Cal Preview

Football's National Letter of Intent Day is in the books and now everyone can focus their attention on the Pac-12 basketball race and NCAA Tournament push as the Arizona State Sun Devils (17-5, 6-3) will look to get back to their winning ways against the California Golden Bears (13-8, 5-4) on Thursday evening at Wells Fargo Arena.

Bad news is that Cal is hot coming off a sweep at home of the Oregon schools but the good news is that the Bears are just 3-4 away from home against the Sun Devils who are 13-2 at home. Against the Oregon schools, the Bears were balanced across the board in both games with Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs leading the way. What makes Cal tricky is their defensive aggression which stifled Oregon's fast paced attack and forced 22 turnovers in the 58-54 upset.

The Sun Devils may have split the weekend in Washington but the Jahii Carson show left everyone in its wake impressed. Despite missing 20 three-pointers in the game shooting just 4-11 from the charity stripe, the Sun Devils grinded it out in a 63-59 win over Washington State as Jahii Carson was incredible scoring 25 points, including 21 in the second half alone while Carrick Felix put together another double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. The most impressive number: just four turnovers for ASU including none from Carson. Despite losing at Washington to close out the weekend, Carson scored a career-high 32 points including his first dunk while nearly leading the Sun Devils to an improbable win given how the first 35 minutes of the game went. Honorable mention for the Devils in the loss was Jon Gilling's 22 points off 6-8 shooting from deep. unveiled their first bubble watch of the season and ASU is currently considered to be on the fringe. The two biggest wins of the season so far have been home victories over Colorado and UCLA with a win over Arkansas looking swell after their upset of the #2 Florida Gators earlier this week. Moral of the story is that the resume is not looking too glamorous right now but more wins and fewer losses have a funny way of sprucing it up. In conference play, it is vital to protect the home court and the Sun Devils are good enough to sweep the Bay Area schools this weekend.

Head Coach:

Mike Montgomery: 5th season at Cal – 101-55; 648-299 career

Herb Sendek: 7th season at ASU – 115-101; 369-258 career

Projected Starters:

G – Justin Cobbs (14.3 PPG, 4.4 APG) vs. Jahii Carson (18.3 PPG, 5.3 APG)

G – Tyrone Wallace (6.9 PPG, 26% 3PT) vs. Evan Gordon (10.9 PPG, 36% 3PT)

F – Allen Crabbe (19.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG) vs. Carrick Felix (14.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG)

F – David Kravish (8.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG)

F – Richard Solomon (8.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG) vs. Jordan Bachynski (10.2 PPG, 4.1 BPG)

Why Cal Can Win:

With the best scorer in the conference to go along with one of the better point guards, Cal has the tools to run with ASU and with two decent big men, the Bears can also look to exploit ASU and Jordan Bachynski much like Washington did. Mike Montgomery does a good job of getting open looks for his guys and if they can heat up from behind the arc, they will stretch the Sun Devils out. Cal goes as far as Justin Cobbs and Allen Crabbe go and if they can get either Carson or Felix into foul trouble – the Bears will look to pounce.

Why ASU Can Win:

Despite how good he has been all season, the numbers suggest that Jahii Carson is still getting better each time out and that is a very, very good thing. Jordan Bachynski has to put his disastrous game against U-Dub behind him and return to his aggressive ways this weekend against two solid interior teams. Cal has a big front line but Bachysnki is 7'2" and should have the ability to impose his will if he gets in the right mindset. Expecting Gilling to drain six three-pointers again is unlikely but his confidence is in a good place right now and his all-around game makes the Sun Devils a far better team. For ASU to score the victory, Jahii Carson has to spend his time tiring out Justin Cobbs and staying in the game.

Key Stats: Offensive fun! ASU is averaging 82.8 points in its past four games. In case you had any doubts that Herb's system has changed. Furthermore, those extra points are coming from extra possessions as the Sun Devils are averaging just 11.2 turnovers over their last 16 games and have outshot their opponents in 10 of the last 12 games.

X-Factor: Let's take a look at Carrick Felix in Pac-12 Play. In six Pac-12 wins, Felix averages 17.5 points, pulls down 11.1 boards, hits 49% from the field including 42% from deep and gets to the free-throw line more than five times per contest. In three Pac-12 losses, the same Carrick Felix averages just 9.0 points and 4.0 rebounds while knocking down just 37% of his shots and a paltry 33% from deep. Even more telling is that in those three losses, Felix has attempted just two free throws total. We can discuss Jahii Carson's stunning season all day long but Carrick Felix's impact is simply too strong to ignore.

Final Score: ASU 77 Cal 73

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