Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
The Arizona Wildcats have the pieces to challenge the Sun Devils' two best players.
Time: 12:30 p.m. MST
The star power in the Duel in the Desert history wasn't there last season.
It was the first time in a long time that there was nothing to talk about between the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils. There were the Sun Devils, paddling hard as ever to avoid sinking to Pac-12 basement. And there were the Wildcats, who in their finale regular season game fell at ASU in what became the defining moment of a lost season.
And again, there were no stars. Where Arizona usually had a future pro or ASU ran out the Wildcat-killer James Harden, there was none of that.
But on Saturday, there's a fire that's fueled by a great number of things. It starts on ASU's end. The Sun Devils have maybe been more of a surprise than the Wildcats behind the leap in production from center Jordan Bachynski and the walking-his-walk, talking-his-talk Jahii Carson.
You know the story already. Carson proclaimed himself the Pac-12's best point guard before he entered the Pac-12 season. It's probably a self-motivating tactic more than any jab at, say, UA point guard Mark Lyons. Carson will definitely not be overlooked considering the senior out of New York probably saw -- or heard about -- his tweet.
That's not to say Carson hasn't been one of the league's best point guards. At 17.1 points and 5.2 assists per game, he has had his normal success in three of four Pac-12 games thus far. Carson's best game came in ASU's last outing against Oregon, where he scored 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting to go with four assists and seven rebounds.
Luckily, the Wildcats have a counter. The frontline will test the 5-foot-10 point guard who has plenty of hops, and their proneness to foul actually helps in that Carson averages just 71 percent from the foul line.
And the on-ball defense, whether it comes from Lyons or Nick Johnson, will also test the young point guard.
Bachynski might be a bigger issue. Offensively, the Wildcats struggled against Oregon's length inside, but Sean Miller's crew can hope that it's a different enough of a length than ASU's 7-foot-2 center. Bachynski averages 10.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game, which is third in the nation.
Lyons, for one, showed poor judgment against Oregon at times in attacking the Ducks big men only to get rejected. Drawing contact will be key for Arizona.
However, that won't be an issue if they can't pull the plodding center out of the paint. Freshman Grant Jerrett, who has seen his fair share at center, could be huge in stretching the defense and taking Bachynski out of the paint off the ball. He'll also provide an option to pop out and hit three-pointers against a player who likely isn't used to playing the pick-and-roll in that fashion.
And across the rosters, the Wildcats have the depth advantage. ASU (14-3) lost to Oregon in their last game because they only got three bench points. Versatile forward Carrick Felix is more a do-it-all man than a scorer, guard Evan Gordon has not recently put two double-digit scoring games together and Bachynski isn't much of an offensive force outside of scoring on offensive rebounds.
Then again, it'd be foolish to look past the fact that this is a rivalry game.
And it'd be foolish not to admit that the Sun Devils are improved from a pure talent standpoint compared to last season. Then again, so are the Wildcats.