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Sean Miller unsure how Arizona will fare without usual homecourt advantage

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Bit by bit, Arizona’s 2020-21 schedule is coming together.

The latest update, from the Pac-12, shows us the rough order in which the Wildcats will play its 20 conference opponents. That came after a confirmation from coach Sean Miller that Arizona’s entire nonconference slate—which remains unannounced—would be played at McKale Center.

Specific dates, tip times and TV information is still all to be determined. But no matter when the games are, and on what’s they’re on, there’s one distinct certainty that still seems hard to fathom: there will be no fans in the McKale stands.

Unless something drastically changes—and nationwide COVID-19 case counts say otherwise—the Pac-12 is unlikely to change course on its decision not to allow fans at sporting events. Football games will have players’ family and friends in attendance, depending on if local health restrictions allow it, and basketball figures to be the same.

But there won’t be 13,000+ screaming UA fans like there have been for every game the past 30-plus years.

“I feel incredibly bad for our players first and foremost,” Miller said last week when asked about playing without a crowd at McKale. “Home court advantage in college basketball is really important and there are a lot of programs that have taken advantage of that hostile home-court advantage arena that we all have or some of us have. So yeah it’s gonna affect us. We haven’t played any games so I’m sure it’s gonna affect every team. So without that it is going to be different, but it’s up to us to adjust.”

Arizona’s official average attendance over 17 home games in 2019-20 was 13,654, which ranked 22nd in Division I. It was also tops in the Pac-12, as has been the case every year since the mid-1980s once Lute Olson got things rolling.

“I mean, we’ve led the Pac-12 in attendance for 35, if not 36 years, in a row,” Miller said. “I don’t think we’ll lead them this year. I know a couple people have wanted our attendance to decrease a little bit; it’s definitely going to happen this year, I promise you that. If you want to say that our attendance is going to be down, it’s going to be down this year.”

Miller said he feels bad for the fans, many of whom schedule their winter months around UA hoops games.

“I mean, they love college basketball, they’re used to coming to McKale during the wintertime, and to not have that opportunity is certainly going to be different for them as well,” he said. “So, again, having never done it before, I don’t think any of us can truly tell you how it feels until maybe we go through it.”