First, a dominating win over Oregon that turned into the Rihards Kuksiks show when he poured in 25 points on 8-12 shooting from the field. Against Oregon State two days later, Kuksiks handed off the torch to Ty Abbott, who scored 21 points and almost single-handedly put the Beavers away for good in the second half.
It can be expected that a young team will take its lumps and experience some highs and lows. That rings very true for the Wildcats as they will look to win their second straight game. In Oregon, the Cats lost a heartbreaker at the buzzer to Oregon State before spanking Oregon a couple days later. This team is being run by Nic Wise and Derrick Williams while everyone else is sitting in the shadows.
Head Coach – Sean Miller (129-56) vs. Herb Sendek (322-206)
G – Nic Wise – (15.3 PPG, 3.8 APG) vs. Derek Glasser (10.4 PPG, 5.2 APG)
G/F – Solomon Hill – (7.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG) vs. Ty Abbott (10.1 PPG, 43% 3PT)
F – Jamelle Horne – (11.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG) vs. Rihards Kuksiks (12.9 PPG, 39% 3PT)
F – Derrick Williams – (15.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG) vs. Eric Boateng (7.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG)
While Nic Wise is an explosive player that is definitely going to get a lot defensive attention, the player who has started to shine lately is Kyle Fogg. Both Wise and Fogg are ultra-athletic guards who can run with anyone. Both players shoot the ball well while Wise's speed and playmaking ability is going to the story in this game as he has tasted more Sun Devil defeat more than any other Arizona star in recent memory.
Luckily for the Devils, Nic Wise isn't the only senior leader playing PG in this matchup. With Derek Glasser in control, ASU has reason to feel both confident and comfortable going up against anyone. It hasn't just been Glasser either; Ty Abbott has also been incredible in recent weeks. Glasser and Abbott will have to really play well because it's looking likely that Jamelle McMillan will miss the rivalry game due to a lingering Plantar Fasciitis. Demetrius Walker or Trent Lockett will get the start in McMillan's place and both will be getting more meaningful minutes in his absence.
Edge – ASU
When Sean Miller was hired shortly after Tim Floyd was fired/resigned/fell on axe at USC; the Trojans loss became the Wildcats incredible gain. The Cats snagged Derrick Williams and Solomon Hill from the Trojans as well as MoMo Jones. All three players are key cogs in the rotation but Williams and Hill especially have been vital thus far. Williams is probably the best newcomer in the conference and Hill has been quite solid as well. Joining the two of them is Jamelle Horne, a talented swing man who is dangerous inside as well as on the perimeter.
It's no secret the Sun Devils aren't the best rebounding team or that they really miss Jeff Pendergraph but the interior presence so far this season has been better than many expected. Kuksiks is no longer just a three-point threat and his ability to drive to the basket has given him much more offensive clout while Eric Boateng has been very serviceable playing down low as the only true big man in the lineup. For a team that plays as small as ASU, Boateng's play is magnified and he has exceeded expectations even if there are some high school seniors out there that don't think he can hold a candle to Derrick Williams.
Edge – Arizona
Youth. In rivalry games, the records simply don't matter. That's why this game will likely come down to the play of the young guys who are yet to be fully versed in the hatred that this rivalry contains. Guys like Glasser, Abbott, Kuksiks, Wise, and Horne all know what they are getting into. However, with Jamelle McMillan out, Demetrius Walker and Trent Lockett will be thrust into the spotlight head first and how they react to the magnitude of the ballgame will really be important. The Wildcats are young but they are also very talented. The battle of the freshmen will be the difference.
Who Will Win and Why
As mentioned above, it doesn't matter what has happened this season so far because this game evokes more emotion and intensity than any others could. The tournament-like atmosphere in Tempe will be exciting and will give ASU a great home-court advantage. In this bout, I see the Sun Devils pulling away in a close game with a strong second half run spearheaded by the veterans. Six straight? How about it?