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Starting season at home is preferred, Arizona coach Sean Miller says

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arizona-wildcats-basketball-preseason-polls-2020-21-early-roundup-predictions Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-20 college basketball season begins in earnest on Tuesday when nearly 150 games tip off across the country. The Arizona Wildcats aren’t among those getting started on opening night, instead making their season debut Wednesday against NAU.

And as it has been all but once during the Sean Miller era, that first game will be within the friendly confines of McKale Center.

Arizona’s opener against the Lumberjacks will mark the 10th time in Miller’s 11 seasons that the first game is in Tucson. Only in 2016, when the Wildcats beat Michigan State in Hawaii, have they not started out at home.

That’s a stark contrast to the Lute Olson era, when Arizona opened away from home 12 times from 1984-2007 either as part of a tournament, a one-off neutral-site matchup or true road games such as the 2006 opener at Virginia.

While Arizona has such games on its schedule—it will play in the Wooden Legacy tourney in Los Angeles later this month, visit Baylor in early December and face St. John’s in San Francisco right before Christmas—Miller said he’s always in favor of starting out at home.

“I mean, the more games that we can play here in McKale, the better,” Miller said Monday. “To start out the season I think it’s always nice to play (here). “That sense of comfort to have the great fanbase that we have and the magic of McKale on our side, we want to use that to our advantage.”

Miller said this year it is especially important to get off to a good start with a favorable crowd on its side, since almost the entire roster is new. Last Friday’s exhibition against Chico State, as well as the Red-Blue scrimmage in late September, was the first time many of Arizona’s players have ever competed in front of a crowd of 10,000 or more.

“One of the things that we have right now is a lot of new faces and every time that we do something, we get a little bit better, a little bit more comfortable,” Miller said. “I don’t think that we performed well in that game. And I’m hoping, and we’ll need to, play better here on Wednesday when we play NAU.”

It was actually the fourth time grad transfer guard Max Hazzard had played in front of so many fans, including a 2016 game at McKale as a freshman at UC-Irvine.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Hazzard said. “I knew it was going to be, just because my brother played here. This is why I came here. To play in these games, with a great crowd.”

Arizona plays its first six games in McKale before going to the Wooden Legacy over Thanksgiving weekend. That is the longest season-opening homestand since the Wildcats played their first six games of the 1950-51 season at Bear Down Gym.