When Tommy Lloyd was hired as Arizona’s coach in April 2021, he spoke of his love for challenging nonconference schedules like he had for many years as an assistant at Gonzaga. And in that first season in charge, he added a home-and-home series with Tennessee to an otherwise finished slate.
This preseason he and his staff have put together a gauntlet, one that began almost immediately when the Wildcats played at Duke in their second game. They also set up a home-and-home with Wisconsin and several one-off neutral-site games, including ones next month against No. 2 Purdue in Indianapolis, No. 17 Alabama in Phoenix and No. 19 Florida Atlantic in Las Vegas.
The run of big nonconference games begins Thursday when third-ranked Arizona (5-0) takes on No. 21 Michigan State (3-2) in Palm Springs, Calif.
Arizona was supposed to be playing this week in the Wooden Legacy, an event it won in 2019 when it was an 8-team tournament in the Los Angeles area. The last few have been 4-team affairs, and this year’s edition has been moved to Sin City and renamed the Vegas Showdown, with a field of ASU, BYU, NC State and Vanderbilt.
“We just ended up not feeling good about it,” Lloyd said. “Didn’t feel like it fit with the direction you wanted to go as a program, so we were able to get out of it.”
That left a hole in the schedule, one that was filled thanks to a third party that wanted to start put some college basketball games in the new Acrisure Arena in Palm Springs. Per Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star, the co-founder of Acrisure, Greg Williams, is a Michigan State booster.
Lloyd said he was hoping to get to play Michigan State at some point anyway, but that hadn’t come to fruition.
“It was put together by other people, but I think there was a mutual respect there,” he said. “I bugged (MSU coach Tom Izzo) a little bit here and there to see if we could schedule a home and home type thing or something like that, it just hasn’t happened yet, but we’re grateful for this opportunity, for sure.”
Arizona and MSU haven’t met since the opener of the 2016 season, a game won by the Wildcats in Hawaii on a last-second basket by Kadeem Allen. The UA is 5-2 all-time against the Spartans, including a win in the 2001 Final Four.
Though this game is technically part of a multi-team event, the Acrisure Arena, with Sunday’s 101-56 win over UT-Arlington also considered part of it, this is the first time the UA hasn’t played in a true MTE in a non-COVID season since 2006-07. The Wildcats will be in the Battle4Atlantis this week a year from now, facing the likes of Creighton, Davidson, Gonzaga, Indiana, Louisville, Oklahoma and West Virginia.