Arizona State comes into the game fresh off a win over the cellar-dwelling USC Trojans 56-52. The Sun Devils needed a three-point play with less than twenty seconds remaining to top Southern Cal, but a victory is all that ASU needs right now. It has struggled this season, managing just 9 wins to 20 losses overall, with 5 wins and 12 losses in conference play.
The last time these two teams met was on New Year's Eve. Arizona drubbed the Sun Devils 68-51 in Tucson, making sure that the conference season started off well for the Wildcats. The Sun Devils came into league play limping and never really recovered.
Arizona State had high hopes for its team this year; even giving head coach Herb Sendek a contract extension despite a rocky start. The poor start and unreasonable losses piled up and now the Devils sit at 10th place in the Pacific-12 Conference.
The bad season was partially due to the player performance, but a few other factors contributed to ASU's lack of production. Coming into the season, highly-touted freshman Jahii Carson was set to be the starting point guard, but was deemed academically ineligible to play for Arizona State. To his credit, he has stuck it out and is working to get eligible next season.
Taking over at point guard, in Carson's place, was sophomore Keala King. King filled in nicely, averaging 13.7 points despite playing out of position. It didn't last long though. Midway through the season, just after the Sun Devils lost to Arizona, King, Kyle Cain, and Chris Colvin were suspended for a road trip to the LA schools. A day after being crushed by UCLA, Sendek announced that King had left the team and he later enrolled at Long Beach State.
Since the loss of King, ASU has won just four games, all at home. During that span, the Sun Devils have also lost four home games and every road game. In addition, the Sun Devils also haven't won back-to-back games up this point and a loss on Sunday would make that a season long streak.
All eyes will be on the players come game time and the biggest threat against the Wildcats is going to be 6-foot-4 guard Trent Lockett. Lockett, a 210-pound junior, is the team leader and averages 13 points per game. He scored 8 against the Wildcats the first game to go along with 5 rebounds, an assist and a block. With the losses this team has taken this season, Lockett is a lone bright spot, taking up a leadership role when his team needed him most.
Joining Lockett in the backcourt is Colvin. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior was suspended earlier in the season along with King, but bounced back nicely and has found himself in the starting lineup after making improvements in his game. Colvin played 16 minutes against Arizona, tallying two points, a rebound, and a steal. The improvement shows as he played 38 minutes against USC, scoring 8 points and dishing out 5 assists.
ASU is likely to go with a three-guard lineup to matchup with Sean Miller's smaller squad. That means 6-5 guard-forward Chanse Creekmur should get the start. Creekmur, 215-pound sophomore, has played decent this season. He earned a spot in the starting lineup midway through the conference season and has improved with his increase playing time. On New Year's Eve, he scored 6 points on two three-pointers. He also grabbed 4 boards in a successful 17 minutes.
The lone starting forward for the Sun Devils is freshman Jonathan Gilling. The 6-foot-7 forward played 24 minutes in Tucson and, surprisingly, had a game-high 6 assists. The 200-pound Gilling produced little else besides two rebounds, but the assists were enough to get him noticed and it eventually led to more minutes for the freshman. He isn't a game-changer, but he will do his job and fill into whichever role he is needed in.
The last of the starters is 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski. The 243-pound sophomore is coming off a breakout game against USC (19 points and 9 rebounds). He only played 11 minutes against the Cats the first time around, but made each one count as he came away with 5 points and 2 rebounds. He has had better games since then and could be poised for another big game against Arizona.
Coming off the bench for the Sun Devils is junior guard-forward Carrick Felix. Felix, 6-foot-6, 196-pounds, was a major threat down in Tucson, but sat out all last weekend with the flu. Felix has been in and out of the starting lineup during the conference season, but has made the most of his minutes. Felix had 9 points on 4 field goals along with 6 rebounds in the first meeting and also did well on the defensive end, stealing two balls and blocking a shot.
Backing up Gilling is sophomore forward Kyle Cain. Cain, 6-foot-7, 210-pounds, was the third of the Sun Devils suspended earlier in the season. His season has gone slightly downhill after the suspension, as he played just 12 minutes against Arizona due to foul trouble and his only stats for the night were 2 steals. Since then, he has only been a major factor in a few games.
The backup center for ASU is 250-pound junior Ruslan Pateev. The 7-foot junior began the season as the starter, but slowly lost it to Bachynski. Pateev actually started at McKale, scoring a team-high 12 points on 4 of 9 shooting. He also grabbed 6 boards and blocked a shot. Pateev may see extended minutes against Arizona this time around, especially if the Wildcats are aggressive and create early foul trouble for the Sun Devils.
Freshman guard Max Heller may also see a few minutes of court time on Sunday. The 5-9, 150-pound guard hasn't played much this season, but does see a few minutes here and there when giving the guards a rest. He has appeared in 15 games, but averaged 5 minutes in them.
This isn't necessarily a dangerous game for the Wildcats. However, they are fighting for a NCAA tournament bid and ASU is just looking to get its win total to double digits. That being said, this game is a rivalry game and will be treated as such.
When both teams step on the court Sunday, the records go out the window and for 40 minutes, two teams play for bragging rights. The other stuff is just icing on the victor's cake.