Make no mistake: you don’t throw a parade after a win in Corvallis. Everyone is beating the Beavers these days, and the Cougars have pounded OSU like a drum in recent years. Still, everyone was recently beating Utah, until Washington didn’t, at home no less. A Pac-12 win is good, and on the road, even better.
Washington State (11-9, 2-5) is still far from any sort of a postseason threat. But a sweep against what should be two nationally-ranked opponents in Arizona and Arizona State would begin to inject more enthusiasm in the season.
Is there a team flying further under the radar than Arizona State? The Sun Devils (16-4, 5-2) are one of college basketball’s biggest surprises. Coming off a 10-21 season and picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 preseason poll, ASU has a good chance to make the NCAAs this season. The Sun Devils are coming off an emphatic 78-60 win over UCLA. Three of their four losses this season have come to top-15 ranked teams (Oregon, Creighton, Arizona).
Arizona, ranked No. 8 in the country, has been there all season as a national darling, and though it lacks a true playmaker, is 17-2, and 5-2 in Pac-12 play. Many mock NCAA tournament brackets have Arizona as No. 2 seed, while Arizona State is an 11-12 seed.
Forget a sweep by the Cougars this week: even a split would look awful nice considering the opposition. A second half surge by Royce Woolridge similar to what he did against Oregon State (9 points) would go a long ways towards that occurring.
The week ahead: The first Thursday-Saturday games of the Pac-12 season for Washington State. It’s Arizona State at 8 p.m. Thursday, followed by a 7 p.m. game Saturday against Arizona. The Pac-12 Network televises both games.
Take a long look at Arizona State freshman Jahii Carson, and think about Demarquise Johnson. Carson was a non-qualifier who sat out last season. Now in his first season, Carson has emerged as the Sun Devils leading scorer at 17.3 points and 5.5 assists a game. Coach Herb Sendek rarely takes Carson off the floor, as he’s averaging 37 minutes a game.
Could Johnson, a partial qualifier who is ineligible to play for WSU this season, be the Cougars’ Carson next year?
Arizona State’s best inside threat is senior Carrick Felix, who averages 15.1 points and 8.2 boards per game. The 6-6 Felix has grabbed double-digit rebounds in three of his past five games.
Also to watch are junior guard Evan Gordon, a transfer from Liberty, and 7-2 Canadian post Jordan Bachynski, who averaged 4.3 blocked shots a game. ASU leads the Pac-12 in blocked shots at 7.4 per game.
As for Arizona, the Wildcats continue to be hot among the pollsters and computers despite trailing Oregon by two games in the Pac-12 standings. Realtimerpi.com rates Arizona No. 4 in the country, behind Duke, Kansas and Miami. The Wildcats are No. 8 in the AP and coaches’ polls. Arizona gets its cred with several significant wins this season, including Florida, Miami, Southern Mississippi and Colorado.
Like Arizona State, the Wildcats’ leading scorer is a new face, although not to college basketball, in transfer Mark Lyons. A senior guard from Xavier, Lyons is averaging 15 points a game, with a season-high of 24 against Colorado and Arizona State. Lyons plays point guard, but hasn’t proven to be much of a playmaker, averaging just three assists per contest.
Senior forward Solomon Hill has been a rock, averaging 14 points and six boards a game. Hill has shot 50 percent or better in each of Arizona’s seven Pac-12 games. Arizona’s other reliable scorer is sophomore guard Nick Johnson, averaging 13 points a game.
Arizona games tend to be 3-point shootouts. The Wildcats are among the country’s best in 3-point shooting percentage, and one of the country’s worst at defending the 3.
For what it’s worth: Realtimerpi.com projects a split for the Cougars this weekend, beating Arizona State 74-69, while losing to Arizona 75-68.
Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel