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Miller much like Lute – not afraid to play top teams

Citizen Staff Writer



The Arizona basketball program scheduled only one way under coach Lute Olson – fearlessly – and that’s a lesson not lost on new coach Sean Miller.

Consider that Xavier played last season at LSU, at Cincinnati and against Duke on a neutral court. The Musketeers played against Missouri, Virginia Tech and Memphis in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

They played at home against Auburn.

Does this sound like a guy who is afraid of a basketball fight?

The early indication is that he is not, and just add that to the list of positives about Miller’s hiring.

It was suggested in a CBS Sports.com report that Miller’s deal with Arizona had included concessions about “buy” games – we’ll explain in a minute, if that’s an unfamiliar term to you – but he said that’s not true.

“That never came up,” Miller said Tuesday at his introductory press conference.

“You can’t recruit the best recruits in the country and talk about doing great things unless you’re willing to play the best programs in the country. And then once you do that, you have to win some.”

That is what Arizona has done over the years – setting up tough opponents and knocking some of them down. That was the team’s saving grace in each of the past two seasons as the Wildcats squeaked by and extended their NCAA Tournament streak to 25.

UA never would have danced in 2008 or 2009 if it had the easy nonconference schedule of Arizona State.

Of course, the coach has to be smart about what he’s doing, and there’s no need to go scheduling overboard in Miller’s first season. The roster will be thin and won’t include NBA-bound juniors Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger.

You couldn’t blame Miller if he wanted to ease up on the accelerator in his first season, but there’s not a lot he can do about it anyway.

Arizona has a potential of four open dates, although the school has handshake agreements to fill two of those with the beginning of a pair of home-and-home series against unannounced teams.

Athletic department official Ryan Hansen, who helps coordinate the basketball schedule, said those deals likely will stay in place.

UA has two other open dates, both of which will be filled by those “buy” games, otherwise known as “guarantee” games.

That’s when a big school, such as Arizona, will pay a certain amount of money to a smaller school, such as Northern Arizona, to come to Tucson to play one game. NAU likely will fill one of the two open spots next season.

The rest of the nonconference schedule is like this:

• at Maui Invitational (Nov. 23-25) – The early season tournament isn’t quite as loaded as in some years. The other teams in the field are Colorado, Maryland, Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt and Chaminade. Matchups are not yet determined.

UA will play two home games against unannounced opponents before traveling to Maui.

• vs. UNLV (Dec. 2) – The end of a four-game series. The Rebels have been witness to all of Arizona’s drama, going against UA’s fourth coach in four years.

• at TBA in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series (Dec. 6). Hansen knows UA’s opponent, but the conferences haven’t revealed the schedule, so he can’t say who it is.

“It’s a team that played in the NCAA Tournament, though, I’ll tell you that much,” he said.

• vs. Louisiana Tech (Dec. 9) – A “guarantee” game against a decent WAC team. It also will be a homecoming for Bulldogs forward David Jackson, a Rincon High School graduate.

• at San Diego State (Dec. 12) – The end of a two-game set with the Aztecs.

• vs. N.C. State (TBA) – The beginning of a two-game series against the Wolf Pack. Miller used to be an assistant coach at N.C. State under Herb Sendek. Arizona will play in Raleigh in the 2010-11 season.

Arizona fans – especially those who pay big money for the home games – have come to expect good value for their entertainment dollar. They deserve the same under Miller.

“It doesn’t sound too different,” Hansen said of Miller’s philosophy.

“We met and I said what my job duties are, and his first words were, ‘I think we’re going to have a good time talking.’ ”

Further out, Arizona has a contract to play a neutral-court game against Kansas in the 2010-11 season as part of the Las Vegas Invitational.

Miller scheduled aggressively at Xavier in order to help offset a weaker conference. He should do the same at Arizona because it’s simply the right thing to do.

“Balance is the key,” Miller said. “The balance of schedule that Arizona has done in the past will continue.”

Anthony Gimino’s e-mail:


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