Here are some additional takeaways from it.
College basketball teams are allowed to participate in one multi-team event (MTE) each season, such as the Maui Invitational or Battle 4 Atlantis.
This season, Arizona is playing in the Wooden Legacy tournament in Anaheim, which has a particularly weak field, consisting of Providence, Pepperdine, Wake Forest, Long Beach State, College of Charleston, Penn and UCF.
The way the bracket is set up, Arizona will open against Pepperdine (hello, Lorenzo Romar) and then face UCF or Penn in the semifinals before taking on Wake Forest, Providence, Long Beach State or Charleston in the championship game.
So, at best, Arizona will be facing one Power-5 team and a pretty weak one at that. Wake Forest finished 174th in KenPom’s ratings last season after going 11-20. UCF was solid last season and gave Duke a run for its money in the Round of 32, but lost most of its production to graduation or the NBA Draft (including 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall).
Providence is probably the second-best team in the field, but the only way Arizona will play them is if both teams reach the championship game.
So frankly anything short of winning the Wooden Legacy will be a major disappointment for the Wildcats, and even then it won’t boost their resume much or be a useful measuring stick.
Hopefully Illinois is good
Aside from a heavyweight bout against Gonzaga in mid December, Arizona’s home non-conference schedule leaves a lot to be desired. The only non-Pac-12 Power-5 team coming to McKale Center is Illinois, which has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2013.
However, our friends at The Champaign Room are optimistic that 2019-20 will be the year the Illini return to the Big Dance, and so is Andy Katz of NCAA.com, who recently predicted Illinois will be a 5-seed (and Arizona as a 9).
If that’s the case, you are looking at two NCAA Tournament-caliber teams coming to McKale Center this season, maybe three if you include New Mexico State. (More on them in a second.)
Not great, but it could be a lot worse. Remember 2017-18 when Alabama and UConn, two teams that missed the NCAA Tournament, were the headliners on Arizona’s home non-con schedule?
Also we can’t forget that Arizona has a road game at Baylor, a team that beat the Wildcats in McKale before finishing 35th in KenPom’s ratings.
New Mexico State is a sleeper
So, yeah, about that NMSU team. The Aggies went 30-5 last season, losing by one point to Auburn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
NMSU returns most of its starters, so it could be a difficult out in McKale Center. Don’t forget the Aggies took Kansas to the wire in Kansas City last season.
At minimum, NMSU should be a good early-season test for Arizona’s defense. The Aggies had the 35th-best adjusted offensive efficiency in the country last season. They shot a bunch of 3s, were the fifth-most efficient team on 2-pointers, and were the seventh-best offensive rebounding team as well.
Take a deep breath
The Rocky Mountain road trip has proved to be a difficult one for the Wildcats over the last several years, going 7-7 on it since Utah and Colorado joined the conference in 2011-12.
The struggles are partly due to the altitude and travel—it’s the only road trip that requires traveling to two states—but also because Utah and Colorado are usually pretty solid.
Arizona gets to avoid that trip this season because of the Pac-12’s imbalanced schedule. Colorado is viewed by many as a Top-25-caliber team—even the Pac-12 favorite depending on who you ask—so that’s probably good for UA’s loss total, but not the best thing for folks who like to watch suspenseful college basketball games.
No easy sweep
While Arizona gets to avoid one of the tougher road trips the conference offers, it also does not get the luxury of hosting Stanford and Cal this season, two games the Wildcats surely would have won.
A potentially grand finish
Five of Arizona’s final six conference games are against Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington, potentially setting up a dramatic finish to the Pac-12 title race.
If it comes down to the final week, Arizona hosts Washington State and Washington, two games it will more than likely be favored to win.
No students for ASU
For what seems like the 30th year in a row, UA students will be on winter break when the Sun Devils come into McKale on Saturday, Jan. 4. That should sap a little bit of the electricity in the building that night.
Most years that has proved inconsequential, but the Sun Devils finally beat the Wildcats last year to snap a long losing streak to their in-state rival.
Three weeks after hosting ASU, Arizona will make its way down to Tempe to wrap up the season series.
That means Arizona will be playing two games a week from that point on, unlike last season when the Wildcats only played one game in the final week of the regular season, giving them a chance to get some extra rest before the postseason. Not that it mattered anyway.