The cover page of ASU's athletic website insists, in bold letters: PROTECT OUR HOUSE, Jan. 19, 2013.
It is a marketing attempt to sell more tickets to Sun Devil fans than to those from Tucson when the basketball rivals meet at Wells Fargo Arena.
You might not be serious about Sun Devil basketball, but the Sun Devils are. They are 11-2 (OK, sure, who wouldn't be 11-2 against Coppin State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and a group of opponents ranked No. 340 of a possible 347 by basketball's mighty stat wizard, kenpom.com?
For the first time in three decades, the Sun Devils have one-upped Arizona in matters relating to basketball tradition. After each home victory, two solemn-faced, uniform-wearing ROTC cadets roll a 150-pound Victory Bell onto the court, and the Sun Devil of choice rings the bell.
You can only imagine how much long-suffering Sun Devil hoops fans covet the opportunity to watch cheeky freshman Jahii Carson ring that bell on Jan. 19. Don't expect Carson to be shy; he has already tweeted that he is the supreme point guard in Pac-12 hoops and, well, that reminds me a lot of the young Gary Payton at Oregon State.
Given that lead-up, here's a primer on what to expect in the 2013 Pac-12 basketball season:
All things aren't created equal: The Pac-12 Networks will broadcast 51 league games - beginning tonight with Utah at ASU - and your eyes might soon be glossed over with Washington State Cougars.
Because the Cougars don't attract a national (or even regional) audience, they are scheduled to play 15 games on the league network. Utah, which is similarly buzz-free, will be shown 14 times.
Traditional league powers Washington (four Pac-12 network appearances), Arizona (six) and UCLA (seven) will get much wider coverage. The UA will play half of its Pac-12 schedule on the ESPN system.
The 'Bazz factor: UCLA freshman Shabazz Muhammad is third in league scoring at 19.6, trailing Cal guard Allen Crabbe's leading average of 20.9. I suspect, by March, Wazzu center Brock Motum, at 19.7, will be the overall scoring champ because he'll get more shots than will go Muhammad's way in UCLA's talent-heavy lineup.
Only one freshman has led the Pac-12 in scoring: In 1996, Cal's Shareef Abdur-Rahim averaged 21.1. But not even UCLA's Kevin Love, ASU's James Harden, UA's Sean Elliott or OSU's Payton came into the league with a higher profile than 'Bazz.
Whom to foul: Washington center Aziz N'Diaye is shooting .449 from the foul line, followed closely by Colorado's Andre Roberson at .510. Although he has attempted just 26 college free throws, Arizona's Kaleb Tarczewski is at .462. Not good.
But the man you most want to handle the ball in a late-game situation is Oregon State senior big man, Mr. Beef, Joe Burton. He shoots just .535 from the line and, even though he doesn't often handle the ball, is fourth in total turnovers this season, 38.
Why is this league so bad? Because it can't shoot straight. Stanford, which considers itself a contender, has a starting backcourt in which Chasson Randle, shooting .222 on three-point attempts, and Aaron Bright, at .237, are more likely to shoot their team out of a game by hoisting up distant shots. And if you are in a tight finish with USC, you might want starting guards Jio Fontan, a .296 percent shooter overall, and J.T. Terrell, at .292, to take the last shot.
The beast-on-the-boards battle: Likely to come down to OSU's much-improved Eric Moreland and Colorado's much-respected Roberson. Both are averaging double-doubles: Moreland with 10.9 points and 11.2 rebounds; Roberson at 12.1 and 12.1, with exactly 145 points and 145 rebounds.
How good are they in historical perspective? Recent double-double stars Jon Brockman and Leon Powe were much better scorers. And neither can approach Stanford's Adam Keefe, who had a 25.3 and 12.2 double-double 20 years ago.
The Man in the Middle. If you could choose one center in the Pac-12, wouldn't you take ASU's 23-year-old, 7-foot-2-inch Jordan Bachynski? Sure, he needs a haircut, but he is averaging 4.5 blocks per game. That's higher than anyone in Pac-12 history. He's also scoring 10 per game. Bachynski's listed weight is 245. I'm guessing he's closer to 300, an unmovable object. Unlike ex-UCLA center Josh Smith, he doesn't get tired after two lengths of the court.
The Big Four
Here's one man's pick of the finish:
UCLA. It's a seven-man team, but who needs eight when you've got that much talent, athleticism and size? And by the way: Did you know the Wear twins, David and Travis, are only juniors? Haven't they been in college basketball since 1998?
Arizona. If the Wildcats can win all of their home games, they seem likely to go 5-4 on the Pac-12 road. The guess here is that Arizona's 14-4 will be a game shy of the Bruins' 15-3. One hedge: I like Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons in the clutch better than anyone in a UCLA uni.
Colorado. Tad Boyle ranks with UA's Sean Miller and Oregon's Dana Altman among the three most skilled and resourceful coaches in the league. The Buffaloes are one player short, one guard short, but winning in Boulder (10,252 average attendance this year) is going to be as difficult as winning in Tucson.
Arizona State. I was going to take the easy route and pick Oregon, but the Ducks' freshman point guard, Dominic Artis, can't keep up with Jahii Carson. The Sun Devils are thin and their home court advantage isn't great, but the Ducks are averaging only 5,872 in new Knight Court and only drew 7,630 there last year. That means about 5,000 seats are empty each game; it's no Mac Court.