The Arizona Wildcats and Arizona St. Sun Devils will finally begin conference play on Saturday afternoon as the two instate rivals battle in Tucson. SB Nation Arizona has a complete breakdown of both teams; here are Scott Coleman's and Cody Ulm's final predictions for the game.
Scott Coleman: The Wildcats improved tremendously in the final weeks of non-conference play and I truly believe Sean Miller has Arizona prepare for Pac-12 play. The team opens the season with Arizona St., and when I look at the Sun Devils, I see a talented team without a point guard or big man to make everything run smoothly.
The Wildcats like to shoot the ball and shoot it from behind the arc. The biggest reason for ASU's struggles thus far has been their inability to cover shooters with their zone defense and in-turn struggle to rebound the ball. I see Kyle Fogg, Nick Johnson, Brendon Lavender and Jordin Mayes all having a big game.
The key for the UA is to slow down Trent Lockett and Keala King. Both players have blossomed into quality players for coach Sendek and they seem to always save their best for Tucson. It will be interesting to see if the 'Cats go small while trying to guard these two, or if the coaching staff attempts to bully both players with the size of Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom.
This game may set the record for the fewest touches by post players and it probably comes with reason. Other than Jesse Perry, neither team features a big man who can dominate on both ends of the floor. Arizona has struggled against skilled, athletic post players this season, but the Sun Devils don't really offer anything other than sheer size.
This game may stay close in the early going as ASU gives it their all to pull off the road win, but the McKale Center will be packed and the Wildcats have played well in recent weeks. Arizona pulls away in the second half behind a barrage of 3-pointers. UA wins 74-59.
Cody Ulm: It seems appropriate to kick of Pac-12 conference play against the Wildcats but at the same time, it's nothing that fans of the maroon and gold should be excited about. The Sun Devils haven't faced a team with a talent level anywhere near that of which their instate rival features and they could be in store for quite the reality shock.
Arizona State will most likely have no answer for Nick Johnson or Kyle Fogg and odds are one of the two may be looking at a new career-high in points following this one. The Sun Devils have been being absolutely owned by guards with a knack for scoring all season, the most recent example of this coming in their last game in which they gave up a season-high 30 points to Fresno State's Kevin Olekaibe. Both of the aforementioned Wildcats are excellent in transition and you can beat they will make ASU pay more than once on Saturday.
The Devils also haven't seen a talent quite like Solomon Hill yet either. Kyle Cain is sure to have his hands full and it will be interesting to see how Sendek attacks the skilled junior. Hopefully he drilled it in his front line to not get overly aggressive because Hill will undoubtedly make them pay as arguably the conference's best passing big man.
Trent Lockett's going to need to raise his play to another level for the Devils to have any chance in this one but that's a real possibility with Lockett scoring 17 points last time he visited Tucson. The Wildcats also haven't faced the new and improved Keala King which is definitely a factor ASU has working in the favor.
Truly though, odds are the Wildcats will dominate the glass so the Devils will have to make every shot count, especially with the team being a good bet for 15+ more turnovers. Chanse Creekmur, Carrick Felix and Jonathan Gilling will also need to be in the zone from the beyond the arc to balance out Fogg and Brendon Lavender's production.
As you can tell, that's a lot that needs to fall in place for this Arizona State team to have any sort of fighting chance. Hopefully, the Devils will just be able to keep it relatively close into the final minutes as that would be a real confidence booster, especially in the most hostile environment they will play in all season.
Arizona 78 - Sun Devils 60