The Rivalry

the-rivalryThere hasn’t been this much drama in the Arizona/Arizona State Rivalry since some audacious ASU fans’ horrendous chants towards Steve Kerr back in 1984. Yes, even more drama than last year when Arizona State seemed to turn the tables by sweeping the ‘Cats. More drama than in 1998 when Arizona left Tempe with a 1-point victory. More dramatic than when ASU won three straight between 1994 and 1995 – their longest during the Lute Olson era in Tucson – to which Arizona responded with 11-straight wins over the Sun Devils.
There have been some great match-ups, Ike Diogu vs. Channing Frye and Eddie House vs. Gilbert Arenas to name a couple. But something is different this year. Arizona State fans are ready to declare that the tables have turned in this rivalry and that they are now the premier team in the state. They’re nationally ranked, have a better record, an impressive road win at Pauley Pavilion and many other arguments to support their case.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are in the midst of their rockiest two season with Lute Olson first taking a leave of absence followed by being forced to retire due to medical conditions. The ‘Cats had a fall-out with their 2008 recruiting class and have turned to searching for hidden talent to produce big performances.

These are all circumstances that perhaps won’t play out beyond this year after Harden departs from ASU and the Wildcats start to rebuild beginning in just a few months when they look to hire a premier head coach to replace Olson on a permanent basis. The Sun Devils will lose a majority of their talent (ie James Harden) after this year and will need to put together some solid recruiting classes if they truly want to turn the tables rather than just repeating their 3-rivalry-game win streak. The Wildcats future is more uncertain and will likely contain a few years of bumps and bruises, but with the right hire they should be able to keep history on their side and continue to dominate this rivalry again down the road.

More interesting than the directions that each of the programs are headed – Arizona into a rebuild, ASU looking to reload – in the future, is the strange twists of fate that recent history has thrown into this year’s match up. The Wildcats are in a position that they must win in order to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, and the Sun Devils look to play spoiler. Playing spoiler to the Wildcats NCAA Tournament hopes is something that the Sun Devils have not been capable of accomplishing for over 25 years, but have been ousted as recently as last year by the Wildcats. Many Arizona State and College Basketball fans around the nation believe that ASU got snubbed by heading to the NIT last year while a team they swept (Arizona) wound up dancing.

If that isn’t enough drama for you, I’m sure Russ Pennell going from ASU to UofA should whet your appetite for intrigue and drama. Previously, from 1998-2006, Russ Pennell sought to uproot the Wildcats and claim superiority for the Sun Devil’s as an Assistant Coach under Rob Evans. Pennell continued his affiliation with the Sun Devils as a radio announcer until the time he joined on as an Assistant with Lute Olson and the Wildcats.

The Match-Ups

Derek Glasser vs. Nic Wise

The Sun Devils almost missed their chance at getting Derek Glasser, but have been greatly rewarded as the junior has become the 9th All-time Assist Leader at Arizona State. Glasser is a smart player who has taken on his responsibility and role with great pride and determination. Glasser has a superior understanding to the game and has great court vision, and because of it is a solid floor general for the Sun Devils. The main knock on Glasser is that he isn’t a great scorer and has a career average of 6.3 points per game.

Nic Wise on the other hand was scouted and signed by Lute Olson at a very young age. The Wildcats signed the undersized point guard in ninth grade and were excited when he arrived on campus because of the success that followed him throughout Junior High and High School. Since arriving, however, the Wildcats have found Wise to be often times erratic and careless with the ball. Wise is a good passer with the ability to create his own shot or create a play for his teammates. But his tendency to over-penetrate has also cost the Wildcats dearly. That’s the price a team pays for having a guy that can create his own shot and get past the defense just about anytime he wants.

Advantage: Arizona

Ty Abbott vs. Kyle Fogg

Ty Abbott and Kyle Fogg are likely the weakest links in the starting lineups for their respective teams. Abbott is merely a role player who is averaging 8.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 30 minutes per game. Abbott has had a few solid games reaching the mid-teens in scoring, but typically isn’t a guy you worry about stopping on the offensive end.

Fogg, a freshman, on the other hand has earned a starting role because of his defensive capabilities. Fogg has the capability of knocking down the open look and creating plays for himself because of his hustle on the offensive glass. Unfortunately, Fogg has aggravated fans by constantly passing up open looks at the basket – even to the extent that other teams sag off him basically daring him to shoot.

Advantage: Arizona State

James Harden vs. Chase Budinger

This is the marquee match-up of the night with Budinger and Harden on the floor. They’ll each see time facing off against one another with each having differing strengths and weaknesses within the match-up. These two prominent players should produce a high-flying exciting game.

Harden is a likely lock for a lottery pick and a strong candidate for P10 Player of the Year and has been exceptional this year averaging 22.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.9 steals per contest. Harden can do it all and is the key to the Sun Devils’ offense.

Chase Budinger was touted as a lottery pick entering the season, but a previous 4 game shooting slump has caused such talk to be silenced for now. Budinger is a very long and athletic small forward who is a key element in the success or failure of the Wildcats this season. Budinger will have a height advantage over Harden, and should be able to get a few post-up opportunities on him. Budinger won’t be limited to scoring points around the bucket though as he can score from anywhere on the court.

Advantage: Coin Toss

Rihard Kuksiks vs. Jamelle Horne/Zane Johnson

First of all, this match-up will change depending on whether Zane Johnson or Jamelle Horne gets the starting nod. Personally, I believe that despite his late-game woes Horne will get the start as the Wildcats will look to get a more physical player in at the start of the game. Johnson will log at least 20 minutes in the game, but for match-up purposes we could see him on Ty Abbott rather than Harden or Kuksiks.

Kuksiks has been a pleasant surprise for the Sun Devils as he has stepped up big this year and more than doubled his scoring output from a year ago (5.4 to 10.9 per game). Kuksiks has been phenomenal from beyond the arc this season hitting 52.6% of his long-range jumpers. The problem, however, is Kuksiks inability to create his own shot (only has 30 points on the season not from beyond the arc or from free throws).

Jamelle Horne is a long, strong forward who isn’t afraid to go bashing around the boards. His athleticism and leaping ability are a huge attribute for the Wildcats. Combined with his hustle, his athleticism makes Horne a phenomenal rebounder who does a lot of the little things the coaches like to see. Horne also has the ability to create his own shot and knock down the open jumper.

Advantage: Arizona

Jeff Pendergraph vs. Jordan Hill

This will be the second game for the Wildcats that will feature two great Power Forward/Centers going head-to-head. Jeff Pendergraph is the second leading scorer for the Sun Devils and a powerful rebounded. Pendergraph has good shot blocking ability and can get to the rim or hit a nice mid-range jump shot. The Senior is averaging 13.8 points, and team-high 7.1 rebounds a game. If Pendergraph has a chink in his armor it’s that he can get himself into foul trouble. His fouls per game have reduced this year to 2.6 with 2 foul outs, but has a career average of 3.1 fouls per game and has fouled out 16 times – and once against Arizona.

Jordan Hill has been the ever-reliable for the Wildcats this season. He has been a double-double machine with 11 on the year and an average of 17.8 points, and 11.4 rebounds a game. Hill can create his own shot and has a nice hook shot, turn around jumper, and explosive leaping ability to go along with being a good shot blocker on the other end of the floor. Like Pendergraph, Hill can find himself in foul trouble which causes extreme problems for the Wildcats.

Advantage: Arizona

Keys to the Game

Harden Up: James Harden is the driving force for the Sun Devils, if you can contain or limit his play-making ability you disable ASU’s offense. Arizona doesn’t have a defender capable of face guarding him and shutting him down the way that Tim Floyd and USC did, but they should be able to slow him down.
Projected Need: Limit Harden to 14 or fewer points, and 2 or fewer assists

Win the Blocks: The inside battle will be key. Neither team has much (if any) quality depth in the frontcourt. So a lot of the rebounding responsibilities fall on the guards, and the Wildcats have to be ready to box out. They’ll also need to make it a pointed effort to get Jordan Hill active and involved early in the game.

Projected Need: Out rebound ASU by 5. Hill – 14 points, 8 rebounds while limiting Pendergraph to less than 12 points and 6 rebounds.

Stick ‘em Up: The Wildcats need to get their hands up on shooters, especially Kuksiks outside the 3-point line. ASU doesn’t have many players that can create their own shot, so rotating in the zone and getting a hand in the Sun Devils’ faces will be crucial. If Arizona wants to pull out the home win, they’ll need to limit the number of open looks they give the Sun Devils.

Projected Need: Hold ASU to less than 35% from beyond the arc and 45% overall shooting.

Protect the Ball: The Sun Devils have the 2nd lowest turnover average in the conference with 12.4 per game (Arizona has 12.5) to go along with 6.6 steals. In each of their losses this season the Wildcats have turned the ball over more than their opponent and been outscored in points-off-turnovers by a significant amount.

Projected Needs: 3 fewer turnovers than ASU and at least even in points-off-turnovers.


3 Responses to “The Rivalry”

  1. 1 Mlev811 January 21, 2009 at 1:53 am

    While you make some solid points, I must say that Harden’s USC performance was a fluke, and it is hard to say that Harden vs Budinger is a coin toss. Budinger is very talented, but James Harden is playing likea top 3 pick. I would also tend to give the Hill vs Pendergraph matchup a coin toss. Pendergraph shoots a remarkable 69% from the field and 80% from the FT line. He is quietly putting up his best season as a Sun Devil (thank you Harden for taking the attention). The Abbott matchup, I say UA has the advantage. I don’t think Abbott could hit the Pacific Ocean if he were standing in it. He has been off. Defensively Ty is on the mark and applies great pressure, hence his starting spot on the floor remains his, for now. I am looking forward to a great battle, and a Sun Devil win. GO DEVILS!

  2. 2 naterb January 21, 2009 at 2:01 am

    Let me clarify my stance on Harden and Budinger.
    If I were in charge of drafting for an NBA team, I would pick Harden over Budinger in an instant. He’s a better all-around player, and is a big-time play maker. However, in context of playing against one another, I believe they each have their distinct advantages and disadvantages. So in that regard, I believe it turns into a coin toss.

    I’m a big “fan” of Pendergraph. I have a lot of respect for what he does, but I just don’t see him being in the same league as Jordan Hill right now. Pendergraph is very talented, but Hill is just a monster – period. There are big men in the PAC-10 that can slow him down a little bit, but I don’t think there is anyone that can stop him. He’ll get his rebounds and he’ll get his points as long as the Wildcats look to get him the ball in the paint. Oregon and Oregon State both tried double-teaming him – so did UCLA. Hill still got what he wanted basically when he wanted.

  1. 1 The Rivalry: Part II « Trackback on February 21, 2009 at 11:31 pm

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