The same idea at the gas pump applies to the way Arizona and head coach Sean Miller approached the 2010-11 non-conference schedule.
Either you pay less for regular unleaded to protect the wallet, or you go with premium unleaded to have the car run more effective but at a more demanding price. When it comes to this schedule, Miller, in his second season after going 16-15 last year, is not ready to pay the extra pennies like most of us common folk at the gas pump.
While trying to implement his system, Miller appears to be saving his himself and his program for a schedule resembling premium gas down the road. It is debatable whether the 2010-11 schedule, which tentatively includes three Big Sky teams and unattractive foes Bethune-Cookman and Rice, will get Arizona from Point A to Point B (Point B being the NCAA tournament).
This might be a tough one for some UA fans to swallow: The average RPI of Arizona’s 13 tentative non-conference opponents next season is 157. Not 57, but 157. ASU coach Herb Sendek, who schedules with the theory of a win is a win no matter the opponent, would even be amazed by the Cats’ uncommonly easy schedule.
OK, “easy schedule” may be the wrong choice of words. Nowadays what exactly is an easy schedule for Arizona, which continues to try to find itself in the post Lute Olson era? Olson at his prime with Arizona had the theory of scheduling high majors to boost the team’s RPI as a safety net for when the NCAA tournament selection committee convenes in early March.
The ramifications of scheduling programs such as UConn, Syracuse, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Memphis, North Carolina, etc., do a lot more good than harm to a program. It not only benefits the RPI, it entices recruits for made-for-TV matchups. Recruits love the exposure, and the chance to play in front of soldout, raucous crowds like at the Dean Smith Center, for example. How many times have we heard the opposition revel in the fact they get to play Arizona at McKale Center? Answer: All the time.
Arizona’s non-conference road slate in 2010-11 includes Rice, BYU and North Carolina State. Not great, but not all that bad either.
Rice, No. 311 RPI last year, is not Miller’s fault. The Owls were scheduled before Miller’s arrival as a favor to former UA administrator Chris Del Conte when he became Rice’s AD. He has since left to fill the same position at TCU. BYU will be a favorite to win the Moutain West again with Jimmer Fredette returning for his senior season, but the game will not be played at Provo but at Salt Lake City instead.
North Carolina State will not be an easy opponent in Raleigh, especially with McDonald’s All-American forward C.J. Leslie on the Wolfpack roster.
Olson’s scheduling theory: Losing games or struggling against inferior teams is more damaging than the benefits reaped from winning against such pedestrian programs. In other words, the benefit of beating Rice does not compare to the potential downfall of losing or struggling against the Owls. The UA would get more out of losing at Missouri, for example, than cruising over Bethune-Cookman at home.
Scheduling three Big Sky teams at home — Idaho State, Northern Colorado and NAU — only asks for some indigestion if Arizona is a bubble team when the NCAA tournament selection committee meets.
Arizona will not have it easy at home against San Diego State (No. 25 RPI) and Oklahoma (which is bound to bounce back from a 13-18 season a year ago). The Aztecs and Sooners soundly beat the Wildcats at home last season.
The Wildcats also have a date with Kansas (including former recruiting target Josh Selby and ex-Wildcat signee Jeff Withey) on Nov. 27 in Las Vegas.
Games against San Diego State, Oklahoma, Kansas, BYU and North Carolina State will help fuel Arizona’s drive to an NCAA tournament as long as the UA wins at least three of those and does not get routed in any of them. Anything short of that, Arizona can not rely on its showing against the remainder of its non-conference foes or how it fares in the struggling Pac-10. It puts the Cats in a precarious position.
With the way Miller and Arizona have scheduled in 2010-11, the Cats better hope they don’t run out of gas before they can make an upgrade to fuel the program in the years to come.
TENTATIVE 2010-11 ARIZONA SCHEDULE
Nov. 14: Idaho State
Nov. 18: San Diego State
Nov. 21: Northern Colorado (Las Vegas Invitational)
Nov. 23. Bethune-Cookman (Las Vegas Invitational)
Nov. 26: Santa Clara (at Las Vegas, Las Vegas Invitational)
Nov. 27: Kansas (at Las Vegas, Las Vegas Invitational)
Dec. 1: at Rice
Dec. 5: Oklahoma (Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series)
Dec. 8 Cal State Fullerton
Dec. 11: BYU (at Salt Lake City)
Dec. 19: at North Carolina State
Dec. 22: Robert Morris
Dec. 27: NAU (tentative based on completion of Big Sky conference schedule)
Dec. 30 at Oregon
Jan. 1 at Oregon State
Jan. 6: California
Jan. 8: Stanford
Jan. 15: ASU
Jan. 20: at Washington
Jan. 22: at Washington State
Jan. 27: USC
Jan. 29: UCLA
Feb. 3 at Stanford
Feb. 5 at California
Feb. 12 at ASU
Feb. 17 Washington State
Feb. 19 Washington
Feb. 24 at UCLA
Feb. 26 at USC
March. 3 Oregon State
March 5 Oregon
Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles
March 9 First round
March 10 Quarterfinals
March 11 Semifinals
March 12 Championship