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Sean Miller explains why Arizona will play all non-conference games at home

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

Even though fans won’t be able to cheer on the Wildcats in the non-conference season, Arizona sees a lot of benefits of playing at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s clearly in our team in player’s health and wellness to be here to be in their own apartment or dorm room, to be in McKale Center to be tested every day, to be in a real strong regimen,” head coach Sean Miller explained on media day. “That’s first and foremost.”

Secondly, it reduces travel and lodging costs. Thirdly it, theoretically at least, allows for an easier transition for Arizona’s 10 newcomers, five of whom have never played competitive basketball in the United States.

Especially since Arizona will not be able to scrimmage other teams, play exhibitions, or host its annual Red-Blue game in front of a packed McKale Center before its regular-season opener.

“Those three things all help prepare your team and develop,” Miller said. “Even like, for example, checking into a game. ... None of our guys have ever done that are from (other countries). I know that sounds silly, but you tell somebody to check in, how you substitute in a game in college basketball is different. So having a timeout, being able to play with referees, we’ve never experienced that. We’re gonna get all that experience during our non-conference season and we’re going to try to do the best that we can.”

To make it go even smoother, Arizona’s non-conference schedule (which should be released any day now) is the weakest it’s ever been under Miller. The Wildcats will host Cal Baptist, NAU, Montana, Grambling State, Sam Houston State and Northern Colorado—all mid-majors and not even good ones. Only Northern Colorado (75) fell within KenPom’s Top 130 last season.

Arizona was supposed to play road games at Gonzaga and Illinois—two top-10 teams—but both requested those games be postponed to next season so they can host the Wildcats with fans. Arizona obliged.

The Wildcats were also scheduled to participate in the Preseason NIT where it would have played two of St. John’s, Texas Tech and Cincinnati. That multi-team event was originally going to be played in New York, but then was briefly slated to be in Orlando before ESPN decided to cancel it due to “certain challenges surrounding testing protocols.”

Arizona probably would have bowed out anyway.

“I think one of the four (teams) dropped out and then as we looked at traveling to Florida, at the cost, how much it would cost for us to fly there and back, to stay there, then throw in some of the points I made about our players, health, and wellness, it just makes more sense for us to play our non-conference schedule here, to improve and to prepare for our Pac-12 games, two of which are going to happen before Christmas,” Miller said.

One could argue Arizona’s non-conference schedule is so stale that it won’t adequately prepare them for what Miller admitted could be the deepest Pac-12 in a long time, but at this point they’ll just be glad if they can play any games before the conference season tips off.

“To some degree we didn’t have a choice on who we were playing and we’re still hopeful that all those games will stay on our schedule, but I don’t think there’s a guarantee that that will happen,” Miller said. “Number one, because of COVID. The game could be canceled. Number two, a lot can happen between now and the game that’s scheduled, so that’s what we wanted to do and we’re hoping we could play a non-conference schedule. I do think it’ll develop us.”