After starting last season 14-8, seemingly without a chance to make the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats went on a roll. They began to play their best basketball and won seven of eight games.
Arizona basically played itself back into the tournament, and all that was needed was a win over the lowly nine-win Arizona State Sun Devils. But Arizona overlooked the scrappy team from Tempe and played nonchalant basketball. ASU beat the Wildcats 87-80, sending them back to Tucson and effectively ending their NCAA chances.
This season is different for both teams. Arizona is competing for a very high seed and ASU's turnaround has been nothing short of miraculous. But it is interesting how the roles are reversed. This time, Arizona can be the spoiler.
If ASU is to get off the bubble and into the tournament, a win over a top-10 team would be a nice way to do it. The Sun Devils could, of course, win both games in LA and probably seal their NCAA bid, but I see them losing one of those games.
So walking into Tucson and defeating Arizona would be the crown jewel of a good resume and would get ASU into the tournament. Knowing this, Arizona is going to be even more motivated for a victory.
ASU played Arizona tough in Tempe, and if it weren't for Jahii Carson's foul trouble, the Sun Devils may have it pulled off. But for the Wildcats, a win here over a good ASU team is absolutely essential for the regular-season Pac-12 title.