(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
The no. 18 Wildcats are playing at their usual level of proficiency this season as they have secured an 11-2 record heading into Pac-12 play.
One lingering story with Arizona has been the still unexplained suspension of Allonzo Trier. Trier has yet to play this season and there has been no reason given for his absence nor a timetable for his return. The absence of Trier has led to increased roles for some of the talented freshmen on the roster.
The Wildcats top three scorers are all freshmen and leading the way is freshman forward Lauri Markkanen. The young Finnish forward has proven himself to be one of the best big man prospects in the nation, leading Arizona in points per game (16.1) and rebounds per game (7.3).
Markkanen’s dominance on the boards has translated into Arizona only allowing 30.5 rebounds per game to its opponents, 12th best in the country. The Wildcats have also played great scoring defense, with opponents only scoring 60.8 points per contest and shooting just 39 percent from the field.
Joining Markkanen in shouldering the scoring load are freshman guards Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons. Alkins and Simmons are scoring 12.4 and 12.2 points per game respectively and both are shooting better than 42 percent from the field.
When facing the Wildcats this season, Arizona State is going to really struggle to rebound the ball and get easy scoring opportunities. The Sun Devils don’t have anybody on the roster besides senior forward Obinna Oleka who has any chance of slowing down Markkanen. A win over Arizona is a tough ask for the Sun Devils this season.
With the loss of star forward Jaylen Brown, expectations for the Golden Bears were tempered for this season. However, sophomore forward Ivan Rabb and freshman guard Charlie Moore have picked up the slack to put Cal in position for another NCAA bid.
Moore has been fantastic right out of the gate and leads Cal in scoring (16.1) assists (3.3) and steals per game (1.3). His ability to score off the dribble and create opportunities for his teammates has partially filled the void left behind by Brown.
Rabb has had a solid season of his own, scoring 14.6 per game and leading the team with 9.2 rebounds per game. Rabb has made Cal into the 15th best rebounding team in the country with 41.5 total rebounds per game. The Golden Bears have also been strong defensively only allowing 59.3 points per game.
Rabb and Moore might run all over Arizona State’s spotty defense and the size of the Golden Bears will cause serious issues for the Sun Devils on both sides of the court.
Despite having no big name players on the roster, Colorado has managed to start out the season with a 10-3 record behind the impressive play of some skilled veteran players.
Senior guards Derrick White and Xavier Johnson are once again playing pivotal roles for the Buffaloes. White and Johnson are first and second on the team in points per game, scoring 15 and 14.5 per contest respectively. White also leads the team with 3.8 assists per game.
With none of the Buffaloes’ stats standing out in any major categories, Colorado has still managed to maintain a sneakily good defense.
Colorado holds its opponents to a 43.5 effective field goal percentage, 16th best in the country, and is great at defending teams on the perimeter, allowing just 29.4 percent of threes to go in.
While Colorado may not be able to bully Arizona State with size, they make up for it with an efficient defense and a deep, experienced rotation. The Buffalos also can shut down ASU’s biggest weapon in the three-point shot, which could mean trouble for the Sun Devils.
The defending Pac-12 champions are off to a great start, as number no. 21 Oregon sits at 12-2 on the season.
Oregon is lead by the three-headed monster of senior forward Chris Boucher, junior forward Dillon Brooks, and sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey. The trio score 13.7, 13.6, and 13.4 points per game respectively, giving the Ducks a dynamic and multifaceted offense.
All three of those players can get it done in crunch time and Brooks proved it with a late game winning three to beat no. 2 UCLA at home.
Oregon boasts a bunch of athletic forwards with Boucher and junior forward Jordan Bell both averaging over 2 blocks per game. The Ducks are the best shot-blocking team in the nation with 7.5 blocks per game.
The raw athleticism and size that Oregon brings to the table, combined with their experience and dynamic offense, makes the Ducks a tough opponent for any team.
ASU may find success scoring the ball from the outside against Oregon but finding points in the paint will be tough. On the defensive end ASU doesn’t have many players that can slow down the Ducks, making Oregon another difficult match up.
With the departure of Gary Payton II for the NBA, Oregon State has fallen back down into the cellar of the Pac-12. The Beavers are 4-10 so far this season with few bright spots on the team.
Sophomore forward Tres Tinkle is leading the team with 20.2 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game. However, Tinkle has managed to play just six games so far this year, so it remains to be seen if he can maintain those stats over the year.
The Beavers have struggled mightily on offense without Tinkle, scoring just 65.2 points per game. Oregon State is also shooting just 43.5 percent from the field and have been able to score more than 70 just four times this season.
Arizona State has significantly more talent on its roster than Oregon State, and the Beavers should not be able to keep pace with ASU’s high-powered offense.
The Stanford Cardinal have managed to battle their way to an 8-4 record, despite many close calls.
Stanford has won its games by an average scoring margin of 1.6 points, with the Cardinal managing to eek out some tough wins with solid play in the last few minutes.
Junior forward Reid Travis has been the one stand-out player for Stanford, leading the team in points (17.8) and rebounds (9.8) per game. Stanford is extremely reliant on Travis and his ability to control the paint while also being their primary scoring option.
ASU should be able to have a little more success rebounding the ball than usual against a small Stanford team, and the Cardinal defense may struggle to slow down a fast scoring Sun Devil team.
With a few extremely talented freshmen, no. 2 UCLA has managed to return to the top of the college basketball world.
The Bruins are 13-1, with two freshmen leading the way.
Freshman forward TJ Leaf is scoring a team high 17.2 points per game and is second in rebounds at 8.9 per game. Leaf has been ridiculously efficient offensively, hitting over 65 percent of his shots from the field and hitting 50 percent of his threes.
Leaf has been aided in sparking UCLA’s resurgence by freshman guard Lonzo Ball. Ball is second in the country with 8.1 assists per game and is also adding in 13.7 points per game on 52 percent shooting.
Those two freshman along with seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton have created the highest scoring offense in the nation at 95.1 points per game. The Bruins also really know how to move the ball, leading the country with 23.3 total assists per game.
They also have the nation’s best effective field goal percentage at 63.2 percent.
Beating a team of this caliber would be a huge challenge for ASU. The Sun Devils just don’t have the depth or defensive ability to easily keep up with UCLA’s ridiculous offensive firepower and ASU own prowess on offense may not be enough.
One of the most surprising stories so far this season is the undefeated streak of no. 22 USC. The 14-0 Trojans have continued to find ways to win with a balanced and athletic roster.
Junior guard Elijah Stewart has taken a huge jump this year bumping his numbers up to 15 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks. Stewart hasn’t done it alone though as he is one of five Trojans averaging double figures in points and one of three Trojans averaging at least one block per game.
USC is actually the number 8 shot-blocking team in the country with 6.6 blocks per game.
It is still tough to explain how USC is one of the five remaining undefeated teams, but some may chalk it up to an easy non-conference schedule. However, wins over Texas A&M, SMU, and Wyoming would seem to disprove that theory. The true test will be when USC finally faces some top competition in the Pac-12.
The Trojans definitely have a size advantage over Arizona State, but USC still seems beatable. They barely escaped with an overtime win over Wyoming and let a weak Oregon State team stay competitive at the end of their game. ASU might be able to take advantage of USC’s average defense to pull off an upset.
The Utes are off to a great start this season that is hidden by their 9-3 record.
Two of those losses came to number 18 Butler and number 13 Xavier, and the third was by three points to the University of San Francisco.
Utah has an extremely balanced offense with six players scoring in double figures and four players averaging at least two assists per game.
Junior forward Kyle Kuzma has emerged as an all-around stud for the Utes nearly doubling his rebounding and assist averages from last season. Kuzma leads the team with 10.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game and is third in scoring with 14.4 points per contest.
Utah’s depth of offensive weapons has led to the Utes shooting over 50 percent from the field, good for number 9 in the country.
With Utah’s strength coming from their big men up front, ASU is once again at a size disadvantage. Utah plays a very slow pace that could interfere with ASU’s up and down the court style, where the Sun Devils excel.
Washington hasn’t lived up to expectations as a team this year, but their star freshman recruit Markelle Fultz has certainly lived up to his billing.
Fultz had massive expectations laid on him for his freshman campaign, and he has proven to be spectacular so far. Fultz is scoring 22 points per game, along with 6.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.3 blocks. He is also shooting 50 percent from the field and 46 percent from behind the arc.
Even though his play has entrenched Fultz as a lottery pick in next years draft if he chooses to leave school, it hasn’t translated into actual wins for Washington as they sit at 7-5.
Despite scoring 86.3 points per game, the Huskies are barely getting by teams, allowing 80.2 points per game to opponents. Washington is actually getting outscored by an average of .7 points in first halves, but they usually save themselves by scoring an average of 48.8 points in second halves, second best in the country.
In a matchup against Washington the key for ASU will be keeping Fultz in check. If the Sun Devils can take Washington’s biggest weapon off the table, then the Huskies will likely crumble without Fultz at his best.
Washington state has somewhat exceeded expectations this year, as the Cougars were picked by some to be the worst team in the Pac-12, however they have managed to grab a 7-5 record heading into Pac-12 play.
Senior forward Josh Hawkinson is steering Washington State with his veteran leadership while also leading the team in points per game (15.2), rebounds per game (10.8), and blocks per game (1.3).
Hawkinson hasn’t gotten much help though as only two of his teammates are averaging double figures in points and no teammate is averaging more than 4 rebounds per game.
Washington State’s offense is so anemic that they actually have a negative 1.8 scoring margin on the season despite having a winning record.
With a subpar defense and an offense that is very much dependent on one player, Washington State is a very beatable opponent for ASU.
The Sun Devils can push the pace and use the talent of their guards to simply overpower a Washington State team that is poor at playing catch up.