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Arizona men’s basketball: How the move to the Big 12 will impact the Wildcats program

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-big12-realignment-kansas-ncaa-tournament-travel-recruiting-2024 Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In the lead up to Arizona’s decision to join the Big 12 Conference in 2024, and since the move became official, there has been quite a bit of concern from the UA fan base about what kind of impact this is going to have on certain programs and the athletic department as a whole.

There’s also been plenty of sadness over the end of longstanding traditions and rivalries against various Pac-12 foes, whom Arizona may rarely ever face again.

The exception to all that may be UA men’s basketball, which will now find itself in arguably the best conference in the country when its Big 12 tenure begins a year from now.

“I think it’s exciting,” coach Tommy Lloyd said Monday, just ahead of the Wildcats heading to Israel and Abu Dhabi for an international exhibition trip. “I think it’s an exciting opportunity for us. But to be honest with you guys, I think we’re 100 percent focused on having a great (final) season in the Pac-12. That’s 100 percent where my focus lies and where our our team’s focus is gonna lie. And then after the season we’ll look forward to the Big 12. We’re not going to be distracted by it.

Speak for yourself, Tommy. As much as fans are intrigued by the upcoming season, and how Lloyd and his staff will integrate another large crop of newcomers in with his top returners, they’re equally excited about what the near future offers.

Here’s a preview of what’s to come for Arizona men’s basketball when it enters the Big 12:

The competition

The Pac-12 was the fifth-best conference among 32 in Division I according to adjusted efficiency, per That will probably be the case again for the final iteration of the league.

The Big 12 was No. 1 in 2022-23, its +17.99 rating more than 50 percent better than that of the Pac-12 (+11.58) and far ahead of second-best Big Ten (+14.88). And it’s been that way for a while, with the Big 12 being KenPom’s top-rated conference eight of the previous 10 seasons.

And in that time (2014-23) the Big 12 has sent at least 60 percent of its teams to the NCAA Tournament every year there’s been an NCAA tourney. The conference had seven of its 10 squads make it last season, and in the past decade it has produced five Final Four qualifiers as well as national champions in 2021 (Baylor) and 2022 (Kansas).

While the Big 12 loses Oklahoma and Texas after this season, the overall depth of the conference will only increase. 2023-24 additions BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF were a combined 94-47 last season, and Houston made the Final Four in 2022 before getting upset by Miami in the Sweet 16 this past March.

he Big 12 figures to be so deep once Arizona joins that it may take some getting used to for fans who are used to seeing the Wildcats regularly win two-thirds (or more) of their conference games. But at the same time, the league’s strength will also boost NCAA tourney resumes, as this past season Iowa State and TCU earned No. 6 seeds despite .500 league records and teams with seven conference losses have regularly still earned top-4 seeds.

“I love a good challenge,” Lloyd said. “You guys see how we schedule.”

Not including fellow Pac-12 departees ASU, Colorado and Utah, Arizona has an all-time record of 69-61 against the future Big 12. The Wildcats have played everyone but UCF, with their most common foes being BYU (20-19) and Texas Tech (15-12).

The UA has a 6-6 record against Houston, most recently that Sweet 16 loss to the Cougars in San Antonio in 2022, and a 4-8 mark against Big 12 king Kansas that includes wins over the Jayhawks in the 1997 Sweet 16 and the 2005 Maui Invitational.

“Kansas will be coming to McKale and we’ll be going to Phog Allen (Fieldhouse),” UA president Robert Robbins said Monday, during a press conference detailing Arizona’s move to the Big 12. “That, in the immediate term, that’s going to be an intense.”

Kansas last played in Tucson in 2008, an 84-67 UA win, while schools such as Kansas State (1999) and Iowa State (1990) will be making their first visit this century and Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, TCU and UCF will be stepping into McKale for the first time.

The travel

While the step up in overall competition may be something for UA fans to get used to, the team itself will be dealing with a far different travel schedule than it had in the Pac-12. Gone will be the travel partners that the Pac-10/12 used the past four decades, where Arizona and ASU would both face the same conference opponents each week either at home or on the road.

There may be a little of that on the home side, with Arizona, ASU, BYU, Colorado and Utah often hosting common opponents in a short time frame due their status as the Big 12’s Western frontier. But when it comes to Arizona hitting the road, it could be seeing some really wonky itineraries in a league that spans 10 states and three time zones.

And say goodbye to the Pac-12’s set-your-watch-to-it Thursday/Saturday schedule in league play. The Big 12 played its conference games this past season on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, with everyone playing on the weekend and the games spread out over the weekdays.

If Arizona plays two in a row away from McKale it could find itself away from home for nearly a week unless it chooses to return to Tucson in between games, but that might not always be possible. So if the UA were to have a trip to UCF and West Virginia, with a couple days in between games, that’s going to mean being on the road for quite a while.

The saving grace to all that potential travel: in a 16-game league that figures to play 20 conference games, Arizona will only have to visit 10 of those locales per season. ASU and the other Western members could be regular road stops, which would mean only having to go to Cincinnati, Morgantown or Orlando once every two years.


Arizona’s conference membership hasn’t factored into its recruiting strategy, or success, in quite some time, as the program has recruited at a national (and, recently, international) level for several decades. The 1994 Final Four team had key contributors from California, Oregon, Texas and New York City, while Sean Miller’s last big class was highlighted by players from Phoenix, Minneapolis and Florida (via Australia).

Miller, Lute Olson and Lloyd have all competed with the top power programs for recruits, winning some and losing some, and going to the Big 12 isn’t going to worsen that. If anything it should help the Wildcats since the improved competition will be enticing to prospects who want to play against the best.

Arizona’s 2024 class is already in great shape, ranked 5th nationally by 247Sports thanks to the commitments of 5-star prospects Carter Bryant and Jamari Williams. The Wildcats are also one of the top suitors for 5-star guard Zoom Diallo, who will visit campus in October.

And in possibly a nod to the increased presence in the Lone Star State that comes with joining the Big 12, the first scholarship offer Lloyd issued after the move became official was to Hudson Greer, a 4-star wing from Austin who is in the 2025 class.