Category: Basketball

Pac-12 Tournament: Matchups, TV Coverage, Predictions and More

NJ BallThe regular season is over. The games have been played, the arguments have been made, and as much as Arizona wants to take their ball and go home, the Ducks, Golden Bears and Cardinal need the Pac-12 tournament to solidify their NCAA tournament fate.

The final day of regular season play saw several close games and was highlighted by a few upsets that could make or break teams’ seasons.

The Pac-12 tournament begins March 12 in Las Vegas, Nev., and here is a comprehensive list of seedings, matchups and everything else you need to know about the tourney.

No. 8 Seed Utah vs. No. 9 Seed Washington

 

  • Russ Isabella-USA Today Sports

    Russ Isabella-USA Today Sports

    Date: March 12, 2014

  • Time: 3 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena

 

The opener for the the Pac-12 tournament will feature teams struggling for an identity in the conference. Utah (20-10, 9-9 Pac-12) has been a dominant force at home, going 18-2 with wins over three of the top five seeds in the conference, but has only won twice away from Huntsman Center.

Washington (17-14, 9-9 Pac-12) has lost six of its last 10 games, but things may be looking up for the Huskies as they have won three of the past four including humiliating their in-state rival, Washington State, 72-49.

The teams split the series in the 2013-14 season with the home team winning each game. The Huskies lead the all-time series 8-7.

Prediction: Utah

No. 5 Seed Colorado vs. No. 12 Seed USC

 

  • Mark J. Terrill-Associated Press

    Mark J. Terrill-Associated Press

    Date: March 12, 2014

  • Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena

 

The glorious 5-12 seed matchup.

This game has perennially been a blowout with the lowest-ranked team in the conference looking for some sort of redemption. First-year coach Andy Enfield went from recruiting walk-on players with fliers posted at Florida Gulf Coast University to a full stable of scholarship players.

The Trojans (11-20, 2-16 Pac-12) have had a tough year, to say the least. The highlight of their season reaches all the way back to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the Bahamas when it beat Xavier 84-78.

The Buffaloes (21-10, 10-8 Pac-12), on the other hand, were nationally ranked as high as No. 15 until point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a torn ACL. The Buffs lost a heartbreaker to Cal in overtime to finish their season with losses in three of their final four games.

Colorado swept the 2013-14 season series by an average of 15 points and should have no problem advancing to the quarterfinals to face California.

Prediction: Colorado

 

No. 7 Seed Oregon vs. No. 10 Seed Oregon State

 

  • Scott Olmos-USA Today Sports

    Scott Olmos-USA Today Sports

    Date: March 12, 2014

  • Time: 9 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena

 

The Ducks are back!

Oregon (22-8, 10-8 Pac-12) has won seven straight and has all but guaranteed an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament after Saturday’s 64-57 win over the No. 3-ranked Arizona Wildcats. During the streak, the Ducks have beaten the top three conference seeds by an average of six points.

Oregon State (16-14, 8-10 Pac-12), on the other hand, is rebounding from an epic overtime victory over Arizona State. The Beavers have lost six of their last 10 games but also claim victories over two of the top three conference seeds.

The teams split the 2013-14 season with the home team winning each game. No teams in NCAA history have played more basketball games than Oregon and Oregon State. Wednesday’s meeting will be the 342nd time that the teams will meet, with Oregon State leading the series 186-155.

Prediction: Oregon

 

No. 6 Seed Stanford vs. No. 11 Seed Washington State

 

  • Bob Stanton-USA Today Sports

    Bob Stanton-USA Today Sports

    Date: March 12, 2014

  • Time: 11:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena

 

Stanford was a lock for the NCAA tournament after beating then-No. 23 UCLA on Feb. 22. The Cardinal (19-11, 10-8 Pac-12) followed up that defining win with three straight losses. It was swept on the road in Arizona and lost a close game at home to Colorado. On senior day in Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal survived a scare with a one-point victory over Utah.

The Cardinal need a great, not good, showing in the tournament to assure their spot in the NCAA tournament.

Washington State (10-20, 3-15 Pac-12) shocked the world with a regular-season ending 18-point victory over UCLA. Prior to Saturday’s shocker, the Cougars had lost eight straight and 12 of their past 13 games.

Stanford won both games between the teams this year by an average of 22.5 points.

Prediction: Stanford

 

No. 1 Seed Arizona vs. Utah/Washington Winner

 

  • Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

    Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

    Date: March 13, 2014

  • Time: 3 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena

 

Arizona (28-3, 15-3 Pac-12) is the regular-season conference champion for the 13th time since joining the conference in 1978. Although Saturday’s loss at Oregon was disappointing, Coach Miller and his crew will shed it like a dirty shirt.

Following the loss to Arizona State on February 14, the Wildcats went on to win five straight by an average of 15.4 points. Arizona finished its second undefeated home stand in Miller’s tenure as head coach and looks to add tournament champion to its 2014 resume.

Arizona was 3-0 against Washington and Utah this season, defeating the Huskies by nine at home and being one of only two teams to beat Utah in Salt Lake City. The Utes took the ‘Cats to overtime before losing 67-63.

There is no bigger David and Goliath setup than if Utah were to get to face the Wildcats again but this time walk away with the win. The Runnin’ Utes will need to get past Washington first and will once again put up a valiant fight.

Prediction: Arizona

 

No. 4 Seed Cal vs. Colorado/USC Winner

 

  • Kelly L. Cox-USA Today Sports

    Kelly L. Cox-USA Today Sports

    Date: March 13, 2014

  • Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena

 

The California Golden Bears are an anomaly. Last year’s dragonslayer looked to repeat the 2013-14 season in the same role with early season wins over ranked teams in Oregon and Arizona. The Bears were a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament before losing losing three of their past five games.

Fate smiled on the California squad with a one-point overtime victory over Colorado, handing them the No. 4 seed and the first-round bye.

Colorado will be looking to avenge Saturday’s loss as the loser of this game will most likely be headed to the NIT, snubbed by the NCAA tournament.

Prediction: California

 

No. 2 Seed UCLA vs. Oregon/Oregon State Winner

 

  • Stephen Brashear-Associated Press

    Stephen Brashear-Associated Press

    Date: March 13, 2014

  • Time: 9 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena

 

UCLA was embarrassed at home on Saturday, or at least they should have been. The Bruins (23-8, 12-6 Pac-12) put forth an abysmal performance against a Washington State team that has struggled to score 60 points per game in 2014. The Bruins enter the tournament losing three of their past five games, including a double-overtime loss at home to Oregon.

As the No. 2 seed in the conference with 23 overall and 12 conference wins, the Bruins will most likely receive a NCAA bid regardless of how they fare in Las Vegas.

The Bruins are ripe for an upset, but if it is Oregon that the Bruins will be playing in the quarterfinals on Thursday, I don’t see UCLA losing again to the Ducks.

Prediction: UCLA

 

No. 3 Seed Arizona State vs. Stanford/Washington State Winner

 

  • Matt York-Associated Press

    Matt York-Associated Press

    Date: March 13, 2014

  • Time: 11:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena
  • TV Coverage: Fox Sports 1

 

Behold the mystery that is Arizona State.

The Sun Devils (21-10, 10-8 Pac-12) have lost four of their past six games and are still considered at least a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament. Coach Sendek’s squad has lost its last five games on the road and six of its past seven, needing overtime to defeat Cal on January 29. The Sun Devils, however, finished the year 16-1 at home with victories over No. 2 Arizona, Oregon, Colorado and Cal.

The Daily BPI for Arizona State took a hit after the Oregon State overtime loss on Saturday, dropping the Devils below Utah at No. 35. Its RPI dropped even farther to No. 46, one spot behind Stanford.

If Stanford advances to the quarterfinals, as predicted, the Devils will have a fight on their hands. The two met in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament last year with Arizona State escaping with a one-point overtime victory.

The teams split the 2013-14 series with the home team winning each game.

Prediction: Arizona State

Semifinals, Finals and Champion

RHJ UCLA

 

Semifinal One

 

  • Date: March 14, 2014
  • Time: 9 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena
  • TV CoveragePac-12 Networks
  • Online StreamPac-12.com
  • Prediction: Arizona vs. California
  • Projected Winner: Arizona

Arizona decimated California at home on February 26 as a “thank you” for handing the Wildcats their first loss and dethroning them from their nine-week stay atop the NCAA rankings. The ‘Cats will add insult to injury by knocking the Golden Bears out of the conference tournament and most likely ending their NCAA tournament hopes.

Semifinal Two

 

  • Date: March 14, 2014
  • Time: 11:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena
  • TV Coverage: Fox Sports 1
  • Online StreamPac-12.com
  • Prediction: UCLA vs. Arizona State
  • Projected Winner: UCLA

It’s like déjà vu all over again for the Sun Devils in the Pac-12 tournament. If Arizona State advances to the semifinals against UCLA on Friday as predicted, they will face the same two teams in 2014 that they faced to start the 2013 tourney. As the No. 9 seed, the Sun Devils led No. 1 seed UCLA by as many as 15 points before falling apart down the stretch.

I think the Bruins will end the Sun Devils’ conference title hopes for a second consecutive season.

Conference Final

 

  • Ashley injuryDate: March 15, 2014
  • Time: 6 p.m. ET
  • Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena
  • TV Coverage: Fox Sports 1
  • Online StreamPac-12.com
  • Prediction: Arizona vs. UCLA
  • Projected Winner: Arizona

 

The Wildcats defeated the Bruins 79-75 in Los Angeles on January 9. With the newly-added conference teams, the two only played the one time this season. Arizona’s Brandon Ashley played 29 minutes in that game but didn’t wow with his numbers that evening, so his absence shouldn’t make a difference in this matchup.

Predictions for the Pac-12, NCAA and NIT Tournaments

RHJ UCLA

Welcome to March—may the madness be with you.

After Saturday’s epic meltdown of top-ranked teams, including five of the top 10 and 10 of the top 25, will Sunday’s top teams fare any better?

The No. 3 Arizona Wildcats host the Stanford Cardinal while five more ranked teams look to avoid the upset bug.

Arizona had earned the No. 1 seed heading into the Pac-12 Tournament and barring an unforeseen late-season meltdown, the Wildcats will win their 13th regular season conference championship since joining the Pac-10/12 Conference in 1978.

How many Pac-12 teams will punch their dance ticket and where will they be seeded?

 

No. 1 Seed Arizona Wildcats

Gordon wince

Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

This is a no-brainer.

The No. 3 Wildcats (26-2, 13-2 Pac-12) have three games remaining and are favored in all three games. Arizona will host Stanford for a Sunday evening nightcap on ESPNU for those not interested in watching the Academy Awards.

After suffering a heart-wrenching, double-overtime loss to in-state rival, Arizona State, the Wildcats have rebounded nicely with three straight victories. The ‘Cats swept the Rocky Mountain schools and exacted sweet revenge on Cal with a convincing 87-59 victory.

The Wildcats end the regular season on the road facing the Oregon schools. The Ducks (20-8, 8-8 Pac-12) will look to extend their five-game win streak and possibly revive their tournament hopes. The Beavers (15-12, 7-8 Pac-12) are just hoping to avoid an embarrassing loss.

I predict the Wildcats will finish their season 16-2 in conference and also win the Conference Tournament.

 

No. 6 Seed UCLA Bruins

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

What has happened to UCLA?

Two straight losses to Stanford and Oregon have dropped the dropped the Bruins farther in several pundits’ predictions, but a favorable season-ending schedule could stop the bleeding.

The Bruins started conference play a little shaky, losing two of their first five games, including a five-point loss to Utah (No. 78 RPI). Another bad loss was waiting for the Bruins in Corvallis, where the Beavers (No. 98 RPI) handed them a 71-67 loss.

UCLA hosts Oregon State on Sunday and will look to celebrate senior night with a revenge win over the Beavers before embarking on its road trip at the Washington schools.

The Bruins still have a mathematical chance at sharing the 2013-14 Pac-12 regular-season title—but it would require Arizona losing their next three games. I like my chances at winning Powerball over that happening.

I see the Bruins finishing second in the Pac-12 with a 13-5 conference record, garnering a No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 tournament. It would be neat to see an NCAA tournament first-round matchup with former UCLA head coach Steve Lavin, who is now head coach at St. John’s.

 

No. 8 Seed Arizona State Sun Devils

Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Ralph Freso/Getty Images

The Sun Devils (21-8, 10-6) had a horrific road trip in the Rocky Mountain region and were written off by several pollsters as “not ready.” Arizona State posted its lowest offensive output of the season, scoring only 52 points at Colorado, and followed that up with a 23-point shellacking at Utah.

The Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City is a tough place to pull out a win; the Utes finished the season 18-2 with the only losses coming to then-No. 10 Oregon and then-No. 1 Arizona.

Herb Sendek’s squad saved their season and Sendek’s job for the foreseeable future with a convincing home stand against the Bay Area schools by 12 and 18 points over Stanford and Cal, respectively.

The Sun Devils have a quirky schedule to end the season, with a Tuesday-Saturday road trip to the Oregon schools. Arizona State’s Doug Tammaro said the Sun Devils will return to Tempe after the Tuesday night game at Oregon and return on Friday to prepare for the Saturday game at Oregon State.

I predict that Arizona State will split the road trip with a loss to Oregon, finish 11-7 in conference and earn a No. 3 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

 

No. 9 Seed Stanford Cardinal

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Cardinal, who had won four of six before embarking on their Arizona road trip, knew they had a tough end to their schedule. It started with a 12-point loss in Tempe and continues with a Sunday matchup in Tucson—where no visiting team has won this season.

Stanford has the luxury of hosting the final two regular-season games at home, but when the visiting teams are Colorado and Utah, the term “luxury” is far from Johnny Dawkins’ mind.

Colorado is most likely making a return trip to the Big Dance, while Utah is a team that is dangerous at home and atrocious on the road.

I predict the Cardinal will finish the season 10-7 in conference and gain a No. 5 seed in the Pac-12 tournament, which is as good as a bye in many minds.

 

No. 10 Seed Colorado Buffaloes

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The Buffaloes were 14-2 overall, 3-0 in conference and were ranked No. 15 in the country when they traveled to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies.

In an instant, the Buffaloes’ season, it would seem, would go up in smoke when point guard Spencer Dinwiddie fell to the floor, clutching his left knee. It was later revealed that Dinwiddie tore his ACL and would be lost for the season. A heartbreaking loss for a player who was weighing his NBA options, he told Brian Howell of BuffZone.com  he is now considering the 2014 draft, although his injury won’t be healed prior to the April 27 deadline.

Including the loss at Washington, the Buffs would go on to lose four of the next five games before winning three straight at home. Colorado’s final two games are on the road against the Bay Area schools.

I predict the Buffaloes will win out on the road and finish 11-7 in conference, securing the No. 4 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

 

No. 10 Seed California Golden Bears

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Much like the aforementioned Buffaloes, the Cal Bears started the season like a team on fire. The Bears, however, didn’t lose a player in mid-January, they just lost their way.

Cal has the distinction of being the only team in the Pac-12 to lose this year to Southern California, but at least it was on the road. The loss at USC was the first of three consecutive losses and four of the next five.

The season seemed to turn around when it knocked off the No. 1 team in the country, Arizona, 60-58 on Justin Cobbs’ last-second shot. Since the victory, the Bears have settled back into mediocrity, going 3-3 and coming back empty-handed on their Arizona road trip.

The Bears welcome the Rocky Mountain schools for the regular-season finale, and I predict California will split the pair, finishing the year at 10-8 in conference, and gain the No. 6 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

 

NIT No. 1 Seed Oregon Ducks

Chris Pietsch/Associated Press

Chris Pietsch/Associated Press

The Oregon Ducks made quick work of their nonconference opponents, winning 12 straight and reaching as high as No. 10 in the rankings. Overtime was needed twice in the early going for the Ducks to dispatch of Ole Miss and BYU, but conference play was looming.

Oregon traveled to Utah to start conference play and needed overtime, once again, to sneak out of Huntsman Center with a win. The Ducks would then hit the skids, losing five straight and seven of the next nine.

A resurgence has returned to Dana Altman’s squad, having won their past five, including a stunning double-overtime thriller in Pauley Pavilion.

If the Ducks can sweep the Arizona schools at home, they might return to bubble talk, but as of now, it is safe to say the bubble has burst despite their best efforts.

I predict Oregon will finish 9-9 in conference and will nab the No. 7 seed in the Pac-12 tournament.

 

NIT No. 3 Seed Utah Utes

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

There’s no place like home for the Utah Runnin’ Utes.

Playing in arguably one of the most difficult arenas in the conference and the country, the Huntsman Center has become synonymous with a Ute victory. On the road, however, is a completely different story.

The Utes are an amazing 18-2 at home but an alarming 1-7 on the road. Among their home victories are over then-No. 10 Oregon and then-No. 25 UCLA, but in between those big wins, the Utes lost 49-46 to Washington State.

The final two games for Utah are on the road against NCAA tournament-bound teams, and I don’t see a break from the norm, with the Utes getting swept in the Bay Area.

I predict Utah will finish the season 8-10 in conference play and will be seeded No. 8 in the Pac-12 tournament.

Arizona State Basketball: Sun Devils Stumble at Rocky Mountain Schools

Carson UtahHot on the heels of one of the biggest victories in Arizona State basketball history over the No. 2-ranked in-state rival Arizona Wildcats, the Sun Devils (19-8, 8-6 Pac-12) went on the road and fell flat—hard.

Traveling to the newer basketball arenas in the Pac-12 and escaping with a victory at Colorado and Utah is not easy, just ask the aforementioned Wildcats, who needed overtime to escape the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City unscathed.

When Arizona State arrived at the Coors Event Center in Boulder, the Buffaloes were fresh off a road victory over USC and had won four of their last five games including a thrilling overtime win over Utah. The Sun Devils had only lost one game in the previous month, including two overtime games and the epic victory over Arizona.

The Sun Devils were embarrassed in Boulder, shooting a meager 31.5 percent from the floor and 28 percent from beyond the arc. Arizona State was out-rebounded by the largest margin all season, 48-27, including a 15-5 advantage on the offensive glass. Five offensive rebounds—by the entire team—in 40 minutes.

Jermaine Marshall, who had been clutch in the past three overtime victories over Cal, Oregon State and Arizona, went ice cold. Marshall shot 3-of-13, including 1-of-8 from three-point territory, in Boulder and 3-of-10 from the field, 1-of-7 from three, in Salt Lake City.

Bachynski

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Jordan Bachynski, the Pac-12 all-time leader in blocks, who leads all Division I players averaging 4.4 per game, had one block against Colorado and three at Utah. Bachynski nearly averages a double-double on the season with 8.9 rebounds and 11.7 points per game. In the past two games, he averaged 4.5 points and rebounds per game.

Jahii Carson, the most NBA-ready player on the team, was like Jekyll and Hyde on the roadie. Carson nearly missed a double-double in Boulder, netting 18 points and seven rebounds, but he was nowhere to be found in Salt Lake City, with eight points and one rebound.

The most consistent player of the Rocky Mountain trip was senior forward Shaquielle McKissic, who averaged 12 points and seven rebounds per game, a sizable improvement from the 8.8 points and 5.3 rebounds he averaged before leaving on the road trip.

The Sun Devils played horribly on the road trip and head coach Herb Sendek would be the first to admit it.

Sad Sendek

Ralph Freso/Getty Images

“We played horrible basketball,” Sendek told Doug Haller of azcentral.com. “I have no explanation. You’d have to ask them. We didn’t make plays. We didn’t defend. Couldn’t make shots, couldn’t make free throws. It’s really inexplicable and quite a dismal performance.”

With all the work that Sendek has done to extinguish his hot seat over the past two seasons, will this horrible road trip re-ignite the flame? Arizona Republic sports columnist Paola Boivin tweeted this assurance for Sendek:

 

It’s not all doom and gloom for Sendek and the Sun Devils as they still maintain a quality RPI of 32 and are 3-3 against teams with an RPI of 50 or better; their College Basketball Power Index (BPI) is also respectable at No. 38, which places them as a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

America’s foremost bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, has the Sun Devils as a No. 9 seed playing against Virginia Commonwealth in the South bracket in Orlando. Regardless of the seeding, ASU Basketball had this to say on Twitter Monday afternoon after the new bracketology prediction was announced:

The Sun Devils are 14-1 at home this year and 30-5 in the past two seasons, including victories over two ranked teams in Arizona and Marquette. This week, Arizona State welcomes two teams with better conference records in Stanford and California, so victories over the Northern California schools will dramatically improve their seeding in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament.

Arizona State finishes on the road again this season against a pair of struggling Oregon teams. Regardless of the competition, if the Devils repeat this past road trip in Oregon, everything could all be for naught.

Pac-12 Basketball: Rivalry Week Takes Center Stage for Wildcats and Sun Devils

jahii-azRivalry week is intense.

Kansas State shocked Kansas on Monday, Michigan took down Ohio State on Tuesday and Duke and North Carolina were set to battle on Wednesday night before Mother Nature intervened. The next big rivalry game on the docket is No. 2 Arizona at Arizona State on Friday night.

Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz., will host the in-state rivalry known as the Territorial Cup Series on February 14 and it’s safe to say that even though it is being played on Valentine’s Day, there is no love lost between the two teams.

 

 

 

What seems to be more compelling is that the game is being played on Arizona Statehood Day and will be nationally broadcast on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET with Dave Pasch and Bill Walton on the call.

The teams met on January 16 in Tucson and it was a blowout from the opening tipoff. The Wildcats took an early 26-8 lead and led by as many as 24 in the second half before capping a 91-68 victory.

Arizona (23-1, 10-1 Pac-12) leads the series 145-80 and has won 31 of the past 39 matchups between the teams. Arizona State (18-6, 7-4 Pac-12) has tried its best to keep the rivalry competitive by winning seven of the past 14, but have lost the last three.

The Houston Rockets’ James Harden, he of the massive beard, propelled the Sun Devils to five straight victories over Arizona in 2008 and 2009. The Wildcats’ longest streak is at 17 games (1945-52) while the Sun Devils’ winning streak best is 15 (1958-64).

Ashley injury

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Friday night’s game will be markedly different from the last time the teams met due to a personnel change for both teams. The Wildcats will be without sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in the team’s lone loss against Cal. The Sun Devils will also have senior guard Jermaine Marshall in the game, who missed the January 16 game in Tucson.

It appears that the Wildcats are still adjusting to the loss of Ashley while the Sun Devils seem to be on a tear as of late due to the huge plays of center Jordan Bachynski.

Bachynski was named Pac-12 Player of the Week after a home sweep of the Oregon schools in which he averaged 21.5 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks. Bachynski also became the Pac-12 record holder for career blocks at 279—and added nine more on Saturday for good measure.

Can the loss of Ashley and the addition of Marshall swing the pendulum back to Arizona State? Wells Fargo Arena has had a raucous atmosphere this season for Arizona State.

It makes it so much more fun to play when it’s loud. When we make a big play and the whole arena explodes, it is such an amazing feeling, and I love it. I am so grateful that we have the fans that we do that are coming out and being loyal and staying the whole time and just doing—no other word for it, just a phenomenal, a great job. It’s fun to play in.

jahii-mayesArizona’s stout defense will have much to say about keeping Bachynski, Marshall and point guard Jahii Carson in check. The Wildcat defense ranks seventh nationally in field-goal percentage defense and fourth in scoring defense. The lane is sacred to Arizona and it leads the nation in two-point scoring defense, holding teams to 40.7 percent inside the arc.

The Sun Devils are 13-1 at home this year and 29-5 in the past two seasons at Wells Fargo while the Wildcats are 7-1 in games away from Tucson this season and hold a Pac-12-best 29 true road game victories since the beginning of the 2009-10 season.

Something has to give and 14,198 people will be in Tempe on Friday night while countless others across the country will watch it unfold.

Arizona State Basketball: Report Card for Sun Devils Midway Through Pac-12 Play

JB UtahArizona State is on a roll.

The Sun Devils (17-6, 6-4) are 12-1 at home and have won four of the past five, including victories over two teams with RPIs in the top 50. Three of their six losses were to teams ranked in the RPI top 20, including two in the top 10. All of their losses have been within the top 100, so they are avoiding “bad losses.”

Head coach Herb Sendek’s crew defeated Oregon State in overtime on Thursday night, thanks in large part to the play of JordanBachynski, who notched his 12th double-double of the season with 17 points and 15 rebounds.

Bachynski’s seven blocks set the all-time Pac-12 record for career blocks with 279. “It was huge,” Bachynski said in the postgame press conference, per Jake Anderson of the TheSunDevils.com. “I am honored to hold the title. It’s because of guys like Bill Walton who laid the foundation before me that I can have the record.”

With 10 games down and eight remaining, the Sun Devils face a tough 11-day stretch hosting Oregon and Arizona and then traveling to Boulder, Colorado to take on the Buffaloes. Two out of the three are “must wins” in order to keep their tournament hopes alive.

Here are the midterm report card grades for Arizona State’s starters and key backups.

Jahii Carson

Jahii-stanJahii Carson leads all Sun Devils and ranks third in the Pac-12 with 19.3 points per game, adding 23 on Thursday night for his ninth game of 20 or more points. Carson has been on fire as of late, averaging 23.4 points per game over the past five games.

Carson also leads the team in assists averaging 4.7 per game, sixth best in the conference. For a 5’10” point guard that has been rumored to be ‘too small’ for the NBA, he is also third on the team with 4.0 rebounds per game.

The consummate court general, Carson was able to motivate a team that suffered mightily from the free throw line (.620) as well as beyond the arc (.142) in regulation. The sophomore is making a push down the stretch when it is most needed.

Grade: A

 

Jordan Bachynski

Bach BrosPrior to Thursday night’s game, it’s safe to say that Bachynski was in a slump.

The senior center who had been averaging 12.7 points and 11.6 rebounds through the first 17 games went to averaging 6.8 and 7.2 respectively over the next five games. Thursday night’s dominant performance has returned him to nearly averaging a double double a game at 11.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Bachynski ranks second in the Pac-12 in rebounds and fifth in field goal percentage at 58.6 percent. His 4.3 blocks per game also leads the conference as well as all of Division I. His 98 total blocks on the season are more than 243 teams playing at the Division I level.

The 7’2″ big man has obvious NBA appeal and his blocks per game average is on par with NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal (4.57), Alonzo Mourning (3.77) and Tim Duncan (3.75).

Grade: A-

 

Jermaine Marshall

Marshall UNLVThe graduate transfer student from Penn State has been huge lately. After recovering from a groin injury that held him out of the Arizona game and limited him for the next two, Marshall is back, and firing on all cylinders.

Marshall is averaging 23 points over the past three games including clutch three-pointers in overtime wins over California and Oregon State. His 58 percent from beyond the arc over the past four games has literally willed this team to victory three times over that same stretch.

A 46.2 percent shooter from three point territory on the season, Marshall leads the team and places fifth in the Pac-12 Conference. Marshall is also the team’s best shooter from the free throw line.

He is second on the team in scoring with 15.8 points per game and was Thursday night’s leading scorer, a feat that he has accomplished six times this season including tying with backcourt mate Carson twice.

Grade: B+

 

Shaquielle McKissic

Shaq UWShaquielle McKissic, the senior out of Seattle, Wash. has a back story of abusive parents, jail time and homelessness prior to coming to play at Arizona State. He was the heir apparent to take over Carrick Felix’s spot at the wing yet Coach Sendek wasn’t fully sold coming in to the season.

McKissic started the first four games but lost his starting role to freshman Egor Koulechov for the next seven. He earned it back through tough play and gritty determination. McKissic is now averaging 8.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

McKissic has yet to hit the 20-point plateau this year, but he has led the Sun Devils in scoring twice with 19 against Grambling State and 18 versus UC Irvine. The big man has also led the team in rebounds six time, three of them, by himself.

Grade: C+

 

Jonathan Gilling

GillingJonathan Gilling has been a roller coaster player in his three seasons in the desert playing for Coach Sendek. The 6’7″ junior out of Denmark had a solid sophomore year but his productivity has fallen off in the 2013-14 season.

Last year, Gilling averaged 9.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game, this year he is hitting 7.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game. One area of improvement has been his long-range shooting. He has bettered his average from .367 to .430 mainly because he is taking fewer shots.

Gilling has had great games; hitting 7-of-7 from downtown in back-to-back games against Arizona and Colorado and he has had bad games, hitting 3-of-14 in the past three games.

Coach Sendek has started Eric Jacobsen over Gilling in the past five games enabling him to be a spark off the bench in the sixth man role. The switch started on the right track with Jacobsen and Gilling doing well, but both have struggled in the past three games.

It may be time to switch them back; Gilling has the ability, it just seems as his confidence is shaken.

Grade: C

 

Rotational Starters and Bench

boAside from the traditional starting five, three players have earned starts this season. Egor Koulechov has started seven games in the early part of the season for Shaquielle McKissic and Eric Jacobsen has started the past five for Jonathan Gilling. Brandan Kearney started the Arizona game for the injured Jermaine Marshall, struggled and hasn’t seen much in the way of playing time since.

While Koulechov and Jacobsen haven’t contributed much, if at all, in the past month, it has been junior Bo Barnes that has stepped it up coming off the bench. Since getting his minutes bumped up by Sendek, Barnes is averaging 7.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game.

Barnes is also hitting 56 percent of his shots taken from three point territory and 63 percent from the field. He has seen fewer minutes in the past two games but he is too much of a spark plug for Sendek to keep down for too long.

Barnes: B-

Jacobsen: C

Koulechov: D

Arizona Basketball: 5 Burning Questions for Remainder of 2013-14 Season

Gordon Zeus

The Arizona Wildcats are off to the best start in program history and have been ranked No. 1 in the country for eight weeks in a row. The Wildcats (21-0, 8-0 Pac-12) have also set the school record for longest winning streak at 21 games.

The Wildcats face a suddenly-struggling Cal Golden Bears team Saturday night at Haas Pavilion at 10:30 p.m. ET. The Bears (14-7, 5-3 Pac-12) started the season on fire winning their first five conference games including a win over then-No. 17 Oregon. California has since fallen on hard times losing their past three.

Arizona holds a 55-29 advantage over Cal and has won three of the past four meetings, including a triple-overtime thriller in Berkeley in 2011. Despite the Wildcats’ recent success against Cal, is is that fourth game that sticks in Arizona’s craw. Arizona has won 17 straight games at home, with their last loss being to Cal on February 10 of last year.

Can the Wildcats exact revenge on the Bears for that loss? Can they avoid the mounting pressure to maintain perfection? Click through for more burning questions about the remainder of the Wildcats’ season.

What Is the Reason for the Slow Starts?

slow start

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona hosted Utah on January 26 and came out listless. Within 90 seconds, they were already down seven points, after 7:30 had elapsed in the first half, the Wildcats still had only one field goal and trailed 12-2. They had missed ten consecutive shots including two free throws and two three-point attempts during that span.

Three days later at Stanford, the Wildcats were reliving a bad case of deja vu, scoring only one field goal in the first 7:30 of the game. Stanford kept it close by taking a 31-30 halftime lead and led by as many as seven points in the second half before succumbing to the nation’s top team.

“Half of the game we didn’t know what type of defense they were in so it was definitely something we had to adjust to,” head coach Sean Miller said following the Utah game. “But we adjusted to it and started hitting shots.”

The true measure of a team is not measured by how well they start, but how well they finish. The Wildcats have the heart of a champion by showing their closing ability when necessary. Not to speak ill of Utah or Stanford, but if Arizona continues the one-field-goal-in-seven-minutes trend, they can expect an early ouster from the NCAA Tournament.

Do They Realize That Free Throws Are Actually Free?

New Mexico State v Arizona

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

The Wildcats are bad at the free throw line—horrendous, to be more precise. Their .662 percentage ranks 10th in the Pac-12 while they have taken the fifth most attempts.

Aaron Gordon is a disaster at the charity stripe hitting only 44-of-98 for 44.9 percent and fellow newcomers Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and T.J. McConnell aren’t faring much better at 61 and 64.3 percent from the line.

Veteran players Kaleb Tarczewski, Nick Johnson and Brandon Ashley lead the team but barely register on the Pac-12 stat line with Tarczewski at No. 15 and Johnson and Ashley at 18 and 21 respectively.

In close games this year, the Wildcats have shot alarmingly low against UNLV (50 percent), Colorado (57 percent), Utah (60 percent) and Stanford (62 percent.)

Free throws are a gift but they are also used as a defensive strategy when the opponent knows of the weakness. Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson especially, need to be in the gym before and after practice working on their free throws.

Granted, no NBA General Manager will pass on these electric players due to their limited free throw skills, but in an effort to be all-around players, they need to at least start shooting 75 percent.

Will They Handle the Mounting Pressure of a Perfect Season?

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If the past two games have shown us anything, it has been that the Wildcats may be feeling the pressure of being undefeated. They have already set records for best season start and longest win streaks in program history, do they need to continue the streak to keep the fan base satisfied?

The answer is a resounding no.

Although it would be quite the feather in the cap for Sean Miller’s team to be the eighth team in NCAA history to go undefeated and the first in nearly four decades. However, a loss might even be considered a good thing so that the Wildcats can focus on the games ahead instead of maintaining the streak.

 

Will Sean Miller Be Lured Away by North Carolina?

Miller UNC

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Arizona struggled after the abrupt retirement of long-time head coach Lute Olson. The rocky two-year stretch from 2007-2009 saw much controversy and two head coaches in Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell.

After “only” advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, Athletics Director Jim Livengood hired Xavier head coach Sean Miller following the 2009 sesaon. Miller’s first year was a tumultuous one, going 16-15 and 10-8 in the Pac-12.

Miller’s team missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years and people were questioning the hire. The questions are no longer “Is Miller good enough for Arizona?” but “Is Miller too good for Arizona?”

With North Carolina’s men’s basketball program struggling, there are many rumors floating around about Roy Williams’ possible ouster. The Tar Heels (14-7, 4-4 ACC) began conference play with three straight losses and losers of four of their first five.

The University of North Carolina is one of the most storied basketball schools in the country and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if they had their feelers out and were looking to sway Miller back to North Carolina where he spent five years as an assistant for the North Carolina State Wolfpack.

How Many Players Will Declare for the NBA Draft?

The only sure answer to this question is to look at which players have no remaining eligibility. With only one senior on the team, Jordin Mayes is your answer.

The other players are question marks, including all five starters.

UA NBA

The most draft-ready players are junior Nick Johnson and sophomores Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley. Point guard T.J. McConnell and super frosh Aaron Gordon could declare as well.

Declaring for the NBA is one thing, playing is yet another. All you have to do is look at last year’s players that entered the NBA Draft, Solomon Hill and Grant Jerrett.

Hill was drafted in the first round, 23rd overall by the Indiana Pacers and has already been sent down to the D-League Fort Wayne Ants. He is back with Indiana but has only played in one game for a total of six minutes.

Jerrett was drafted 40th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers and then had his rights traded to Oklahoma City. Jerrett was later drafted No. 1 in the NBADL Draft by the Tulsa 66’ers who lost 17 of their first 20 games.

The NBA is tough to break into.

With 351 colleges and universities, not to mention international players, filtering into 30 teams with 15 players each, just making a roster is defying astronomical odds. The NBA D-League adds some hope with 17 additional teams with 12 roster spots.

Arizona’s starting five is phenomenal at the NCAA level, as is evidenced by their 21-0 record, but they all need to decide on what’s more important, playing the game they love at the college level or risking it all on the chance of fulfilling their dreams, knowing that the odds are heavily stacked against them.

Arizona State Basketball: Are the Sun Devils Contenders or Pretenders?

PretendersThe Arizona State Sun Devils (16-5, 5-3 Pac-12) are riding a three-game win streak, including two against Top 50 RPI teams. They are tied for third place in one of the most difficult conferences and have the unenviable task of playing the No. 1 team in the country twice in a month’s time.

The Sun Devils flirted with the NCAA tournament last season but haven’t received an invitation to dance since James Harden claimed student status. Since their second-round loss to Syracuse, the Devils have gone to the NIT twice in the past four years and grossly underachieved.

Is this the year that the Sun Devils return to the Big Dance, or will they wallow once again in their mediocrity?

Jahii Carson

jahii-mayes

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

Head coach Herb Sendek scored a major coup when 4-star local product Jahii Carson, the No. 33-rated player in the country by Rivals signed with Arizona State University. What was even more shocking was that Carson signed with the Sun Devils on the heels of their 4-14 conference record.

Carson utilized his redshirt season by watching and learning the ways of the team and how Sendek and his assistants ran things. Carson started the first game of the 2012-13 season and hit the ground running by breaking several Sun Devils freshman records, including most points in a season, most assists in a season and most 20-point games. He was also named Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year.

This season is rumored to be his last before declaring for the NBA draft, and although his individual production has dropped off a bit, his team-first mentality has improved, as he hasn’t needed to carry the team as he did last year. Carson ranks third in the conference with 18.9 points per game and sixth in assists with 4.7 per game. Those numbers are good enough to lead all Sun Devils, but he also leads in another category by a large margin—turnovers; he is averaging 3.6 per game including six each in the past two games.

Carson is truly a contender, but this year’s draft class is one of the best in recent memory with Joel Embiid of Kansas, Doug McDermott of Creighton and possibly four starters from No. 1 Arizona joining the fray. His smaller size also has scouts and others doubting his ability to carry a championship team.

“In my opinion, Carson will have a long NBA career as a solid backup point guard on a championship team or a starter on a weak team,” said Doug Franz of ArizonaSports.com, co-host of the wildly popular Phoenix radio program Doug & Wolf. “Jahii Carson will be a mid-second round draft pick in the 2014 draft and receive a non-guaranteed contract. He’d be close to a lottery pick in the 2015 draft and receive a guaranteed contract that will set up his family for the rest of his life.”

Only time will tell if Carson will keep with his plan to enter the NBA draft after this season, but a victory in the NCAA tournament will do wonders for his resume.

Jordan Bachynski

Jordan-Gordon

Christian Petersen-Getty Images

Jordan Bachynski, the 7’2″, 250-pound senior, is making a big noise in his final season in the desert. The Calgary, Alberta native has really come into his own the past two seasons and has increased his draft stock from “not a chance” to “give a second look.”

He currently leads all Division I schools with 4.2 blocks per game and, barring a catastrophe, will break the all-time conference record of 278 career blocks held by Arizona’s Anthony Cook from 1985-1989. At his current pace, he should break the record within the week, although he only notched one block against Cal on Wednesday night.

Last season, Bachynski tallied five double-doubles. To begin this season, Bachynski banged out six straight double-doubles and has 11 total while just coming short on two other occasions.

Bachynski leads the team and ranks No. 4 in the conference with 8.8 rebounds per game. His field-goal percentage of .586 also leads the team and places him at No. 6 in the conference.

“At 7’2″, his NBA appeal is obvious,” wrote Bleacher Report NBA lead writer Jonathan Wasserman. “Guys with this type of size don’t come around very often. If Bachynski hasn’t hit radars yet, he will soon.”

His size makes him desirable, but his toughness under the rim needs to improve. Scouts are also leery about his age; he would be a 25-year-old rookie, and Kyle Nelson of DraftExpress.com states, “For one, scouts will have to determine to what extent the 23-year-old junior can continue to develop considering his advanced age.”

Bachynski had a difficult night Wednesday against Cal, but expect him to rebound nicely against Stanford on Saturday and against the Oregon schools at home.

Jermaine Marshall

Photo courtesy of Associated Press

Photo courtesy of Associated Press

Jermaine Marshall was clutch in Wednesday night’s game at Cal. After leading most of the game, the Sun Devils blew a 16-point lead and trailed by three with 25 seconds remaining in regulation. Marshall pulled out a thunderous triple to send the game into overtime, where Sendek’s Devils capitalized by outscoring the Bears 17-6.

Marshall finished the game with 22 points, and it’s safe to say that his groin injury that held him out of the Arizona game and limited him against Utah and Colorado is no longer an issue.

The graduate transfer student from Penn State is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 15 points per game, and his three-point percentage of .455 leads the team; his average of 2.6 three-pointers made ranks second in the conference.

Bill Arsenault of the York Daily Record had this quote from Coach Sendek about Marshall:

Jermaine has been aggressive, fun to coach and has given us a great amount of big-game experience. He is a very smart player and knows how to get his points in various ways that all help the team. He also has a knack of coming up with buckets at the right time and getting a key block or steal.

DraftExpress.com ranks Jermaine Marshall No. 68 on its list of top NCAA seniors.

Marshall is the perfect fit in the backcourt with Jahii Carson. The Sun Devils struggled down the stretch last year, losing five of their last seven regular-season games, and blew a 20-point lead against UCLA in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament.

This year, with Marshall in the backcourt alongside Carson, it should be a different story.

Herb Sendek

Ethan Miller-Getty Images

Ethan Miller-Getty Images

Is this Coach Sendek’s final season in Tempe? Has his seat become hot enough for incoming vice president of athletics Ray Anderson to look elsewhere?

Anderson has a strong NFL pedigree as the league’s former executive vice president of football operations, yet his academic resume is even more astounding. Anderson received his undergraduate degree in political science from Stanford University and his juris doctor from Harvard Law School.

Sendek is in his eighth season as the head coach of the Sun Devils, with a record of 135-113 (.544) and a 58-78 (.426) Pac-12 record. Before his tenure at Arizona State, Sendek took the North Carolina State Wolfpack to five consecutive NCAA tournaments yet has only taken the Sun Devils once—five years ago.

The imminent departure of the teams’ top three players at the end of the season signals an urgency for Sendek to not only get into the NCAA tournament, but also to make a deep run if he hopes to impress Anderson and the fanbase at this football-first university.

The Sun Devils have a .6020 RPI, good enough for No. 41 according to ESPN’s foremost bracketologist, Joe Lunardi. They have a 1-2 record against teams in the Top 25, defeating Colorado and losing to UCLA and No. 1 Arizona, and are 4-5 against teams with RPIs in the Top 100. They do not have any bad losses and are a remarkable 11-1 at home this season, with only a conference-opening blemish to Washington on their record.

Sendek’s coaching staff is remarkable in their own right. Associate head coach Eric Musselman has coached in college, the D-League and the NBA over his 20-year career. Assistant coach Larry Greer has been an assistant coach in the NBA as well as a scout to go along with several years coaching in the college ranks. Assistant coach Stan Johnson is the newest member of the coaching staff, with 10 years of college coaching experience.

Final verdict: With the play of Carson, Bachynski and Marshall, the Sun Devils will spend February on the proverbial bubble with games against No. 1 Arizona, a home and away series against Oregon and a road trip to the always-difficult venues of Utah and Colorado.

Nobody expects them to beat Arizona, but sweeping Oregon and Colorado will be great items on their tournament resume.

Arizona Basketball: Highs and Lows of Wildcats’ Season So Far

Cats HiLoThe Arizona Wildcats basketball team is off to their best start in program history. The cherry on top of the sundae is Thursday night’s 91-68 dismantling of in-state rival Arizona State.

The Wildcats (18-0, 5-0 Pac-12) don’t generally consider the Sun Devils (13-5, 2-3 Pac-12) to be a legitimate rival in men’s basketball, having won 31 of the past 39 meetings, yet the two schools battle mercilessly in all sports for state bragging rights.

Several heralded and vaunted Arizona teams have played in the history of the program including NBA greats Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr and Mike Bibby, but none of the campus legends have done what this 2013-14 team has done—and continues to do.

Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of this record-breaking season.

Doing It as a Team

Head coach Sean Miller has stressed one thing above all else: playing and winning as a team. It was evident that his philosophy was working Thursday night when seven players scored in double figures.

“No doubt about it, we have a group of guys that play with a lot of energy, a lot of effort and are willing to share the ball,” Miller said in the postgame press conference. “One of the best plays of the first half happened when the ball got kicked off from Brandon Ashley. He made it a quick pass to T.J. (McConnell) and he took the wide open shot.”

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Southern CaliforniaGuard Nick Johnson leads all players with 16.3 points per game but Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski are close behind. Point guard T.J. McConnell is the consummate point guard, thinking first of the assist and shooting only when needed. He leads the team with 118 assists and was third in the conference prior to Thursday’s game with 6.2 assists per game.

“As we’ve said a ton, we’re unselfish. Everyone’s unselfish, not just one guy,” McConnell said in the postgame press conference. “We can score at any position and that’s what makes us dangerous.”

Not Keen on Taking Freebies

The biggest complaint about this record-breaking, undefeated 18-0 team is that they are horrid from the charity stripe. Perhaps they are trying to do it the hard way, without anything being given to them—but I highly doubt it.

Through 18 games, Arizona is shooting a mere 67 percent from the line, good enough to be ranked 10th in the conference. Only USC and Washington State, who are a combined 1-8 in conference, are behind Arizona.

New Mexico State v ArizonaThe big story is that freshman phenom Aaron Gordon is absolutely tragic from the line, hitting only 39 of 85 for 45.9 percent. As dynamic of a scorer that Gordon is, teams can quickly take him out of the game in Hack-A-Gordon style.

T.J. McConnell and Gordon’s fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson also rank toward the bottom of the conference in free-throw percentage. Free throws proved to be big in close games against Duke and Michigan when the ‘Cats hit 21 of 26 and 14 of 15 respectively. If they had shot 53 percent, like Thursday night’s performance, those close games could have easily gone the other way.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Nick Johnson

It’s all smiles for the junior from Gilbert, Ariz. as he became the 48th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Johnson is the embodiment of everything that Coach Miller looks to instill in his players. It’s not that far of a reach to say that Johnson will return next year for his senior season as that’s just the kind of man that Johnson is—honoring his commitment.

As Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star noted:

Arizona State v Arizona

 

If Johnson returns for his senior season, he could crack the top 10 of UA’s all-time scorers. He could play another 50-60 games through the end of next season, and even 50 games at his current average of 16.3 would get him to 1,824, which would be seventh, just behind current UA assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who had 1,849 between 1991 and 1995.

Johnson not only leads the team in points per game, he is also the one guy you want on the free-throw line, hitting 82 percent. He also places second on the team in three-point percentage, steals and assists.

“I think he’s played with a chip on his shoulder in a healthy way.” Coach Miller said to Pascoe. “If there’s anybody who means more to his team than Nick does to ours, they’re an all American.”

Moving Forward

The Pac-12 does an excellent job of knocking each other out of the rankings so it’s safe to say that every team in the conference will bring their ‘A’ game when they play the No.1 Wildcats.

Arizona State v ArizonaBoth the AP & USA Today preseason polls had three Pac-12 teams ranked in the Top 25 with Arizona at No. 5 and Oregon and UCLA in the upper third. By the time that Arizona became the No. 1 team in the country, Week 6, Colorado had also joined the Top 25.

Then came conference play.

The 12-0 Oregon Ducks, ranked in the Top 10, needed overtime to beat Utah and have lost three straight to Colorado, Cal and Stanford.

The 14-2 Colorado Buffaloes, with their only losses to ranked teams, started conference play with two wins, but almost like clockwork, they needed overtime to beat Washington State and have lost their past two games. They will most likely drop out of the rankings before returning to Tucson next week.

Next up for the Wildcats is the aforementioned Colorado Buffaloes followed by Utah at home before heading up to the northern California schools and a surprising Cal Bears team that is 13-4 and 4-0 in conference. If the Buffaloes are unsuccessful in breaking the Wildcats’ streak on Thursday, this Cal team led by Justin Cobbs will be looking to play giant killer.

Which would not be a bad thing. I have seen streaks sometimes get bigger than individual games with the pressure mounting to keep it going. Nobody is hoping or wishing that Arizona loses, yet it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen.

Arizona State Basketball at Arizona: Game Start Time, TV Info, Preview and More

jahii-azArizona State Basketball is officially on the national radar Thursday evening.

The Sun Devils (13-4, 2-2 Pac-12) travel to Tucson to take on the No.1 Arizona Wildcats (17-0, 4-0 Pac-12) for a 9 p.m. ET tipoff to be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.

The rivalry game comes hot on the heels of the “Territorial Cup” football game between the two teams last November. The Sun Devils handed the Wildcats a 58-21 whooping and the ‘Cats are looking to return the favor tonight in front of their fans in McKale Center.

  • Tip: 9:07 p.m. ET, January 17, 2013
  • Location: McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
  • Television: Fox Sports 1
  • Commentators: Gus Johnson/Bill Raftery
  • Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (Phoenix) K-HIT 107.5 FM (Tucson)
  • Line: Arizona by 14

The Sun Devils are 4-3 on the road this season and are 1-1 against ranked teams. The Sun Devils have beaten a No. 1 team only once in school history and it was on the road, in Corvallis on March 7, 1981 against the Oregon State Beavers. The No. 5 Devils were led by future NBA players Byron Scott and Fat Lever and coached by the legendary Ned Wulk.

The two times prior to that game and the five times after, Arizona State has lost to the top team in the country—and the games were not even close. The Sun Devils have met the Wildcats as the No. 1 team three times prior to Thursday’s game and have lost by an average of 23 points.

herb-erArizona State head coach Herb Sendek is 7-8 against Arizona and 3-4 in Tucson. Arizona leads the series 144-80 and has won 30 of the past 38 matchups but Arizona State has won seven of the past 13 including a five-game stretch in 2008-2009. Prior to that streak, Arizona had won 24 of the last 25 and currently owns a two-game win streak over Arizona State.

The good news for Sendek’s Devils is that he has Jahii Carson, and Carson plays extremely well on the road. Carson averages 21.3 points per game in road games and his four highest scoring games were on the road including a 40-point effort against UNLV earlier this year.

Senior Jordan Bachynski also leads all Division I players with 78 blocks this season and 4.59 per game. Out of 351 teams, Bachynski alone has more blocks than 274 of them.

The bad news is the Wildcats are seemingly unstoppable. Coach Miller’s Wildcats were met with adversity vs. Duke in Madison Square Garden and at Michigan—but prevailed in the end each time. In the past two weeks, they have held an opponent to 25 points and beat UCLA in vaunted Pauley Pavilion.

Everybody knows about Arizona’s freshman phenom Aaron Gordon, but Coach Miller is looking for a strong team effort over individual performances—and he is getting it.

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

Nick Johnson is the leading scorer averaging 16.3 points per game with Gordon, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski close behind. Point guard T.J. McConnell is third in the Pac-12 in assists averaging 6.2 per game. He is also third in the conference in steals with 1.9 per game. That makes him a modern day Robin Hood by stealing and in turn giving it away.

McKale Center is also a very tough place to win, especially if you’re Arizona State. Under Coach Miller, the Wildcats are 67-11 at home and 31-7 in conference play. They have won 14 straight at home and will face their first ranked team next week when No. 21 Colorado comes to visit.

This game could get ugly fast for the Sun Devils, but I expect it to be a lot closer than people think.

Prediction: Arizona State 72, Arizona 84

NIT Season Tip-off Final: Arizona vs. Duke Complete Game Preview

Zona

The No. 4 Arizona Wildcats and No. 6 Duke Blue Devils, two of the country’s top college basketball programs, will meet in the NIT Season Tip-Off final on Friday, and both teams are fortunate to be there.

Both teams showed signs of weakness against lesser teams earlier in the tournament but also showed their mettle by overcoming said weaknesses by winning when all hope looked to be lost.

Date: Friday, Nov. 29

Time: 6:05 p.m. ET

Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.

Television: ESPN

RadioArizona IMG Sports NetworkBlue Devil IMG Sports Network

 

The Wildcats (6-0, 0-0 Pac-12) opened up against Drexel on Wednesday night listless and uninspired. Trailing 27-8 in the first 13 minutes, they would go on to win 66-62 in a game that nobody thought would be as tight as it was.

”I think the story line for this game may be that Arizona was overlooking Drexel but that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said, according to arizonawildcats.com. ”We watched every tape and invested a lot of time and it became apparent to me we were in for a handful.”

The Blue Devils (6-1, 0-0 ACC) have had a tougher road to the final scraping by a 1-4 Vermont team, 91-90, at Cameron Indoor before a 74-64 squeaker over Alabama (3-1) in Madison Square Garden.

Duke looked horrible at home against a far inferior opponent, giving up 90 points at home, which had the Cameron Crazies and the rest of Blue Devil Nation crying foul.

“Well, they were terrific and we were awful, and being terrific made us look worse,”said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski during a press conference. “As a unit that is all of us. This was an unacceptable performance, and we were lucky to win.

jabariThe 74-64 victory over Alabama was closer than the score shows. The Blue Devils held the Crimson Tide to only 22 first-half points but then allowed them to come roaring back with a 12-0 run to pull within six points to begin the second half.

Freshman phenom Jabari Parker stopped the bleeding with a layup and one at the 11:45 mark and put on a one-man show, scoring 10 of the next 12 Duke points. The Tide rolled again, pulling back within six with under three minutes remaining. They would close the game out on a 10-6 run, but their defensive lapses were glaring.

“Since Kansas, we haven’t been playing like a Duke team defensively,” said sophomore forward Rodney Hood, per The News & Observer. “It’s a program game, it’s about fighting for the program.”

Regardless of how they got there, Both teams are in, and the hype machine is in full effect. The matchup of freshman sensations Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon is reaching a fever pitch on Twitter.

 

 

The front page of ESPN’s Men’s College Basketball page has their faces prominently displayed with the title “Everybody’s Looking at You.”

“Boy, college basketball fans are in for a Black Friday treat,” wrote ESPN.com’sKieran Darcy. “Two weeks after that fantastic Champions Classic doubleheader in Chicago, we get another top-10 clash—No. 4 Arizona versus No. 6 Duke, at Madison Square Garden, no less.”

The former No. 2-ranked Parker and No. 4-ranked Gordon are living up to the hype. Parker has begun his collegiate career scoring 20 or more points in each of his seven games this season. Parker is only the second player in Division I history to accomplish the feat along with a little-known player out of the University of Texas—Kevin Durant.

gordonAaron Gordon hasn’t been lights out in the scoring department but has shown more strength as an all-around player, averaging 12.5 points as well as 9.7 rebounds per game. He is also second on the team in blocks with nine.

This game isn’t only about the freshmen but also about the coaches and storied programs.

Arizona is 21-2 all-time in the NIT Season Tip-Off, including an 8-1 record at Madison Square Garden, while Duke has won 15 straight NIT Season Tip-Off games with their last loss coming 17 years ago to Indiana. Coach K and the Blue Devils are 23-7 in all games played at Madison Square Garden.

Arizona has won the tournament three times, second only to Duke’s four tournament titles. A battle for the ages is indeed in store for everybody, so enjoy this holiday treat as I assume this will be the last time we see Parker and Gordon match up in the regular season at the collegiate level.