UA’S NON-CONFERENCE FOES
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*NIT Tip-Off Classic participants who are potential Arizona opponents
TBD-To be determined
Arizona’s 2013-14 non-conference schedule will be the most difficult of the Sean Miller era, especially if the Wildcats manage to face Duke in the NIT Tip-Off Classic in New York in late November.
The Wildcats can play the Blue Devils at Madison Square Garden if they win two preliminary round games — most likely at McKale Center — and get matched with Mike Krzyzewski’s team either in the semifinals, finals or consolation game in New York City.
Arizona has two of the most difficult true road games it has played in the non-conference slate, dating back to 2008-09 when interim coach Russ Pennell had to coach on the road against Texas A&M and UNLV. The Wildcats play at formidable San Diego State, which has three starters returning, on Nov. 14, and at Michigan, which lost in the national championship game to Louisville, on Dec. 14.
With the addition of New Mexico State to the schedule yesterday, Arizona will face at least four teams (UNLV, San Diego State, and Michigan the others) that qualified for the NCAA tournament in March. If the Wildcats play Duke the number will be five.
Two other programs — Long Beach State (NIT) and Cal Poly (CollegeInsider.com) — played in the postseason. Alabama, a potential opponent in the NIT Tip-Off Classic, also participated in the postseason NIT in March.
The Wildcats can potentially face six teams that finished in the RPI Top 60 last season, led by Duke, the No. 1 overall team that lost in the Elite Eight to eventual champion Louisville. The others are Michigan (No. 17), UNLV (No. 22), San Diego State (No. 29), New Mexico State (No. 57) and Alabama (No. 60).
Some interesting notes about Arizona’s non-conference opponents:
— If the Wildcats face Duke in New York City, two of the most highly-recruited Class of 2013 players will be on the court — Jabari Parker of Duke and Aaron Gordon of Arizona. The Wildcats also hold a 4-3 record against Krzyzewski-coached teams. The Duke media guide does not list Krzyzewski’s record against opponents, so it is uncertain how many teams hold winning records against him.
— Arizona plays at Michigan (wonder if Rich Rodriguez will attend the game on Dec. 14?) in a marquee matchup. The Wildcats will not face guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., both of whom declared for the NBA Draft. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson Jr. will return, however, along with fellow starter Nik Stauskas. Michigan is a unanimous top 10-ranked team by ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and USA Today heading into next season.
— The once-heated UNLV-Arizona rivalry resumes Dec. 7 at McKale Center. No word yet if the game will be moved to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Wait … that’s the Sept. 7 football game between the Rebels and Wildcats, which will likely be played in Glendale instead of Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. Give it some time … Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne will work a way to schedule a regular-season hoops game in Glendale to prep that facility for a Final Four someday.
— San Diego State will have UA transfer Angelo Chol on its roster but on the bench as he sits out the season per NCAA transfer rules. The Aztecs have three returning starters from this season’s 26-8 team. They will have senior leadership from former Washington State guard Xavier Thames and talented young forwards Winston Shepard and Dwayne Polee II figure to get more playing time.
— Long Beach State comes to town Nov. 11 with the most returning starters (four) that are scheduled against Arizona (other than New Mexico State) in the non-conference portion of the schedule. One of the starters is former ASU guard Keala King, a one-time recruiting target of Miller, who was dismissed from the Sun Devils in the 2011-12 season. Former UCLA guard Tyler Lamb is also with the 49ers but he will not play against the UA because he does not become eligible until the 2014 spring semester per NCAA transfer rules.
— Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski better eat his Wheaties on the morning of Dec. 11, the day in which the Wildcats face New Mexico State at McKale Center. The Aggies feature 7-foot-5, 360-pound center Sim Bhullar, who has plenty of size but might lack the mobility to keep up with the Wildcats’ up-tempo style. Bhullar originally committed to play for Xavier, Miller’s former team, but de-committed in August 2011 to play for the New Mexico State. He was not recruited to Xavier by Miller, who had already left to the UA in 2009.
— Texas Tech was ranked No. 213 in the RPI with a record of 11-20. The only appealing aspect of the Red Raiders coming to McKale Center on Dec. 3 is that Tubby Smith will be their new coach. Smith is winless in two games against Arizona with both games happening when he coached Kentucky. They were in the 1997 Maui Classic semifinals (Kentucky went on to win the national title that season) and 1999 Preseason NIT finals.
One non-conference game remains open before UA’s schedule is completed. It is most likely another guarantee game at home on Dec. 19.
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.