Busting Brackets

Washington State vs Arizona: 2023-24 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Arizona State v Arizona
Arizona State v Arizona / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

The Pac-12’s two best teams face off as Washington State heads to Arizona; will the Wildcats keep rolling at home or do the Cougars have a second upset in them?

TV schedule: Thursday, February 22, 11:00 pm ET. FS1

Arena: McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona

For all intents and purposes, Washington State (20-6) is having a really great season and quite the breakout. The Cougars had a rough stretch around New Year’s, but have really asserted themselves in recent weeks, winning seven straight to stand out as the second best team in the Pac-12. That recent streak includes road wins against solid Oregon and Washington squads.

Notable freshman Myles Rice (15.9 ppg, 3.7 apg) is having himself one impressive debut in college ball. The hero for the Cougars has been senior forward Isaac Jones (15.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who had 24 points and 13 rebounds in Washington State’s upset win over Arizona last month. Other names to watch in the frontcourt include Jaylen Wells (11.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg), a junior college transfer, as well as senior Andrej Jakimovski (10.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg), who’s really standing out in his fourth year in Pullman.

Their recent impressive play has gotten Washington State ranked #21 in the nation, their first national ranking in 16 years. They’ve used that streak to rise to 33rd in the KenPom ratings, with their defense sitting just outside the Top 25 in the efficiency metrics. The Cougars have put themselves into position for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over a decade, but they aren’t done jockeying for position quite yet.

On the other side, Arizona (20-5) continues to prove that they are one of the best teams in the nation this season. The Wildcats have had a few slip-ups, including three road losses in Pac-12 play, but have looked really strong at times. Earlier wins at Duke and over teams like Alabama and Wisconsin have held up and the Wildcats have now won six games in a row.

The major face this season in Tucson has been Caleb Love (18.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg), the senior guard who helped lead North Carolina to the title game two seasons ago and has been a major playmaker with the Wildcats. Senior center Oumar Ballo (13.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg) has been a double-double machine while fellow senior Pelle Larsson (13.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.5 apg) is having the best season of his career. Another player to watch is Keshad Johnson (11.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg), a talented forward who played in the national title game at San Diego State last year.

Arizona has recently risen back to #4 in the AP Top 25 and are also 4th in KenPom. They boast the 6th-ranked offense in efficiency, while the defense isn’t too far behind. That defense did let them down in a few of their earlier upsets, though Arizona’s offense has been powerful, averaging 103 points in their last three contests.

When the Cougars won the first game in Pullman, it wasn’t because they shot their way to victory. Arizona was paltry from inside the arc and the Cougars took advantage with decent play of their own. Both teams enter play on great offensive streaks in recent weeks, though it’s clear that the Wildcats have a bit of an advantage in the talent department this season.

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Can Washington State become the first team to win in Tucson this season? It’s a difficult task, and the Wildcats have looked head and shoulders above most of the teams in the Pac-12. If Ballo and company play better in the key, Arizona will win this game and get revenge. The Cougars need another cold offensive effort and might need a great shotmaking night to pull off that same kind of magic on the road.

Prediction: Arizona 89, Washington State 75