Wells Fargo Arena plays host to the big matchup on Wednesday night between ASU and U of A at 7:30 pm. Seats are bound to fill up fast for the biggest game of the season as ASU has actually garnered more votes than the Wildcats in the most recent AP poll. I don't know when the last time that happened was. The Devils are riding an 8-game winning streak while the Wildcats are coming off a 10-point home loss to Oregon.
This game represents ASU's best chance at defeating Arizona in years. So far this year the Wildcats have played much like ASU's football team, meaning that they have fallen behind early in games by double digits and fought back for victories. This may be a problem against ASU's stout defense. ASU is allowing only 56.5 ppg, good for 8th nationally in scoring defense, and should give the Wildcats fits.
Another plus for the Devils is how they matchup against U of A's players. Nic Wise and Jerryd Bayless run the point for the Wildcats (Bayless should be back from his recent injury) and will run into the defense and careful ballhandling of Derek Glasser and Jamelle McMillan. Some people may think that Bayless could run through our guards but look at the fact that ASU has yet to fall victim to any PGs so far this season (Drew Lavender and Tajuan Porter did nothing against us). Our PGs play underrated defense and are backed up by the stifling zone defense. Also, Glasser is 8th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.15.
Arizona's point guard is flanked by wings Jawann McClellan and Chase Budinger. While Budinger is as good as advertised, I've never been impressed by McClellan. He plays solid defense but is the worst shooter among their top six. Budinger will have probably have a good game as he can score in a variety of ways and is an excellent jump shooter. He is good at scoring off screens but since ASU will not play man on him he'll have to knock down shots from outside. If Bayless can penetrate and kick the ball back out if the zone collapses on him, Budinger will get some open looks. Otherwise, he'll have to shoot from beyond the zone.
Inside, Arizona has received great play from forward Jordan Hill, who has been the biggest surprise on the team to me. Hill is shooting 65% from the field and has been a solid presence in the post. However, if he gets in foul trouble Arizona's other post players are less than stellar. Bret Brielmaier, Jamelle Horne, and Kirk Walters are combining for only 8.2 ppg and 7.6 rpg. ASU's Jeff Pendergraph and Eric Boateng have been great this year at drawing fouls in the lane and this could cause a problem for Arizona's post players (Boateng can't make a free throw but the fouls he draws still benefit the team).
With the great play of James Harden (by the way, I stated his age incorrectly in the podcast..he just turned 18 four months ago, making him the youngest palyer in the Pac-10...making his play even more impressive), Pendergraph, and Glasser, the Devils should matchup favorably against the Wildcats. If Ty Abbott and Jerren Shipp can contribute in the way they had been in non-conference play (like the Xavier game, for example) then the Devils could win this one running away. The tough thing is that you never really know what will happen in rivalry games. If Arizona falls behind by a large margin in this one as they have done this year, then the ASU defense may prove to be too good for a Wildcat comeback.
The game starts at 7:30pm and will be broadcast on FSN and on 960 AM.
Be sure to also check out the latest edition of the Pitchfork Podcast which is posted below. See you at Wells Fargo Arena. Go Devils!