The road less traveled: Arizona's schedule sparks a season of excitement
Arizona center Dusan Ristic (14) overcomes Idaho College defense during Arizona's blow-out 86-35 exhibition win over the College of Idaho at McKale Center on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016.
Arizona basketball kicks off their season this week, and the biggest matchup of the season comes right away. When the Wildcats tip-off against Michigan State and everyone in Tucson, and the nation, will be tuned in. It’s an early test for the Wildcats, and will immediately show the incoming freshman what it takes to compete at the Division I level.
Unlike in year’s past, Arizona’s marquee out of conference games are on the road. Santa Clara, Gonzaga, Missouri and Texas A&M round out the road conference schedule after the early season matchup with the Spartans.
The Pac-12 slate starts off with one of Arizona’s toughest matchups. The Wildcats open up conference play on the road against the California Golden Bears. The usual matchups with UCLA will be key in conference play, and the Wildcats are on the road against the Oregon Ducks this season. They face the Ducks in Eugene on a Saturday night in February, and if both teams stay healthy all year, don’t be surprised if the College Gameday crew is on campus that night.
Here’s a look at the best games to watch on television, the best games to travel to and the best games in McKale Center this season.
Best television games
The first choice for this category is obvious. The matchup with Michigan State in Hawaii is the best road trip of the season. The game will take place at the Stan Sheriff Center, home of the University of Hawaii basketball team. Another game follows the Arizona game and the entire night is a celebration of our country’s military. There will be a section reserved for military personnel, and of course the potential for Sean Miller to be in a Hawaiian shirt only adds to the excitement in this one.
A week before Christmas the Wildcats will head to Houston to face the Texas A&M Aggies. The Aggies had a resurgence last season winning a school record 28 games. It’s another great road test for the Wildcats, and if you can make it to the Toyota Center in Houston, because tickets are affordable starting at only $20.
Last up in this category is the game against Oregon. The game is the Pac-12’s top matchup this season, and is definitely a candidate for College Gameday. Aesthetically, the game is great for television due to Oregon’s home court, and the possibility that both teams will feature one of their alternate jerseys in the game. Well, at least the Ducks will be in some crazy alternate getup.
Best games to (possibly) travel to
The Wildcats play a a few games this season that are worth the trip. Of course, the Pac-12 tournament will be held in Las Vegas again this year and that makes for a great road trip, unless you don’t like college kids on spring break.
The best game to travel to this season is the game against Gonzaga that will be played at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Arizona defeated Gonzaga 68-63 last year in Spokane, but the Zags made a deeper run than the Wildcats in the tournament. It’s a Saturday afternoon matchup, meaning you can make it out to Hollywood that night.
Thanksgiving is a day for family, but if you don’t want to see your in-laws for the long weekend, what better escape than Las Vegas? The Wildcats match up against Santa Clara on turkey day, and will face either Butler or Vanderbilt the following day. There is no better excuse for a trip to Vegas. The games will be held at the Orleans Hotel and Casino located just a mile and a half off of the strip.
Best home games
The best home game on the out of conference schedule is against the Grand Canyon University Lopes. Coached by former Phoenix Suns great Dan Majerle, the program is on the rise. Arizona should take care of business against the Lopes, but it still provides the best home matchup outside the Pac-12 this season.
The Golden Bears head to Tucson on February 11 for a huge Pac-12 matchup with the Wildcats. With the duo of Ivan Rabb and Jabari Bird, Cal will be a team in the Pac-12 capable of beating any team on any given night. Scouts are already drooling over the NBA potential that will be on the floor in this one.
UCLA makes their appearance in McKale Center late in the Pac-12 season on February 25th. The game is scheduled for ESPN/ESPN2 already, and of course Bill Walton will be on the call. In the conference of champions, there is no more traditional matchup than the Wildcats and Bruins. This could prove to be a pivotal game for the regular season conference championship.
That team up north
The Wildcats host ASU on January 12 and travel to Tempe to finish the regular season on March 4.
Arizona opens their season this Friday against Michigan State at 5 p.m. on ESPN.
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