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Previewing and predicting Arizona basketball’s non-conference schedule

arizona-wildcats-basketball-schedule-prediction-gonzaga-wooden-baylor-san-francisco Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2019-20 season right around the corner, there’s no better time to preview and predict the Arizona Wildcats’ non-conference schedule.

This is a sneaky good non-league slate with games against tough teams that are sure to be a challenge. Let’s get to it.

Nov. 6 vs. NAU

After a dismal 10-21 campaign with a third-to-last place finish in the Big Sky, NAU is looking to rebuild under new coach Shane Burcar. Jack Murphy, NAU’s coach from 2012-19, is now an assistant with the Wildcats. I’m sure Murphy has insights on his old team, but I don’t think Sean Miller is too worried. Since 1949, NAU is 0-36 against Arizona.

Score prediction: Arizona 82, NAU 59

Nov. 10 vs. Illinois

Even with its 12-21 record last year, Illinois returns a bulk of its roster and is led by senior point guard Trent Frazier. The Fighting Illini received votes in the Associated Press preseason poll, making them what would be the 33rd-ranked team in the nation. This game will be closer than Arizona fans want it to be. A Sunday afternoon tip-off, the second game of the season and an experienced Illinois side will make this a close affair.

Score prediction: Arizona 74, Illinois 69

Nov. 14 vs. San Jose State

A midweek game against a team that finished 4-27 last year, what more could you ask for? San Jose State probably won’t do much better than it did last year and might finish with an RPI in the 300s. Easy win for the Wildcats.

Score prediction: Arizona 88, San Jose State 58

Nov. 17 vs. New Mexico State

Ah NMSU, the team that almost (and probably should have) knocked out eventual Final Four participant Auburn in last year’s NCAA tournament. This is a very good squad, and will provide an immediate test for Arizona. The Aggies’ entire roster returns from last year’s 30-5 team. They have experience, depth, and will not be afraid to play in McKale. This will be a tough game, and it’s tempting to pick the Aggies. At the end of the day, Arizona’s talent will be a bit too much. Calling for a Nico Mannion buzzer beater to win.

Score prediction: Arizona 68, New Mexico State 66

Nov. 21 vs. South Dakota State

Another day, another successful and talented mid-major program coming to McKale. The Jackrabbits of SDSU come to Tucson off a successful 24-9 season and Summit League regular season title. Superstar big man Mike Daum graduated and second-leading scorer David Jenkins Jr. transferred to UNLV. It will still be a decent season for the Jackrabbits, but they don’t have enough to beat Arizona in Tucson.

Score prediction: Arizona 82, South Dakota State 70

Nov. 24 vs. Long Beach State

Seemingly every single season Long Beach puts itself through the ringer in the nonconference. This season the 49ers have games at Arizona, UCLA, St. Mary’s, USC and Florida. Good luck to them. That’s sure to build character, or something. Arizona rolls, with Max Hazzard draining six threes against his old Big West foe.

Score prediction: Arizona 85, Long Beach State 66

Nov. 28 vs. Pepperdine (Wooden Legacy)

Nothing like a Thanksgiving tournament to get the juices flowing. Well, besides the 2017 Battle 4 Atlantis, which saw the Cats lose three games in three days But we don’t have to talk about that. Thankfully the Wooden Legacy takes place on the mainland, in California. Arizona should have no trouble dispatching its first opponent, Pepperdine. Led by former Washington head coach and Arizona assistant Lorenzo Romar, the Waves are coming off a 16-18 season. They return All-WCC Guard Colbey Ross, but Arizona should be able to contain him.

Score prediction: Arizona 76, Pepperdine 62

Nov. 29 vs. TBD (Wooden Legacy)

Assuming Arizona beats Pepperdine and UCF beats Penn, they would meet in the semifinal matchup. Behind Tacko Fall and Aubrey Dawkins, UCF nearly upset Duke last March in the NCAA tournament. The Knights really should have won that game, too. UCF loses six of its top seven scorers from last year’s team. That usually doesn’t bode well for most teams. With no Tacko, the Knights will fall with ease to the Cats.

Score prediction: Arizona 79, UCF 64

Nov. 30 vs. TBD (Wooden Legacy)

Providence or Wake Forest are Arizona’s most likely opponents on the final day of the Legacy, most likely in the championship game. It will most likely be the former, so we’ll go with that. Here’s a name to keep an eye on: Alpha Diallo. Diallo has a serious chance to be first team All-Big East for Providence. After testing the NBA Draft waters, the crafty 6-foot-6 forward is back for his senior season under long time coach Ed Cooley. Providence will be better than last year’s 18-16 record. This could be a close game and anything can happen when you play three games in three days, but on paper this one is Arizona’s to lose.

Score prediction: Arizona 73, Providence 65

Dec. 7 at Baylor

Anyone else remember that horrid home game against Baylor last year? Sorry for reminding you. Arizona played arguably its worst game statistically all season against the Bears last December. The game finished with Baylor winning 58-49. The Wildcats were outrebounded 51-19. Baylor had as many offensive rebounds as Arizona had TOTAL rebounds. The good news: that (probably) won’t happen again. The bad news? Arizona is playing In Waco this time, and the Bears’ squad has improved over last year’s tournament team. They return potential All-Big 12 guard Jared Butler and forward Tristan Clark. Clark is their big man standing at 6-foot-9, and the Bears with head man Scott Drew love to play small ball. Expect a healthy dose too of Sean Miller kryptonite, AKA, the 2-3 zone. A road game and an experienced team playing zone, this will be a loss for Arizona.

Score prediction: Baylor 70, Arizona 58

Dec. 11 vs. Omaha

Don’t overlook the Mavericks of Omaha. They were regular season runner-up to South Dakota State in the Summit League last year and is a potential title favorite this time around. These are the games that test your character as a team. Coming off a tough road contest at Baylor with Gonzaga coming to town three days later, this has all the makings of a trap game. Arizona will get off to a slow start and the McKale fans will begin to groan, but it will rebound in the second half and cruise to a 10-point win.

Score prediction: Arizona 73, Omaha 63

Dec. 14 vs. Gonzaga

Oh boy, McKale will be rockin’ for this one. It will come down to the wire. After competing, and then getting trounced by the Zags last year at the Maui Invitational, Arizona has the tools this year to win. Even with the loss of four starters, including top-10 pick Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga is bringing some key players back and new players in. Killian Tillie and Corey Kispert lead the returners while Texas A&M transfer Admon Gilder is a lights-out shooter. The strength for Gonzaga has to be its frontcourt. With six players at 6-foot-10 or taller, the Arizona frontcourt is going to have to play its tails off. Arizona has to limit Tillie’s production if they want to win. With that being said, Zags will sneak out with a win.

Score prediction: Gonzaga 65, Arizona 64

Dec. 21 vs. St. John’s in San Francisco

The Johnnies travel from New York to the Bay Area to battle Arizona in a pre-Christmas duel at the new Chase Center. The Red Storm are coming off a decent 21-13 season which saw them lose to Arizona St. in the First Four. With Chris Mullin stepping down, former Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson takes over a roster that needs to be retooled. St. John’s lost some great production in Shamorie Ponds and former Wildcat Justin Simon. It does return legitimate scoring threats in Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa, and if they are able to get going, this could be a very close game. However, SF is a mighty long way for St. John’s to travel, especially only days before the holiday break. Arizona will limit Heron and Figueroa, and come away with a win.

Score prediction: Arizona 77, St. John’s 69

There you have it, that’s the Arizona Wildcats non-conference schedule!

If you’re counting at home, Arizona finishes 11-2 before its first Pac-12 showdown against Arizona State. Give your predictions in the comments, as well as which games you’re most looking forward to!