Thursday night at 7 PM MT, the Arizona Wildcats host their in-state rivals, the Arizona State Sun Devils, for the first of at least two meetings between the schools this year (fingers crossed for a showdown in Vegas).
ASU has not been particularly competitive in McKale as of late, but with an early conference record of 2-2, and a growing confidence inside that locker room, will that trend change?
Here are our predictions for the basketball version of the Duel in the Desert. Let us know your score pick below!
Brandon Hill: Can’t ever take ASU lightly, especially in the week before the L.A. road trip. Thus, part of me worries this could be a trap game. Plus Bobby Hurley knows what he’s up against playing in McKale and will have a lot of motivation. ASU is currently 42nd in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings (points per 100 possessions, adjusted for the opponent) but 258th in the same defensive metric. So they can score but they have a hard time stopping people. Arizona isn’t an offensive juggernaut but has enough versatility to keep opponents guessing and the defense is getting better (10th currently in adjusted defense).
David Potts: I don’t think ASU is very good. They’re last in the Pac-12 in defensive efficiency and they just lost to Utah at home. The one saving grace for the Sun Devils might be that they run a zone defense that could trip up the Wildcats, but this year’s Arizona team is better against the zone than some past Arizona teams and Parker Jackson-Cartwright is back. The fact that this game is in McKale means it isn’t even close, in my mind. I think the Wildcats run away with it,
Steve Apter: A close game, usually is in this rivalry. Tra Holder went 3-for-14 from the field (1-for-5 from distance) a week ago against Colorado, but hit a couple clutch free throws to seal a victory. He's too good of a player to be held in check every night. I think Arizona might come out a bit slow after feeling pretty accomplished sitting atop the conference standings early in this Pac-12 ledger. Where Arizona will struggle most this season is against teams like Oregon who have physical frontcourts that can neutralize the height of Chance Comanche and Dusan Ristic by going right at them. Senior forward Obinna Oleka reminds me a lot of Oregon’s Jordan Bell, and will go to work racking up fouls and energy plays if the Wildcats come out sluggish.
Ryan Kelapire: A lot of points will be scored because of the pace that ASU plays at, and most of them will be scored by Arizona. The Sun Devils have one of the worst defenses in the entire country, and Arizona is a pretty solid offensive team. Add that to the fact that the game is in McKale Center, and it’s easy to see this game being a blowout.
Alec Sills-Trausch: McKale Center. Arizona win. It’s that simple. Have a happy upcoming MLK Day to you all.
87 - 69 Wildcats
Jason Bartel: I have nothing to add.