final Score Prediction: Arizona State 45, USC 42

Week 5: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

  • irishDate: Oct. 5, 2013
  • Location: Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Tex.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 12-1, 2-0 vs. Pac-12 

Wow, the hits keep on coming. The runner-up to the National Championship game in arguably the best football stadium in America?

This is going to be a game!

The Devils and Irish will battle for the first time since they did a home-and-home in 1998 and 1999. The Irish won both games handily, and the Devils will be looking for redemption.

This will be the next installment of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series, wherein the Irish play a home game away from South Bend to appease their fans nationwide who can’t attend home games.

This game will be interesting to watch from several different angles, the biggest being how well the Irish fare in their first five games prior to the game. They will face traditional Big Ten foes in Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State, along with Oklahoma.

If the Irish are rolling after wins over those teams, it will be difficult to stop the momentum. If they lose any or all of them, they will be looking to rebound for the lean part of their schedule.

Their 2013 recruiting class ranks No. 4, according to Scout.com, and it includes seven Top 100 recruits, including two 5-star players and 18 4-star players.

Final Score Prediction: Notre Dame 41, Arizona State 28

Week 6: Colorado Buffaloes

  • Date: Oct. 12, 2013
  • Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 1-11, 1-8 Pac-12 

If the Devils make it through the difficult beginning of the season with only two losses, as predicted, they could very likely win out with the only foreseeable obstacle being at UCLA. The remaining Pac-12 teams that went to bowl games will all be at home for the Devils.

The game against Colorado should be a big win for the Sun Devils, as they embark on their winning streak with momentum.

Final Score Prediction: Arizona State 48, Colorado 9

Week 7: Washington Huskies

  • huskiesDate: Oct. 19, 2013
  • Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 7-6, 5-4 Pac-12 

Steve Sarkisian took the Husky faithful on a wild roller coaster ride in 2012. They won three of their first four games, including a 17-13 victory over then No. 8 Stanford.

They followed up that big win with three straight losses. Just when all hope was lost, the 3-4 Huskies won four straight, including another big win over then No. 7 Oregon State.

No roller coaster ride would be complete without the season ending nosedive, including an embarrassing loss to Washington State, who was winless in the conference. They lost another close one to Boise State in Las Vegas and ended the season on a down note.

The Huskies are another team that the Sun Devils haven’t seen in two years, but don’t expect any surprises.

Final Score Prediction: Arizona State 42, Washington 24

Week 9: Washington St. Cougars

  • Date: Oct. 31, 2013
  • Location: Martin Stadium, Pullman, Wash.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 3-9, 1-8 Pac-12 

Halloween is scary enough, and playing in Pullman makes it monumentally scarier. The Sun Devils lost the last time they visited Pullman in freezing, blizzard conditions.

The Cougars were bad in 2012; they even lost to Colorado—at home. They did pull out the upset over Washington, but this isn’t a rivalry game, so look for the Sun Devils to escape Pullman with the W.

All treat and no tricks this year.

Final Score Prediction: Arizona State 48, Washington State 28

Week 10: Utah Utes

  • utesDate: Nov. 9, 2013
  • Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 5-7, 3-6 Pac-12 

The Utes weren’t bad in 2012, but they weren’t good either. Arizona State has beaten the Utes both times since they entered the Pac-12 Conference, and I don’t see that trend changing in 2013.

They were 1-1 in Utah rivalry games, losing to a bad Utah State team but beating then-ranked No. 25 Brigham Young. After the BYU upset, they only achieved victories over the Pac-12 bottom feeders.

They are nowhere to be found on the recruiting scene with the third lowest average grade in the conference.

Final Score Prediction: Arizona St. 45, Utah 14

Week 11: Oregon St. Beavers

  • Date: Nov. 16, 2013
  • Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 5-7, 3-6 Pac-12 

The quarterback controversy is alive and well in Corvallis. If it weren’t for the rescheduled Nicholls State game to end last season, the Beavers would have lost two straight and four of their last six.

The Beavers won their first six games and reached a ranking as high as No. 7 before losing to Washington.

They never expected to win their first six games last year, including wins over ranked Wisconsin and UCLA, but they did. They are the perennial underdogs and will enter 2013 much the same way as they did the 2012 season—as underdogs.

The Pac-12 North division is tough, and unfortunately for the Beavers, their shot at the Pac-12 title game is far, far away.

Final Score Prediction: Arizona State 34, Oregon State 28

Week 12: UCLA Bruins

  • tk-uclaDate: Nov. 23, 2013
  • Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 9-5, 6-3 Pac-12 

Talk about taking the wind out of your sails.

Last season, the UCLA Bruins had everything going in their favor—they were on a five-game win streak, they won the Pac-12 South division (on their own merits) and they had just beaten their cross-town rival, USC Trojans—and then the wheels came off.

The Bruins lost to the Stanford Cardinal in consecutive weeks, at home and then at Stanford. They went on to get humiliated by Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.  What was considered to be an extremely successful season for Jim Mora, Jr. at 9-2, quickly turned to mediocre and pedestrian.

The recruiting class is looking good, however. Scout.com has the Bruins’ class ranked as the best in the conference and No. 5 overall in the country, with one 5-star and 18 4-star commits.

The Sun Devils lost at home to the Bruins in 2012 on a last second field goal, but I don’t see it being that close in 2013.

Final Score Prediction: UCLA 35, Arizona State 28

Week 13: Arizona Wildcats

  • Date: Nov. 30, 2013
  • Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
  • Opponent 2012 Record: 8-5, 4-5 Pac-12 

Why isn’t this game scheduled for the traditional day after Thanksgiving in 2013? I am a little more than perturbed by this, as both the Civil War and Apple Cup are still on that day.

The Wildcats flirted with greatness last year but ended up with a losing conference record—again.

Every time the Wildcats appeared to be on a roll, they would stumble. They dropped 59 points on No. 18 Oklahoma St. then got shut out, 49-0 to Oregon. They beat USC in a shootout for the ages, 39-36, then lost 66-10 to UCLA.

Their last minute heroics in the New Mexico Bowl vs. Nevada propelled them to eight wins and saved their season.

The traditional rivalry against Arizona State will be played in Tempe in 2013, and that isn’t necessarily good news for the Sun Devils. The home team has only won six times in the past 20 years.

There is no amount of research or empirical data that can predict this game, as it is a rivalry game. The Wildcats have picked up three 4-star recruits and are ranked as the No. 27 class in the country, according to Scout.com, but their returning offense is in disarray.

Final Score Prediction: Arizona State 17, Arizona 14

Final Analysis

graham TcupThe Pac-12 Championship game will be played on Dec. 7 at the home of the team with the best overall conference record.

I don’t think I am putting the cart in front of the horse by saying that the Sun Devils will win the Pac-12 South division, as long as they can keep their heads about them in the brutal Week 2-5 stretch.

I am predicting that they will finish 9-3 and, even with the loss to UCLA, I see them representing the South in the conference championship game.

Who knows who will take the North division? The favorites are Stanford and Oregon, but the possibilities are endless.

Let’s just hope it will be a good game and that the Pac-12 sends their best to the Rose Bowl or even to the national championship.