Usually this is where we go into the matchups of each team's starting five but given ASU's, how should we put this, unconventional lineup due to the suspensions of Keala King, Kyle Cain and Chris Colvin – I'll just a few snippets of what to look for from each lineup.
Lazeric Jones is a JUCO transfer and has run the offense for the Bruins all season. He leads the team in scoring (13.5 PPG) and assists (3.8 APG) – with ASU having no true ball handler available; Jones is the guy who could be the X-factor. Jerime Anderson and Tyler Lamb start on the wings with the Wear twins – Travis and David starting down low if Josh Smith still hasn't returned from his concussion. If Smith is back, he's the biggest man alive and Chanse Creekmur would probably have more than just a little trouble trying to box him out.
With the trio of contributors unavailable, the Sun Devils roll out a lineup consisting of Trent Lockett, Carrick Felix, Chanse Creekmur, Jonathan Gilling and Ruslan Pateev. You may scoff but that same lineup just put up 62 points in a win on the road. Felix scored a career-high 22 points against the Trojans while Lockett was even more impressive filling up the box score with 19 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals - a tremendous game from the team leader. Gilling, in a career-high 33 minutes played scored a career-high 12 points.
As we alluded to, Lazeric Jones' performance in this game will likely have a significant impact on the outcome. Jones is a talented point guard on both sides of the floor and he cause chaos against ASU, who is playing without any real ball handlers. If Jones and Jerime Anderson can cause pressure every time the Devils have the basketball, UCLA could get a lot of easy buckets in transition. Tyler Lamb is a streaky player who can light up the scoreboard (26 points vs. Cal) or disappear (six games with seven points or less) so Lamb's output, or lack thereof, could be something to watch. Off the bench, Norman Powell is the only guard who sees meaningful minutes.
With ASU's depleted rotation, a lot of guys are playing a little bit out of position so Lockett, Gilling, Creekmur and Felix are all floating around the perimeter throughout the game. Lockett and Felix are best when attacking the basket and drawing contact or spitting it back out to an open shooter so for the Devils to repeat the USC success, Gilling needs to stay hot and Creekmur needs to be more assertive. The lone backcourt sub is everyone's favorite walk-on, Max Heller. Heller has proven to be a confident young ballplayer that has picked up the complexities of the system.
Edge – UCLA
Frontcourt: This really does all depend on Josh Smith's availability. If Smith plays, he will give Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski a laughable amount of trouble. Smith sat out the game against Arizona with a concussion and no timetable for his return has been set. If Smith doesn't go, the Wear twins will be the primary post options with Brendan Lane and Anthony Stover off the pine. The Wears are UNC transfers who started off sluggishly but have improved as the season has gone along. They are solid interior players with good touch on the perimeter.
Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski are it. The Sun Devils run out a pretty small lineup even when at full strength but with Kyle Cain absent, it forces these two guys to step up. Pateev was non-existent against USC only taking one shot while Bachynski only had a couple points as well but was hyper on the glass pulling down six rebounds. If these guys get into foul trouble, things could get really interesting – Dave Whitmore, a walk-on, is the only forward available in reserve.
Edge – UCLA
How ASU Wins: In terms of players who can take over a game, ASU has a good one in Carrick Felix. A freakish athlete that can jump out of the gym and has a much-improved jumper, if Felix can have a similar effort against UCLA as he did against USC, the Devils have a real chance to stay in the game and even pull out a surprising victory. The Bruins aren't a great team but are coming into this game with a lot more depth. ASU needs to shoot the ball well across the board and have Felix and Trent Lockett keep their games at a high level.
Final Score: UCLA 61 ASU 55