The Arizona Wildcats and Arizona St. Sun Devils have one of the more heated rivalries of any two schools on the west coast. After an instant-classic was played just a few months ago in football, the two programs will now square off in Tucson at the McKale Center to kick off the first season of Pac-12 play.
SB Nation Arizona will be both recapping the season thus far and will be previewing the Arizona-ASU game that will be played on Saturday afternoon. To kick things off, Scott Coleman and Cody Ulm exchanged questions about their respective teams to give an in-depth look at the current state of the program. This will be a multiple part series, so be sure to check back for any and all updates.
With conference play finally here, is this where you expected your team to be:
Scott Coleman: The Wildcats lost a ton from the team that made the Elite Eight last season and challenged themselves with one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation. Their preseason ranking of No. 15 was too high and just about everyone knew it.
With respectable road losses to Florida and Gonzaga, as well as a neutral site loss to Mississippi St. and a home loss to San Diego St., it's tough to be too disappointed thus far, although the players will tell you they should have won the Florida and/or SDSU games. The two best wins come over St. John's and Clemson, which is a bit concerning figuring neither will make the NCAA tournament.
As far as the players go individually, Solomon Hill has done a very nice job stepping up as the go-to guy on the court for most of the season. Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry are doing a nice job as seniors, although both had disappeared at times. Of the freshmen, Nick Johnson has been everything UA fans could have asked for and Angelo Chol is developing at a rapid pace. Josiah Turner has been foolish with some of his off-court decisions, but he appears to be headed in the right way.
The big wild card for Arizona was the gunshot wound Kevin Parrom sustained. Should the junior wing been completely healthy from the start of the season, he might have been the best overall player on the team. Now, because of the injury, Parrom continues to recover and is clearly still affected by the wound when he takes the court.
Sean Miller has this program in the right direction and most feel confident heading into conference play that does not figure to be too challenging. If Turner and Parrom are able to stay on the court and play at a high level, the team could really make a run come March. That run is far from certain at this point, though, and will require everyone to contribute, something that has seldom happened to this point in the season.
Cody Ulm: It would be easy for me to sit here and claim the Sun Devils are exactly where I expected them to be after following up last year's Pac-10 cellar-dwelling team with what's shaping up to be a repeat of ineptitude. But to make that assertion would be a lie. Delusions of grandeur aside, I was expecting this team to "rise" into the 6-9 region of the newly formed Pac-12 standings, especially with such a cherry non-conference schedule to work out the kinks early. Now though, that's looking about as likely as Herb Sendek growing a new luscious head of hair.
The Devils have yet to give a complete effort this season, with every breakout performance being countered by at least three off-games from key contributors. Although Trent Lockett has slightly improved his scoring and rebounding from last season, he hasn't taken that next step that most fans expected to see in his junior year. Averaging only 10.2 points and 5.2 boards over the last six games, four of which have been losses, he hasn't exactly stepped up when needed to as the most veteran player on this squad.
Perhaps that's because he's been asked to handle the ball more than normal with the return of Jahii Carson never coming to fruition and Iowa State transfer Chris Colvin falling flat on his face. Colvin, who had the looks of a breakout star after an impressive preseason, has blundered almost every opportunity Sendek has given him early in his ASU career, committed only one less turnover (32) than assist (33) and even being suspended once for breaking a unspecified team rule. This lack of a true consistent point guard has caused the Sun Devils to give the ball away at a Pac-12-leading 16.3 turnovers a game. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that Sendek might not have the right personnel to execute his newly-implemented run and gun offense but it doesn't take a trained eye to see that if it's one type of play this ASU lineup excels in, it's sloppy.
Furthermore, despite being one of the few rosters in all of college basketball with two seven-footers, the Devils still haven't had anything close to reliable center play through the first twelve games. Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski both go have gone through head-scratching spurts throughout the early going and one might have an easy case at arguing that they possibly have even regressed.
Yes, I know it's hard to tell, but there has been some pleasant surprises like the emergence of Keala King as one of the conference's most well-rounded players and Carrick Felix's new found deep stroke, but sitting at 4-8, I'm putting the over/under of conference wins at four, and that's only because Arizona State has the good fortune of playing the dreadful Utah Utes twice.