Arizona basketball must capitalize on watered down non-conference schedule
First impressions are everything.
The general public’s first impression after two exhibition games is that the Arizona men’s basketball team will dominate this season.
Arizona’s mix of experience and youthful talent has led to two routs by a combined 79 points.
But now the regular season is here, and Arizona must continue to impress.
The Arizona non-conference schedule is weak and the Pac-12 competition is average, so the Wildcats need to look as good as possible if they want to claim a high seeding in the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats play only one non-conference opponent that is likely to be ranked — Florida, on Dec. 15 in Tucson.
One quality non-conference win isn’t going to cut it when the selection committee releases the field of 64 in March.
Unlike last year, when the Wildcats played eventual NCAA tournament participants San Diego State, New Mexico State and Florida, Arizona faces only Southern Mississippi and Florida this year.
National exposure is key, and a majority of the non-conference games are slated to be televised, yet all but two games will air on the Pac-12 Network, which presents another problem, considering much of the country remains without the network.
The two games on ESPN, those against Florida and Clemson, are the only two solid impressions that the Wildcats will be able to make before conference play.
A simple solution to the lack of equal competition in the Wildcats’ schedule would be to just schedule tougher games, which head coach Sean Miller has tried to do.
“You want to play competitive non-conference games both away and at McKale [Center],” Miller said. “One huge change that we have in college basketball scheduling is you can no longer count on who will be in your program, two or three years out.”
Miller was referring to the early departure of former forward Derrick Williams, who helped lead Arizona to an Elite Eight appearance two seasons ago.
The home-and-home series with Florida was planned before Miller was hired to coach at Arizona, so this year’s lackluster slate does not fall on Miller’s shoulders.
The Wildcats will have their next chance to shine on Sunday, when they play Charleston Southern. The name may not sound familiar, but Miller chose to schedule the Buccaneers for a reason.
“We picked them because they were a preseason pick to win their conference,” Miller said. “They were one of those teams that can beat anybody on a given night. College basketball is filled with those types of teams. Any team we play is important, especially home games.”
Because its preseason program is a tad watered down, Arizona should have no problem with teams like Long Beach State and Oral Roberts.
The question is, will that be enough for the Wildcats to impress the selection committee come March and earn a top seed in the NCAA tournament?