The season is on the line for Herb Sendek and the Arizona State basketball team.
Regardless of the three-game losing streak and losing five of the past seven, the Sun Devils always consider the season a success if they beat the Arizona Wildcats, especially in Tucson.
Where: McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.
When: Saturday, March 9 at 4:30 p.m. EST
Watch: FOX Sports Net
Listen: KTAR-FM 92.3 in the metro Phoenix area, KCUB 1290-AM in the metro Tucson area.
Coach Sendek holds a 7-7 record against Arizona, including a 3-3 record in Tucson. Prior to Sendek's arrival, the Sun Devils had only won at McKale Center twice in the past 20 years including a double-overtime victory in 1995.
The Wildcats lead the overall series 142-80 and hold a 15-7 lead in the past 10 seasons. The Sun Devils did win five straight against Arizona and former Arizona State baller James Harden can say that he never lost to Arizona in his college career.
Although Harden is no longer on the team, the influx of freshman phenom Jahii Carson and the resurgence of the Pac-12's most improved player, Carrick Felix, the Sun Devils can pull off the upset. Here's how.
Play In-Your-Face Basketball
The Wildcats are in the midst of a two-game losing streak of their own after being swept on the road by the Los Angeles schools. For a team that only surrendered 62.3 points per game on average, the Wildcats gave up 74 to UCLA and an incredible 89 points to a 12-16 USC team.
The Arizona defense has been struggling and are horrible on the boards. The trio of Felix, Jordan Bachynski and Jonathan Gilling are all out-rebounding Arizona's big three—by a large margin.
Jahii Carson is fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring with 17.8 points per game, and Bachynski's 59.3 field-goal percentage is No. 2 in the conference.
Don't Allow The Easy Shots
Arizona loves shooting the three and is the most proficient team in the conference, hitting 36.3 percent of the time. The Devils need to force them inside where the Sun Devils excel—blocking shots. They are averaging 6.3 blocks per game, best in the Pac-12 and No. 6 in the nation.
Jordan Bachynski is No. 4 in the country in blocks averaging 3.7 per game with Felix, Gilling and backup center Ruslan Pateev adding another 2.5 combined.
Win the Bench Battle
The bench for Arizona has struggled as of late. Their stellar sixth man, Kevin Parrom, has started the past four games and Brandon Ashley has been non-existent off the bench despite averaging 20 minutes per contest. Grant Jerrett, Jordin Mayes, Angelo Chol and Gabe York are making little, if any, impact in the games.
The bench for the Sun Devils isn't much better, although seniors Chris Colvin and Ruslan Pateev would love their final regular season game in Tucson to be memorable. Eric Jacobsen has played in all but one game this year, and it is time for him to show up and prove his worth. Bo Barnes has seen action in 23 games this year but has yet to find his rhythm. No better time than at Arizona for Barnes to come alive.
Win the Turnover Battle
Arizona loves to turn the ball over. Their 13.2 turnovers per game is fifth most in the Pac-12 as well as point guard Mark Lyons' 2.8 per game. This is also Jahii Carson's Achilles' heel as he turns the ball over a shocking 3.4 times per game, most in the conference.
If Carson can maintain the handle and still force turnovers from Arizona, this game could very easily go Arizona State's way.
Arizona's average of 13.2 steals per game is just better than ASU's 12.3 in Pac-12 standings, but the Sun Devils have two players in the top ten of the conference while Arizona only has one.
If they follow this blueprint, it could lead to an upset victory, but they would also need to win a couple games in the Pac-12 Tournament, if not the whole thing, to punch their ticket to the dance.
David is the Featured Columnist of Arizona State Athletics for B/R. Follow him on Twitter at @asudave.
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