The Arizona Wildcats recently filled out their non-conference schedule, which is a bit shorter this season now that the Pac-12 is expanding from 18 to 20 conference games.
Here is one thing to know about each of Arizona’s opponents, which are listed in the order in which they appear on the schedule (h/t to Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star for the details).
Note that UA will only play two of Texas Tech, St. John’s and Cincinnati in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Northern Arizona has Josh Green’s brother
Arizona hasn’t lost to NAU since 1968, so this game itself is pretty meaningless, other than the fact it’s the season opener. But the Wildcats will get to host Jay Green, the older brother of former Wildcat Josh Green
A graduate transfer, Jay Green spent three years at UNLV before joining the Lumberjacks. He was pretty much a non-factor there, averaging 0.9 points and 7.3 minutes across 32 appearances.
If the start of the 2020-21 NBA season is pushed back because of the coronavirus, you can probably expect to see Josh in McKale for this one.
Northern Colorado is hoping to keep a good thing going with a new (but familiar) coach
The Bears hired Steve Smiley to replace Jeff Linder, who left for Wyoming, another team on Arizona’s schedule. Smiley was Linder’s associate head coach for four seasons and they won 21 or more games in three straight seasons.
This past season was arguably their best yet, finishing 75th in KenPom’s ratings. The Bears were solid offensively, finishing 45th in the country in efficiency. They slowed the game down, took care of the ball, and made a bunch of 3s. But they were senior-heavy so they could take a step back this season.
Loyola Marymount is starting over after firing former UA assistant Mike Dunlap
After going 11-21, LMU fired former Arizona assistant Mike Dunlap (2008-09) after six seasons. They replaced him with Marquette associate head coach Stan Johnson, who wound up being replaced by UA assistant Justin Gainey.
It’s Johnson’s first head coaching gig after almost two decades as an assistant, including stops at Arizona State and Utah.
The Lions, who only had one winning season under Dunlap, are led by Eli Scott. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he used to be high school teammates with LaMelo and LiAngelo Ball in Chino Hills.
The 6-foot-6 Scott averaged 15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists last season, earning second-team All WCC honors. He was the only player in the conference in the top seven in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, field goal percentage, and minutes per game.
Linder is mostly starting from scratch at Wyoming
Arizona completed its schedule by adding a home game vs. Wyoming, who it has not played since 2004. The Cowboys have posted two consecutive 24-loss seasons. That futility caused them to fire four-year coach Allen Edwards and replace him with Linder.
Wyoming returns 6-foot-7 wing Hunter Maldonado, who averaged 15.8 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, and should be in the running to be Mountain West Player of the Year. Other than that, the Cowboys are basically starting from scratch, adding three JuCo transfers and a handful of high-school recruits.
St. John’s struggled after beating Arizona last year
One of Arizona’s three possible opponents in the NIT Season Tip-Off, the Red Storm went 6-13 after starting the year 11-2 and winning a nail-biter vs. Arizona in San Francisco.
One site projects St. John’s as a bubble team in 2020-21, but that will largely depend on the future of LJ Figueroa, who has declared for the NBA Draft. The 6-foot-6 wing averaged 14.5 points per game last year, and dropped 21 in the win over Arizona.
If the Wildcats do face St. John’s, it will be in Madison Square Garden, one of the Red Storm’s home venues.
Cincinnati is different under new coach John Brannen
Mick Cronin left for UCLA after the 2018-19 season, and the Bearkats replaced him with former Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen, whose first season in the Queen City was mostly a success. The Bearkats went 13-5 in the AAC and 20-10 overall.
Cincinnati no longer plays at a plodding pace but also didn’t have the same defensive mettle under Brannen. The Bearkats had a top-30 defense in Cronin’s final nine seasons. They finished 51st under Brannen, who inherited many of Cronin’s players.
Our friends at DownTheDrive.com say “Brannen’s squad should be much more settled and comfortable in an up-tempo, movement offense” this season, though they are losing three of their top five scorers—and maybe four if senior forward Keith Williams keeps his name in the NBA Draft.
Texas Tech should be elite defensively again, but lost its two leading scorers
The Red Raiders have posted a top-10 defense in each of the past three seasons, per KenPom. That should be the case again in 2020-21 as they return much of their roster and add the nation’s No. 9 recruiting class.
Scoring could be an issue, though, after losing leading scorers Jahmi’us Ramsey and Davide Moretti to the professional ranks.
A year removed from an appearance in the national championship game, the Red Raiders went 18-13 last season, ending the year on a four-game losing streak and 21st in KenPom’s ratings.
Gonzaga could be the best team in the country
The Bulldogs finished No. 2 in the final AP Poll and could be even better in 2020-21, though that will depend on the NBA decisions of Filip Petrusev, Joel Ayayi, and Corey Kispert.
Our friends at SlipperStillFits.com envision all three of them returning to school, and if that happens the Zags will be an incredible offensive team again. They finished No. 1 efficiency in KenPom’s metrics last season by a wide margin.
They beat Arizona in McKale, and with the rematch set in Spokane, it could be a long day at The Kennel for the Cats.
Cal State Bakersfield is joining the Big West
The Roadrunners are leaving the WAC and joining the Big West on July 1, a move that will help them reduce travel, rekindle some regional rivalries and compete in a slightly more competitive conference.
CSUB is coming off a 12-19 season but will be one of the older teams in the country in 2020-21 and return Taze Moore, who averaged 11.5 points per game and was a member of the WAC All-Defensive Team.
Illinois is waiting on some critical NBA Draft decisions
Rising junior guard Ayo Dosunmu and sophomore big man Kofi Cockburn have yet to decide if they will stay in the NBA Draft.
Neither are expected to be first-round picks, but in today’s day and age, it’s never surprising when a player decides to forgo their college eligibility. Dosunmu averaged 16.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists last season. Stadium’s Jeff Goodman opines that Dosunmu is “likely gone.”
Cockburn, more likely to return, averaged 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds.
Arizona routed Illinois 90-69 in November, but the Fighting Illini (21-10) actually finished with a better record despite playing in the Big Ten, which KenPom rated as the toughest conference in the country.
With the rematch being in Champaign, the Illini have to like their chances of getting revenge.
Cal Baptist is kinda new to this
The Lancers have been a Division I program for two seasons. It’s gone fairly well so far, as they went 21-10 last season. They were one of the worst defensive teams in the country (including the worst at forcing turnovers), but made up for it by posting the 13th-best 3-point shooting percentage and sixth-best free-throw shooting percentage in the country.
CBU started four seniors, though, so a regression seems likely in 2020-21.
Montana has a lot of production to replace, but a lot of transfers to turn to
The Grizzlies finished third in the Big Sky last season, but has big shoes to fill after the graduations of Sayeed Pridgett (19.8 PPG) and Kendal Manuel (15.1), the team’s two leading scorers.
The Grizzlies will lean on a bevy of transfers, like Cameron Satterwhite (NAU), Cameron Parker (Sacred Heart), Naseem Gaskin (Utah), Michael Steadman (San Jose State) and Darius Henderson (UMass Lowell). Steadman is the big name. The senior averaged a team-high 13.2 points and 8.5 rebounds in his lone season at SJSU.
In general, the Grizzlies have been a solid team under seven-year coach Travis DeCuire, finishing with a winning record every year except 2016-17 when they went .500.