5 p.m. MST
Craig Robinson sits with ASU's Herb Sendek and Stanford's Johnny Dawkins on a slightly simmering seat reserved for Pac-12 coaches. It's not that his Oregon State Beavers are doing especially poorly this season, but it's been a while since much exciting came of the Beavs.
A week ago, Oregon State took a major step forward by beating the UCLA Bruins. As has been the case across Robinson's tenure, the Beavs took a slight step back on Thursday, falling to Arizona State thanks to some crunch-time breakdowns.
"I'd like to think we can play with any team in the conference. That hasn't been the case in the past," Robinson said. "That makes you think you can be up there."
Are the Beavers finally realizing their potential? Maybe, but it's still a work-in-progress to have them see what's needed each week to come away with victories.
For the Wildcats, the game leading into a rivalry week with Arizona State can't be taken for granted. Sean Miller and company find themselves looking in the mirror even after a gutty win against Ducks, but the Sun Devils have all the momentum heading in to next Friday thanks to a sweep of the Oregon schools. If UA comes in to Tempe unsure of itself, ASU could be set up quite well to steal a game that just more than a week ago seemed it'd be another win for a national championship contender.
Back to the task at hand: the Beavers have length and health on their side, and they also have combo guard Roberto Nelson capable of carrying the offense.
Health and depth
Fifth-year senior center Angus Brandt is hitting his stride after taking a year to recover from a torn ACL from late 2012 and another knee scare early in the non-conference schedule. On top of it, forward Eric Moreland, suspended to start the year because of violations of team policy, is back but also has found his place.
Will the Wildcats be able to score in the paint?
Again, UA point guard T.J. McConnell will need to shake his quiet play in recent weeks and get his big man touches early and often. Kaleb Tarczewski remains a big piece to the puzzle if Arizona tries to stretch the floor with a three-guard lineup, but OSU can cover him with Brandt and length from the weakside.
"I think our defense is better than it's ever been," Robinson said this week, "and I think it's a big reason why we're playing better."
Brandt's 6-foot-10, 250 frame is joined in the frontcourt by forward Eric Moreland, an elite athlete at the power forward spot whose length could kick legitimate dents into Arizona forward Aaron Gordon's NBA draft scouting report if the freshman allows it. Moreland grabbed 17 and 14 rebounds in his last two games.
Forward Devon Collier, much like Moreland in ability, comes off the bench and might pose the biggest problem for the Wildcats, who will especially be tested if only guards Gabe York and Elliott Pitts see significant minutes. Then again, coach Sean Miller might be slowly building the post-Ashley team piece by piece. He's seen good signs from his guards, and against a bigger Beavers squad could be forced to try out his bigs, including Matt Korcheck.
Arizona obviously lost the rebounding battle to Oregon, and how they manage a rotating three-man lineup of Brandt, Moreland and Collier is something that must be answered.
Gang-rebounding from Nick Johnson, McConnell, York and Pitts will be key, especially on long rebounds. Against the Ducks, the Wildcats gave up a number of offensive boards on longer rebounds against a prolific perimeter shooting team.
The starting point guard is averaging 22 points per game while shooting 45 percent overall and 42 percent from three-point range. A third of his shots are from deep, and by deep, we mean Nelson knows no limits to his range. At 6'4, he's also prolific at getting the foul stripe, and he's complemented on the perimeter by freshman guard Hallice Cooke, who is hitting 55.4 percent of his three-point attempts.