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.
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