With Friday night’s defeat to its intrastate rival, Arizona has now lost two of its last four games, not to mention one on their best players to injury for the season. Meanwhile, Arizona State has won six of its last seven; the Sun Devils are another good week away from probably being ranked in the Top 25; and they have senior center Jordan Bachynski playing the best ball of his career with a great second scoring option in Jermaine Marshall. So, the story is easy then, right? Arizona State appears to be ready to peak just in time for March, while Arizona is dead in the water. Is there any truth to both of those easy takeaways? The short answer is “not necessarily, but…” We’ll get to the longer answers below.
By virtue of its big win on Friday, Arizona State has earned the right to have its status assessed first. Let’s start with the reasons to be suspicious of the Sun Devils. The main reason is certainly one you would not have expected at the start of the season, but it is the play of sophomore point guard Jahii Carson, which has been… sketchy, to say the least. He’s a serious baller capable of being the best point guard in the nation, but right now the Arizona State offense — especially in important possessions at the end of close games — consists of Carson dribbling away the majority of the shot clock on empty forays before creating something very late. The Sun Devils’ attempt at the end of regulation when Carson wasted the entire clock, then jumped in the air to seemingly attempt a jumper, only to decide better of it and toss the ball to Marshall for an even worse look, was just the latest in Carson’s late-game one-on-one antics. There is no reason for this. Certainly you want to give him some opportunities to create off the bounce because he can be spectacular when he does so, but priority one in the half-court (important distinction, because the Sun Devils should always be looking to force tempo and get transition hoops when Carson is in the game) should be finding good offense, either working inside-out through Bachynski, or running Marshall and Jonathan Gilling off screens around the perimeter. Until Carson’s hero-ball tendencies get shelved for the season, there will be some reason to remain suspicious of the Sun Devils.