Prediction: No. 8 Arizona at Arizona State

Posted at 4:40 PM, Jan 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-03 17:50:32-05

What used to be a sure annual victory has become a house of horrors for the Arizona Wildcats men's basketball team -- and on Sunday, the Arizona State Sun Devils will look to make it three straight victories over their archrivals at home.

The new-look Wildcats went 12-1 and are ranked eighth in the nation entering conference play, but they'll have their hands full Sunday when they face first-year coach Bobby Hurley and the surprising 10-3 Sun Devils at Wells Fargo Arena.

Will ASU make it three in a row, or will the Cats finally break through in enemy territory? Here are three questions and a prediction for the Duel in the Desert on the Court, which begins Sunday at noon.

1. What role will Zeus play?

The Wildcats have won seven straight games without Kaleb Tarzcewski, but on Sunday, the senior center is expected to return in limited form after missing a month with a foot injury

Zeus is averaging 8.6 points and 7.2 rebounds this season. Will he make a positive impact for UA while he's on the court, or will his rustiness do more harm than good for the streaking Wildcats?

2. Will Savon return for ASU?

Savon Goodman leads the Devils in rebounds per game (7.9) and is second in scoring (12.4), but the junior forward has missed ASU's last four games for undisclosed personal reasons.

The Wildcats are reportedly preparing as if Goodman will return on Sunday, but Hurley announced earlier this week that the forward's status with the team remains unchanged. Will the Devils once again be without one of their key pieces Sunday?

3. Who wins the battle of the boards?

Led by senior transfer Ryan Anderson's 10.3 boards per game, it's not a shock that the Wildcats lead the Pac-12 with a plus-12.8 rebounding margin. But ASU's plus-5.2 rebound margin and 13.8 offensive board per game are a bit of a surprise for a team that some considered undersized. 

ASU shoots just 43 percent from the field (compared to UA's 48 percent), so the Devils may rely on their offensive rebounding to keep pace with the Cats. But will Anderson & Co. be able to shut down the Devils on the glass?


Even without Goodman, the Devils went 4-0 during non-conference play, and there's no reason to think they can't win their third straight against the still-gelling Wildcats in Tempe even if the junior is out once again. 

But while the Wildcats have struggled at times on defense, they're simply a more explosive offensive group. Look for five-star freshman forward Allonzo Trier to do be an X-factor for UA on Sunday, as the Wildcats use their size to frustrate the Sun Devils.

Disclaimer: I picked UA to win each of the last two matchups against ASU in Tempe, and I've gone 0 for 2 on those picks. Third time's a charm, or strike three? We should know around the time the Cardinals and Seahawks kick off Sunday afternoon.

UA 81, ASU 67