Arizona Basketball

Three top storylines Arizona Wildcats vs. ASU Sun Devils



Arizona director of athletics Greg Byrne gives Sean Miller the game ball after Miller earned his 100th victory with the Wildcats early last season (YouTube video capture)

Arizona director of athletics Greg Byrne gives Sean Miller the game ball after Miller earned his 100th victory with the Wildcats early last season. Miller goes for win No. 150 today. (YouTube video capture)

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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)

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Top three storylines for today’s game:

1. Would John Calipari win at ASU?

You bet he would. Where he goes five-star players follow.

Would he ever coach at ASU? Never.

High-profile coaches such as Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, etc., do not coach in a metropolis where they play second fiddle to something else. They all coach in college towns. Sean Miller fits in that category in Tucson.

ASU has not become a success in college hoops at the level of Arizona because the Sun Devils will always be in the Phoenix Suns’ shadow. ASU must also compete for the entertainment dollar with the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes.

Look at what ASU had to market itself against last week when Oregon and Oregon State visited: Super Bowl Week festivities, the Phoenix Open and the Suns. In the games against the Ducks and Beavers, ASU drew a combined attendance of 11,563. That number would be a weak crowd for a Red-Blue Game at McKale Center.

College athletics are all about exposure and being part of feel-good atmosphere built over an extended period. It’s not the pros where a team can go from last to first in a season and be a sensation immediately.

Staying power with extraordinary results sets programs apart. Lute Olson coached against Bob Weinhauer, Steve Patterson, Bill Frieder, Don Newman, Rob Evans and Herb Sendek — six different ASU coaches in 24 years.

Frieder, who coached in Tempe for nine years, was the most established. But as those zany Bank One commercials showed, Frieder was not quite the ilk of Olson.


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NO. 6 ARIZONA (20-2, 8-1) at ASU (11-11, 3-6)
Tip Time: 2:37 p.m. MST
TV: FOX (Kevin Burkhardt/Sean Elliott)
Radio: Arizona IMG Sports Network (Brian Jeffries/Ryan Hansen)
Overall: Arizona leads, 146-81
In Tempe: Arizona leads, 60-31
Current Streak: Arizona won 1
Last Meeting: Arizona won, 73-49, on Jan. 4, 2015
Sean Miller vs. ASU: 9-4

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Present RPI ranking of Arizona’s non-conference opponents.
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Rick Majerus had the opportunity to coach at ASU in 2006 before Sendek was hired but withdrew from consideration. Majerus accepted the head coaching job at USC in 2004 but resigned five days later. USC has the same popularity struggles against UCLA that ASU has against Arizona when it comes to top-flight recruits.

What about UCLA bucking the big-city argument and being able to succeed? Other than Larry Brown more than 30 years ago, the Bruins have not hired a headliner since John Wooden last coached in 1975. Jim Harrick and Ben Howland made a name for themselves at UCLA but couldn’t last like Olson did in Tucson.

2. It’s Miller Time (with at least a week to prepare).

This will be the 20th time since Sean Miller’s hire in 2009-10 that he has at least a week to prepare for an opponent after the season started.

In the first 10 such games, through 2011-12, he went 6-4 with two of the losses against Sendek.

Miller is 9-0 since, including the 73-39 win over ASU on Jan. 4 after a 12-day break. The average margin of victory in those nine games since the 2012-13 season: An impressive 17.8 points.

What does it mean?

It is an indication Miller and his staff are efficient at breaking down film of the opponent and picking apart tendencies. But more than anything, it’s a sign that Miller’s preaching of the process has taken hold. It is obvious Arizona’s games are won by how they practice.

They do not gather rust in a long stretch without play under Miller. They gain a rush.

3. The defense does not rest.

In Arizona’s last three games, the opponents (Cal, Oregon and Oregon State) averaged only 46.7 points a game. That’s less than the 49 points allowed to ASU 34 days ago in Tucson.

Including that loss, ASU has three games in which it scored less than 50 points this season.

That’s spells bad news for ASU today right?

The low scores are not a result of ASU being entirely a cold-shooting team. The Sun Devils rank fifth in the Pac-12 in field goal shooting at 45.3 percent. They are fourth in three-point shooting with a percentage of 37.1.

ASU is third in the league with 453 three-point attempts. The Sun Devils will undoubtedly fire away from outside to try to open things inside. If ASU comes out hot, it can set the tone for a competitive game throughout.

The key word is “If”.

Arizona ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in three-point field goal defense.

Miller has stressed this week the importance of denying open looks from beyond the arc. That was a point of emphasis in practice. What Miller focuses on in practice, more often than not, ends with favorable results.


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Present RPI ranking of the Pac-12.
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[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also has published articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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