ASU is every virtual way the opposite of UCLA. First Arizona State ranks #33 in scoring defense. In their last 9 games only once has a team scored more than 65 on them and 5 times they have held their opponents to 60 or under. This is not just a product of playing slow as ASU ranks #24 in Field Goal Percentage Defense.
Of course this defense starts with the best rim protector in college basketball. Jordan Bachynski leads the nation in block shots averaging a spectacular 4.75 per game. Jordan is a true center and uses his 7'2" height to his advantage. He also averages 9.4 rebounds per game for second in the PAC 12.
How UCLA matches up with Jordan B. will be one of the keys to the game. Obviously UCLA only has one traditional post in Tony Parker. Tony Parker's play against Arizona's bigs was impressive, can he continue it this game? Will Steve Alford give him the chance with more minutes?
As good as Bachnyski is he is not the star of this team. That goes to something else UCLA does not have, a traditional ultra-quick point guard. If it is Jordan's team on defense, it is Jahii' Carson's on offense. I have not seen much of Jahii this year but last year I thought he was one of the most fun players to watch in the PAC 12 and one of the best. He is scoring 18.6 points per game and shooting 51% from three and 47% overall.
He is a matchup nightmare for the Bruins. It is a lot to ask for any Bruin, even Norman Powell, to cover Jahii man to man. He is too quick and deadly from outside.
However, Jahii is turning the ball over a lot this year, with 18 turnovers in the last four games to only 7 assists. Jahii is seemingly becoming more selfish. If UCLA can turn Jahii over, then UCLA can run before Jordan B. and his teammates set up on defense.
Joining those base two in the starting lineup is former Penn State starter Steve Marshall. Marshall ranked fifth in the Big 10 in scoring last season. Marshall was a volume shooter at Penn State but is shooting his career best by being teamed with a real point guard and center. Marshall also runs hot and cold. Marshall has shot badly in ASU losses 10-30 but he has had five 20+ point games.
The good news for the Bruins after those three things drop off. The bad news is power forward Jonathan Gilling has been something of a Bruin killer. In the first game against UCLA last season ASU destroyed UCLA after UCLA was coming off a big win at Arizona. Gilling was a key as ASU ran their offense through him in an effort to drag Kyle Anderson away from the basket. Gilling had 8 assists. The next matchup UCLA barely beat ASU and Giling hit 6 threes. This was more typical for Gilling who the year before hit 5-6 from three in one game and had 17 points in the other. Gilling is a strange four. Basically he is a four on defense and a three point perimeter played on offense.
Will Gilling burn the sometimes soft UCLA zone?
The fifth starter varies but is the small forward glue guy. Sometimes ASU goes with senior transfer Shaquielle McKissic whose height varies in listings from 6'3" to 6'5" but is really a forward and second on the team in rebounds. He can shoot outside. Other times ASU goes with freshman Israeli Egor Koulechov. Whoever does not start will play the most minutes off the bench.
On the surface this is a game where you could say whoever imposes their will wins. If ASU can keep the game slow and half court, they win. If the game is fast and the scores are in the 70s, UCLA wins.
But the reality is ASU has two talented players, a couple role players and not much else. UCLA has a talent advantage. Home court should make a difference as well. In the last game, UCLA had four Arizona players in foul trouble. ASU cannot afford to have Carson or Bachyski saddled with fouls.