Last season felt like a turning point for the Arizona Wildcats. A winning record. A WNIT title. A highly-ranked recruiting class. A player who was in the top three in the nation in scoring.
That’s not to say that there weren’t concerns, though. One member of that highly-touted class—Italian star Valeria Trucco—opted to stay in Italy and go professional. Another transferred closer to home early in the season.
As for the schedule, one reason the Wildcats missed out on their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2005 was the weak nonconference competition. While Arizona was helped by a tough Pac-12, overall its schedule ranked in the mid-200s out of 351 Division I teams. The abyssmal ranking was entirely due to a non-league slate that didn’t feature a single major-conference team or even any strong mid-majors.
There was reason to worry that some of those issues might crop up against this season. Arizona has a five-member recruiting class, all of whom are from overseas. Would one or more opt to stay closer to home and begin their professional careers?
As for the schedule, coach Adia Barnes has made it clear that she believes the tough Pac-12 makes it inadvisable to stack the nonconference schedule with ranked teams. While that might be understandable, especially with a young team, does it follow that the Wildcats will also avoid all major-conference teams—ranked or not? Will Arizona be forced to come up big in conference play to return to the Big Dance?
Answers to both questions have now been revealed.
The last four members of the 2019-20 recruiting class have all arrived on campus. Helena Pueyo Melchor, Mara Mote, Sevval Gül and Birna Benonysdottir all made appearances on the Inside Arizona Basketball Instagram account. Australian guard Tara Manumaleuga joined the team at the beginning of the spring semester but did not play in order to retain her eligibility.
The four new freshmen completed their national team appearances when Gül (Turkey) and Benonysdottir (Iceland) wrapped up competition in the Division B 2019 FIBA U20 Women’s European Championship on Aug. 11.
Who do they play?
The Pac-12 announced the pairings for conference play back on Aug. 7. While the exact dates and times of the games aren’t known, which teams are playing on which weekends has been made public. Arizona rounded out the schedule by announcing the nonconference opponents, dates and times on social media.
Once again, the schedule is lean on major-conference opponents before Pac-12 play tips off. The Wildcats play only one this season when they travel to Austin to take on the Texas Longhorns.
Besides Texas, Arizona will once again face an extremely weak group of teams prior to Pac-12 competition. Including Texas, there are only three teams on the schedule who finished with winning records in 2018-19.
Many mid-major teams play tough nonconference schedules which can make their records look worse than they are. That’s not the problem with these opponents, though. Of the 11 teams Arizona will face, only four finished at .500 or better in their own conferences.
As the records suggest, the average RPI for Arizona’s nonconference opponents was 215 last season. If Texas were taken out of the equation, that would fall to 234.
Of the 11 teams on the slate, four finished at 258 or below last season. Two more were at or below 215 out of 351 Division I teams. That means over half were in the bottom 39 percent of D-I.
All things considered, this schedule will not do much to help the Wildcats raise their national profile unless they beat Texas on the road. Will the Pac-12 give the Arizona a big enough bump to get them back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years?
On the positive side, Arizona will face more true road tests in pre-conference play this year. Last season, the Wildcats played only two road games—against San Diego State and Long Beach State—to go along with two neutral site games. In addition to Texas, Arizona will also play on the courts of Chicago State, Montana and UTEP in 2019.
The Wildcats will be able to rely on conference play to help their RPI, but not quite as much as they did last season. The unbalanced schedule means that they will play Stanford, California, Utah and Colorado only once this season. The Wildcats will host the Bay Area schools and travel to the Rocky Mountain schools.
While that might not help Arizona’s RPI, the schedule will present a better chance to rack up a winning record in a conference that has gained respect over the years. Last year, the Wildcats went through two stretches when they played Stanford, Cal, Oregon and Oregon State in a row. Three of those teams were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season, while Cal was ranked in the top 25 at various points. In addition to only having to face Stanford and Cal once each, the Wildcats are spared from such a gauntlet in 2019-20.
Arizona will need to take advantage of its road games in the preseason. Being road-tested will be vital when conference play rolls around as the Wildcats kick off Pac-12 competition with five of seven games away from McKale Center. The two home games are against Oregon and Oregon State, both of which could be competing for Final Four berths again this year.
The schedule is below. For a breakdown of Arizona’s opponents, keep an eye out for part two.
Arizona Wildcats WBB 2019-20 Schedule
|Eastern New Mexico (Exhibition)||Lone Star||Sunday, Oct. 27||4 p.m. MST||Tucson|
|North Dakota||Summit League||Tuesday, Nov. 5||6:30 p.m. MST||Tucson|
|Santa Clara||West Coast||Friday, Nov. 8||6:30 p.m. MST||Tucson|
|Chicago St||WAC||Tuesday, Nov. 12||5 p.m. MST||Chicago, IL|
|Texas||Big XII||Sunday, Nov. 17||12 p.m. MST||Austin, TX|
|Prarie View A&M||SWAC||Wednesday, Nov. 20||11 a.m. MST||Tucson|
|Montana||Big Sky||Sunday, Nov. 24||1 p.m. MST||Missoula, MT|
|UC Riverside||Big West||Friday, Nov. 29||4 p.m. MST||Tucson|
|Monmouth||MAAC||Monday, Dec. 2||6:30 p.m. MST||Tucson|
|UTEP||C-USA||Saturday, Dec. 7||1 p.m. MST||El Paso, TX|
|Tennessee St||Ohio Valley||Thursday, Dec. 12||6:30 p.m. MST||Tucson|
|UC Santa Barbara||Big West||Saturday, Dec. 21||1 p.m. MST||Tucson|
|Arizona St||Pac-12||No later than Dec. 29||TBD||Away|
|UCLA/USC||Pac-12||Jan. 2-5, 2020||TBD||Away|
|USC/UCLA||Pac-12||Jan. 2-5, 2020||TBD||Away|
|Oregon/OSU||Pac-12||Jan. 9-12, 2020||TBD||Tucson|
|OSU/Oregon||Pac-12||Jan. 9-12, 2020||TBD||Tucson|
|Washington/Washington St||Pac-12||Jan. 17-19, 2020||TBD||Away|
|Washington St/Washington||Pac-12||Jan. 17-19, 2020||TBD||Away|
|Arizona St||Pac-12||Jan. 23-26, 2020||TBD||Tucson|
|UCLA/USC||Pac-12||Jan. 30-Feb. 2, 2020||TBD||Tucson|
|USC/UCLA||Pac-12||Jan. 30-Feb. 2, 2020||TBD||Tucson|
|Oregon/OSU||Pac-12||Feb. 6-9, 2020||TBD||Away|
|OSU/Oregon||Pac-12||Feb. 6-9, 2020||TBD||Away|
|Washington/Washington St||Pac-12||Feb. 13-16, 2020||TBD||Tucson|
|Washington St/Washington||Pac-12||Feb. 13-16, 2020||TBD||Tucson|
|Colorado/Utah||Pac-12||Feb. 20-23, 2020||TBD||Away|
|Utah/Colorado||Pac-12||Feb. 20-23, 2020||TBD||Away|
|California/Stanford||Pac-12||Feb. 27-Mar. 1, 2020||TBD||Tucson|
|Stanford/California||Pac-12||Feb. 27-Mar. 1, 2020||TBD||Tucson|
|Tournament-First Round||Pac-12||Thursday, Mar. 5||TBD||Las Vegas, NV|
|Tournament-Quarterfinals||Pac-12||Friday, Mar. 6||TBD||Las Vegas, NV|
|Tournament-Semifinals||Pac-12||Saturday, March 7||TBD||Las Vegas, NV|
|Tournament-Finals||Pac-12||Sunday, Mar. 8||TBD||Las Vegas, NV|