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Pac-12 Opener Preview: NO. 25 Arizona vs. Arizona State January 4th, 7:30 P.M. McKale Center

Arizona plays host to their in-state rival, Arizona St. to open 2020 and Pac-12 play. The Wildcats are currently on a two-game losing streak after falling to Gonzaga and St. John's to close out the non-conference schedule.

Arizona is 7-1 at home this year with an average margin of victory of 33.1 points. In their last home game however, Arizona fell to Gonzaga 84-80.

The Wildcats will be happy to get out of December and out of 2019 after the way it ended, but Arizona State should be happy to put December past them as well after a forty-point loss to Saint Mary's and then a home loss to Creighton. The Sun Devils did finish their non-conference schedule with a win over Texas Southern to move to 9-4 on the year so far.

FANTASTIC FRESHMAN:

JOSH GREEN IS AVERAGING 13.3 PPG AND 5 RPG. THE FRESHMAN FROM AUSTRALIA HAS SCORED IN DOUBLE-FIGURES IN EACH OF THE LAST THREE GAMES.

ZEKE NNAJI HAS BEEN LEADING THE WILDCATS IN SCORING WITH 15.9 PPG. NNAJI DID STRUGGLE FOR A COUPLE GAMES AT THE BEGINNING OF DECEMBER BUT THEN LED THE WILDCATS IN SCORING AGAINST ST. JOHN'S.

NICO MANNION IS AVERAGING 14.3 PPG ON 42.9% AND 6.5 APG. AS MANNION GOES, ARIZONA GOES. MANNION CAN IMPACT THE GAME IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS. EVEN WHEN HE ISN'T SCORING, HE GETS ALL OF HIS TEAMMATES INVOLVED.

ASU QUICK FACTS

  • The Sun Devils are 9-4.
  • Remy Martin is the team's leading scorer with 17.9 PPG.
  • Three Sun Devils average double-figures in scoring.
  • ASU averages 74.2 PPG.
  • Arizona dropped both games last season against ASU for the first time since 2008-09.
Bobby Hurley has an all-time record of 2-6 against Arizona. After dropping the first six games, Hurley has won the last two and has turned around the ASU basketball program.
REMY MARTIN: The junior is the leading scorer for the Sun Devils and has played some of his best basketball against Arizona over the years. Martin has averaged 19.8 PPG over his four games against the Wildcats and led ASU to two wins over the 'Cats last year.

Dreadful December

Arizona has been playing some of its worst basketball over the last couple of weeks, and will look to put a rough month of December behind them. The Wildcats went 2-3 over the month, including losing both of their matchups against ranked opponents in Baylor and Gonzaga. Although they lost the three games, Arizona battled back after trailing by double-digits in all three matchups to only lose by an average margin of four points, despite poor performances from Mannion and Green.

HEALTH CONCERNS

ASU junior big man Romello White is in the midst of his best season in Tempe, averaging 11.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. White suffered an ankle injury against Texas Southern that has his status up in the air, with Hurley saying he wanted to wait a few days before updating. The loss would be particularly big for an ASU team that already ranks No. 270 in the nation in rebound margin with White.

Key Player: Dylan Smith

While Arizona goes as Mannion does, the Wildcats would probably have one or two more losses had it not been for the play of Smith in Anaheim. During the Wooden Legacy, Smith averaged 15.3 points and hit clutch shot after clutch shot during the first game against Pepperdine and championship against Wake Forest. In Arizona's three losses, Smith averaged 4.3 points on just 20 percent from the floor. Smith didn't play the entire second half of the Wildcats loss to St. John's after committing four turnovers early, with Sean Miller benching him and Ira Lee for their performance. If Smith is playing like he was in Anaheim, he adds another weapon to the offense that forces some pressure away from the freshmen.

Key Player: Alonzo Verge

Verge has come alive as of late, averaging 28.3 points over the Sun Devils last three games, including a 43-point outburst against Saint Mary's that saw just three players for ASU score the whole game. The junior is coming off of his best all-around performance against Texas Southern on December 28, scoring 23 points on 10-13 shooting to go along with seven assists and six rebounds. Verge is capable of heating up quickly and taking over a game, something Arizona can't allow if they hope to win.

PREDICTIONS

Jack Cooper: Even though Arizona has lost three out of their last four including one of them at home, I don't see them dropping another this season at the McKale Center. If ASU doesn't have Romello White then they will get bullied inside all night by Nnaji and Chase Jeter. Stone Gettings is expected to be back as well which would be big for Arizona since ASU would be forced to play smaller with White out. McKale will be rocking and the fans inside will probably get inside Bobby Hurley's head early. Hurley has a short temper and has a habit of picking up technical fouls. While rivalry games are highly unpredictable, Arizona should start off 2020 on the right foot and win. Prediction: Arizona 83–ASU 69.

Mark Lawson: The new year could not come at a better time for Arizona after an up-and-down December that saw them bring home their first regular season tournament title since 2014 at the Wooden Legacy, but also lose three times. While I don't think Arizona should be ranked right now based off of their resume, you are looking at a team that very easily could be undefeated right now had it not been for poor shooting and some uncharacteristically bad games by Nico Mannion, who is possibly the best guard Miller has had in his tenure at Arizona. The Wildcats shot below 40 percent in all three losses, with Mannion shooting just 24 percent. Although growing pains are to be expected with so many new pieces, it is evident Arizona will go as far as the freshman point guard takes them. Although many of the players on this team weren't around last season, there is no doubt they know what is at stake as they face their rival, after being swept by the Sun Devils last season. Martin is one of the better guards in the conference, with Verge showing his scoring ability the past month. White's health will be key for ASU in this matchup, as Arizona will have the size and depth down low they didn't last season when they let former Sun Devil Zylan Cheatham grab 28 rebounds in the two losses. Look for the losing streak to stop at two, as Arizona will impose their style on an ASU team that doesn't excel in any one particular area. 'Cats win 84-68.

By: Jack Cooper and Mark Lawson

All photos by The Daily Wildcat

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