Despite the late-game drama earlier this week, the Sun Devils and Buffaloes have a lot riding on this particular game regardless of how early it is in conference play. For ASU, opening 2013 with a sweep of two conference rivals will enhance their postseason resume after a feathery soft non-conference schedule to kick off the season but will also send a notice to the rest of the league that the new-look Sun Devils are nothing like the teams they played in the previous two seasons.
For the Buffs, the surprise Pac-12 Tournament champions a season ago, getting swept to kick off conference play is about the last thing they need while they try to sustain the momentum of last season's success and build toward becoming a perennial threat every year.
F – Andre Roberson (11.8 RPG, 12.0 RPG) vs. Jon Gilling (9.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG)
Why Colorado Can Win:
As simple as it sounds, if Colorado dominates the boards – they will have an easy time dispatching the Sun Devils. If they merely control the boards, that still might be plenty. Arizona State now uses primarily a man-defense which help them control the glass on both ends.
Andre Roberson is arguably the best rebounder in the country while Josh Scott is no slouch himself. This will be a mighty challenge for Jordan Bachynski and we might see a lot of Ruslan Pateev or Eric Jacobsen getting some extended run in a two-big set. Colorado wins this game if they have at least a +5 rebounding edge.
Why ASU Can Win:
We can sit here and talk about the new-look offense or Jahii Carson's impact but this team still has one thing in common with every Sun Devil team Herb Sendek has led: heavy reliance on the three-pointer. Utah is the Pac-12's doormat and nearly won on the road because the biscuit simply was not falling in the basket for ASU. While Carson is absolutely electric in just about every facet of the game, his long-range shooting leaves some to be desired and Carrick Felix is better served using his athleticism.
That leaves Eric Gordon and Jon Gilling to carry the shooting weight and their output is very important to the success of this team. Carson can drive and dish better than any PG that Sendek has had so his shooters will get open looks. The Sun Devils win this game if they can shoot around 40% or better from deep, something they've only done twice this season and well above their 34% team average through the first 14 games.
Key Stat: Through the first nine games of the season, ASU averaged 28.2 free throw attempts per game. In its last five games that figure dwindled down to just 13 attempts per game. In conference play where games are often decided by only a few points, the charity stripe can play a huge part in determining the outcome of a game.
X-Factor: Evan Gordon; much was expected from the high-scoring transfer but aside from a nice stretch of games, Gordon has been a non-factor. For the Sun Devils to compete with teams in the upper echelon of the Pac-12, it cannot be just the Jahii Carson show and Gordon can take a lot of pressure off his backcourt mate if he can stretch defenses but knocking down open shots on the perimeter but also attacking the basket. My hunch is that Gordon gets into double digits, knocks down some clutch threes and helps the Devils swing the upset against a still-emotionally wounded Colorado.
Final Score: Arizona State 62 Colorado 60