Arizona St and Arizona are preparing to play perhaps the biggest regular season game in the history of the rivalry. That’s because the preseason top-5 Wildcats are rolling again while their opponents, the Sun Devils, are the talk of the college basketball world.
Over the past thirty-plus years, Arizona has been one of the marquee brands in college basketball. Arizona St, on the other hand, has had specific years where it’ll surprisingly pop up and make the tournament, but it has never been able to sustain success.
This year’s game is different. Both teams are playing well especially on offense. They both rate in the top-ten in adjusted offensive effiency.
The Sun Devils will be led by probable All-American senior guard Tra Holder, who’s averaging 21.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. He’s been aptly supported by his backcourt mate senior Shannon Evans II, who’s averaging 17.8 points per game and 4.7 assists.
Those two have been paramount in helping the Sun Devils to shock the nation this season. They not only beat Xavier and Kansas away from home, but they made it look easy. They blew out Xavier by 16 in Las Vegas in late November. Then, earlier this month, beat Kansas by 10 at Phog Allen Fieldhouse – becoming the first nonconference opponent to win at Kansas since San Diego St on Jan. 5, 2014.
Arizona on the other hand, had a dubious start to its season as it lost all three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas during Thanksgiving week. Since then, the Wildcats seem to have fixed their problems and have their glue guy, sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, back from injury.
Junior guard Allonzo Trier lead the Wildcats in scoring with 21.2 points per game. He’s the one in the 1-2 punch that also features freshman center Deandre Ayton, who’s averaging 19.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.
What will be the difference? I believe it will be Ayton. In neither of the Sun Devils’ wins over Kansas or Xavier did they have to match-up with a presence like Ayton. Freshman forward Romello White and junior forward De’Quon Lake provide a solid presence in the frontcourt, but the physical Ayton, the future lottery pick, is a totally different animal.
Add that with Arizona at home, neither team being great defensively, and it being New Year’s Eve and I have the Wildcats in a 92-88 win over the Sun Devils.