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Arizona basketball: Wildcats don’t travel to USC and UCLA next season — and that’s not necessarily good

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We’re missing out on some marquee matchups

NCAA Basketball: PAC-12 Conference Tournament-Arizona vs UCLA Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

When the Pac-12 expanded from 10 teams to 12 teams in 2011, it had a major effect on the conference’s basketball scheduling.

When there were 10 teams, each team played the other nine twice — once at home and once on the road. But with 12 teams, a symmetrical schedule was no longer possible.

Now, each team skips a road trip to one set of schools (i.e. Washington and Washington State) but in turn, does not get to host another set of schools (i.e. Oregon and Oregon State).

An outline of the 2017-18 Pac-12 schedule was released recently, and the Arizona Wildcats will not face the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins on the road next season — and will not host the Washington schools in McKale Center, either.

Arizona only playing USC and UCLA once is particularly noteworthy because they are expected to be UA’s top challengers for the Pac-12 title.

And here’s why it’s not necessarily a good thing that Arizona doesn’t have to make that L.A. trip:


Why it’s a good thing

Arizona’s record — and its Pac-12 title chances — will likely benefit from this.

Consider: The Wildcats are 44-28 in Pac-12 conference road games in the Sean Miller era, but are just 8-8 on the road against the L.A. schools.

Only the Oregon road trip (UA is 6-6 at Oregon and Oregon State under Miller) has been as challenging for Arizona.

Plus, UCLA and USC may both be ranked in 2017-18, making the SoCal trip more difficult than ever. So not having to play there could allow Arizona to avoid an additional loss or two.

On the flip side, Arizona is 12-2 against USC and UCLA in Tucson the past eight seasons, sweeping the L.A. schools more often than not.

If the Wildcats take care of business at home again in 2017-18, it’s hard to imagine USC and UCLA making up that ground without the second head-to-head matchup in L.A.

It is especially true when you consider that USC and UCLA have to play Colorado, Utah, and Oregon on the road next season in addition to Arizona.

So if an easier path to a Pac-12 title is what you’re looking for, Arizona missing the L.A. road trip is certainly a good thing.


Why it’s a bad thing

Sure, skipping the L.A. road trip may benefit Arizona record-wise, but not everything about it is positive.

First off, it’s bad for Pac-12 basketball and college basketball as a whole.

UCLA-Arizona is the top rivalry on the West Coast — the two games last year were phenomenal — and only having one regular season matchup between the two is a shame. It would be comparable to North Carolina and Duke only playing once in a season (but the ACC is smart and avoids that).

And while Arizona-USC games don’t have the same notoriety, they may very well be the top two teams in the conference and thus a potential top-20 or top-10 matchup we’re missing out on.

Don’t worry, though, you can watch Arizona blow out Stanford twice instead, which is just wonderful for Pac-12 basketball (heavy sarcasm intended).

Which brings me to my next point: strength of schedule matters, and not just for a team’s NCAA Tournament résumé.

One reason I think Arizona hasn’t reached a Final Four under Miller is because its conference schedule doesn’t prepare it well for NCAA Tournament play — similar to the argument people often use against Gonzaga.

In the last four years, Arizona has had 10 conference games against teams ranked in KenPom’s top 30, and a whopping 23 (!) against teams ranked outside the top 100.

Add that to Arizona’s generally weak non-conference schedule — UA’s non-conference schedule has been outside the top 100 the last two years — and you get a team that is largely untested for most of the season.

And when Arizona has been tested lately, it hasn’t fared all that well.

The Wildcats have won roughly 84 percent of their games the last four seasons, but are 17-12 against teams ranked in KenPom’s Top 31, a 58.6 winning percentage.

This past season, the Wildcats were 4-5 against teams in KenPom’s top 31. The year before that they were 0-4.

Those are the type of teams they will have to beat to reach a Final Four, and I think they would be in better position to do so if they faced stiffer competition throughout the regular season.

Thus, not facing USC and UCLA on the road in 2017-18 is not ideal.


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire