With less than 12 hours until tip of the UCLA vs. Arizona State basketball game at Pauley Pavilion, it’s time to get a little inside scoop on what to expect from the Sun Devils. Tonight’s game is the epitome of a must-win for the Bruins, especially considering the beat down they took in Tempe back in January, so the stakes couldn’t be higher.
To get the skinny on the Devils, Go Joe Bruin sat down with Dave Campbell, the lead editor of FanSided’s Arizona State site, Devils in Detail. Dave was kind enough to humor me by answering my burning questions about ASU, and I returned the favor as an ambassador for the Bruins. Listed below are Dave’s answers from his exclusive Q&A session with GJB. My responses to his questions can be found in an article on his site.
Q: Considering Arizona State was picked to finish 11th in the preseason Pac-12 poll, how pleased is the Sun Devil fan base with the current state of the team?
A: This season has been an unexpected pleasure for Arizona State fans. Almost everyone around the ASU program recognized the potential of freshman point guard Jahii Carson in his first year as a starter for the Sun Devils, as well as the capabilities of key returning players such as senior wing Carrick Felix and junior center Jordan Bachynski. However, it’s fair to say that most ASU fans did not anticipate a 20-8, 9-6 record at this point in the season.
Q: Most pundits point to Jahii Carson’s presence as the end-all reason for Arizona State’s drastic turnaround in 2013, but basketball is a team sport. Who are the unheralded heroes of this year’s Sun Devil squad?
A: Due to a very thin bench, Arizona State’s starting line-up as had to carry the load for the majority of the 2012/2013 campaign. ASU used the same starting line-up for the first 24 games of the season, and at that point, was only one of six Division I teams to use the same starting line-up in every game.
Regardless of depth issues, there have been some bright spots for coach Herb Sendek’s squad. Seven-two center Jordan Bachynski has been dominant in the paint at times, and junior guard Evan Gordon has shown that he can be a difference-maker off the bench. When he’s hot, sophomore forward Jonathan Gilling is deadly from the arc.
Most of the younger players simply haven’t seen extended minutes on the floor.
Q: In the previous meeting, center Jordan Bachynski had a career game, and was a major reason that ASU stunned UCLA. Has he maintained his high level of play down the stretch of the season? How big of a factor can he have on Wednesday night?
A: Honestly, Bachynski has been something of an enigma for the Sun Devils. He may have had his best performance of the year in ASU’s first meeting with UCLA on Jan. 26, when he had career-highs in points (22) and rebounds (15).
Bachynski possesses the height and presence to disrupt opponents in the paint, and can be a significant contributor on the boards with blocked shots and offensive rebounds. Thanks in large part to his efforts, ASU has a school-record 180 blocks in 28 games (6.6 per game), which is sixth in the nation.
All in all, though, Bachynski has had up and down games throughout the season. It’s difficult to predict how he’ll perform against the Bruins tonight.
Q: Given the schedule, how realistic is it that ASU can play its way into a top-four seed and subsequent first-round bye in the conference tournament?
A: ASU’s home loss to Washington last Saturday was a significant setback. The Sun Devils must now go on the road for three brutal conference matchups: UCLA, USC and Arizona. Herb Sendek’s players have demonstrated their resiliency over the course of the season, so anything is possible.
Q: In the latest release of ESPN’s Bracketology, Arizona State falls into the “First Four Out” category. What do the Devils have to do to get back into the field?
A: According to conventional wisdom, ASU must come out of the regular season and Pac-12 tournament with at least 24 wins in order to have a reasonable shot at making the “Big Dance.” The team currently has 20 victories. For this reason, a sweep of the Southern California teams during this road trip is almost mandatory. The good news: ASU has four Top 50 RPI wins: Colorado (2x), UCLA and Cal.
Q: What is ASU’s focus heading into the rematch at Pauley Pavilion? What’s your prediction for the outcome?
A: The Sun Devils have struggled to find consistency all year. Jahii Carson has been a solid performer almost every week (averaging 17.5 points and five assists through 28 games) and Felix has been solid in the past 10 games (six double-doubles and just 11 turnovers in 368 minutes), but other featured players have been on-again, off-again from game to game.
Against UCLA, Carson and Felix must have top-notch performances to put the Sun Devils in a position to win. ASU also needs a good night out of its big men, who were exposed by Washington’s athletic front line a week ago in Tempe.
Bottom line, I think the Sun Devils bounce back from the Washington defeat and sneak out of Pauley Pavilion with a 72-70 win.