UCLA Preview

After a somewhat predictable non-conference slate, the Arizona State Sun Devils (10-3) open their Pac-10 campaign in Westwood when they visit the UCLA Bruins (5-7) on Thursday afternoon. The Devils and Bruins both came into the season facing monumental rebuilding modes. The Bruins have failed to figure out a method to move forward while ASU returned just about everyone else.

The Bruins lost Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Alfred Aboya and Jrue Holiday from their lineup. Thus, their offensive identity is still being discovered. Yet, sophomore swingman Malcolm Lee has shown flashes of excitement so far while veteran G Michael Roll has been a reliable long range threat. In terms of newcomers, big man Reeves Nelson has been a key cog in the middle in the midst of Drew Gordon's transfer and Nikola Dragovic's legal issues.

James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph moved on to the NBA, but the Sun Devils have been pretty steady in the early going highlighted by a trip to New York City and Madison Square Garden that ended with a third place finish in the Preseason NIT. Derek Glasser is leading the charge with Ty Abbott, Rik Kuksiks, Eric Boateng, Taylor Rohde, and Jamelle McMillan all playing their best basketball.

Head Coach: Ben Howland (322-158) vs. Herb Sendek (318-204)

Projected Lineups:

PG – Jerime Anderson (6.2 PPG, 4.3 APG) vs. Derek Glasser (11.8 PPG, 5.7 APG)

SG – Michael Roll (13.2 PPG, 42% 3PT) vs. Jamelle McMillan (8.6 PPG, 48% 3PT)

SF – Malcolm Lee (14.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG) vs. Ty Abbott (7.9 PPG, 43% 3PT)

PF – Nikola Dragovic (9.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG) vs. Rihards Kuksiks (11.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG)

C – Reeves Nelson (10.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG) vs. Eric Boateng (8.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG)

Backcourt

The Bruins have an athletic PG in Anderson who is still learning the ropes but is undoubtedly talented. On the other side, Michael Roll is a one-trick pony who is still dangerous even when opponents know what's coming. The real problem has lied within turnovers and spotty defense to go along with a lack of depth. The Bruins only real backcourt option on the bench is Mustafa Abdul-Hamid.

ASU's experienced backcourt has been the catalyst all season thus far with Derek Glasser and Jamelle McMillan playing well on both sides of the floor. Glasser recently became the all-time assists leader for ASU as McMillan has been filling up stat sheets with a balanced attack including a newfound confidence in his shooting. Coming on in relief is Demetrius Walker, a strong player who attacks the bucket at will.

Edge – ASU

Frontcourt

The Bruins have dealt with some adversity in their frontcourt this year and is a big reason the team has struggled so mightily. Drew Gordon, a promising player, transferred after a handful of games and Nikola Dragovic dealt with issues surrounding his arrest early in the season and it has clearly affected his play.

Add those with the losses of Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya, it's pretty ugly. Luckily, freshman Reeves Nelson has played very well as his playing time has increased. Off the bench is Tyler Honeycutt, a true freshman who is improving steadily and should see more minutes in conference play. Brendan Lane is also a young big man who will get more minutes as he matures.

ASU counters with a true Center in Eric Boateng and an oversized SG in Rik Kuksiks. Boateng has been inconsistent in his first year of serious playing time and Kuksiks is the leading scorer but has been streakier than he'd prefer in the early going.

A big surprise off the bench of late has been Taylor Rohde; a sophomore that wasn't expected to contribute much has been playing the best ball of his young career heading into the new year. Also coming off the bench are the exciting freshmen duo of Trent Lockett and Victor Rudd. Lockett is a ball of energy that does a lot of things well and never lets up. Rudd is still getting his legs under him after getting a late start to the season due to academic eligibility issues.

Edge – ASU

X-Factor The road. The Sun Devils aren't a good road team and haven't been for years. With that said, the Devils did prevail over UCLA at Pauley Pavilion last season and did pick up a win at Madison Square Garden over LSU in the third-place game. It's been a while since the Sun Devils won a game in their road Maroons (February 7 @ Oregon State) but this is a game in which they are clearly more talented and experienced. A win over the Bruins would be a signal that the Devils are capable of contending for the Pac-10 title. A loss would erase all the excitement from the first 13 games.

Who Will Win and Why

Being an ASU fan means that you have high hopes but very low expectations in all sports but with this team and this coach, we have to start believing in the hype at some point. Even without Harden and Pendergraph, the Devils are a well-disciplined squad that plays some of the best defense in all of college basketball. The Sun Devils should win a close game in Pauley to kick off the Pac-10 campaign.

Final Score: ASU 61 UCLA 56


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