The Aztecs are winners of five straight and travel to Tempe to face the Arizona State Sun Devils. Last Saturday, the Aztecs took care of the Arizona Wildcats at home and hope to complete a sweep of the Pac-10 Arizona teams. The Sun Devils are 6-1 at home and have lost two of their last 3 including a road loss at Mountain West Conference team BYU. Their only home loss so far this season was against Baylor, the same team the Aztecs lost to last season in the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Click past the jump for the match-ups.
According to RealTimeRPI.com, the Aztecs currently ranked at 26 in the RPI, while the Sun Devils are currently at 139. At this point in time, I'm not going to put much credence in RPI; if a non-AQ school beats an AQ school on the road the tournament committee is going to look at that in a positive light even if that AQ team is in a "down" year. That being said, I think the Aztecs have a decent chance of coming out winners tomorrow night. The Aztecs played the Sun Devils tough at home last year and led the game all the way until the last few minutes when James Harden took over and won the game for Arizona State. The Sun Devils have lost Harden along with Jeff Pendergraph and the Aztecs feature 4 new starters but I believe that this Aztec team is more talented than last year's and they have the ability to go into Tempe and win if they limit turnovers and shoot free throws well.
During the win streak, the Aztecs have been led by freshman Kawhi Leonard who is coming off his second straight double-double against Arizona and was named Mountain West Conference Co-Player of the Week on Monday. The Aztecs, who have taken the week off mostly due to finals, have already beaten two teams from the state of Arizona, (Northern Arizona, Arizona) and hope to make it a third. The key so far this year for the Aztecs has been rebounding, as they have won all 8 games in which they have held an advantage in that category. Of course, they've struggled on the road and with turnovers and free throw shooting. These mistakes are most likely indicative of a young team and should get ironed out as the season progresses.
Although the Sun Devils have lost two of their last three and probably aren't as good as last season, they definitely aren't a team to be taken lightly. In a down year for the Pac-10, they will be one of the few teams competing for the Pac-10 title this season and are especially good at home. They return three starters from last year's team including senior point guard Derek Glasser, junior Rihards Kuksiks, and junior Ty Abbot. They are a very good shooting team, especially three-pointers, and the Aztecs will have to play tight defense and fight for rebounds if they want to stay in the game, as they've had trouble defending small guards who shoot well from the perimeter. Additionally, the Sun Devils zone defense will give the Aztecs trouble as it has earlier this season. Teams seem to shy away from playing zone against the Aztecs when they start shooting the ball well, so they key will be to get Arizona State into man defense and then dominate in the paint where they have the height and length advantage.