Monday was the official start of preseason practice for Arizona, though in reality the Wildcats have been hard at work preparing for the 2023-24 season since the summer thanks to the extra practices they were allowed in conjunction with their overseas exhibition tour.
And the UA is going to need all the practice it can get to take on arguably the toughest nonconference schedule in the country.
“When you kind of drill it down, it looks daunting,” UA coach Tommy Lloyd said. “But I think it’s something this team is going to be prepared to do, and it’s a challenge I feel like we need as a program.”
Arizona’s 11 non-league games include five matchups with power-conference opponents, including the start of a home-and-home series at Duke. The Wildcats also play four neutral-site contests, with games set for Palm Springs, Indianapolis, Phoenix and Las Vegas in addition to six at McKale Center.
“A lot of these were just maybe opportunities that came up,” Lloyd said. “I spent a lot of time with (assistant coach) TJ (Benson) kind of talking about this stuff. And as we kind of sliced and diced the schedule, we just felt like these were the right moves.”
Arizona is not playing in a preseason tournament for the first time (in a non-COVID season) since 2008, withdrawing from the Wooden Legacy and instead opting for individual neutral-site games. The Wildcats are reportedly in the field of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas in 2024.
“If you think about it, you play your Maui, you play (in the) Bahamas, those are three neutral games,” Lloyd said. “And so we’re kind of doing that, but all the games are one-offs. If you looked at a field at any neutral tournament, where you played Purdue, Alabama and FAU, and Michigan State as a fourth one, I mean that that would be a pretty awesome draw. We’re just separating those games kind of out a little bit. So I’m excited.”
The FAU game, set for T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas just before Christmas, was a late addition that required some “moving parts” elsewhere on the schedule, as Lloyd called it. The planned visit to Southern, as part of the Pac-12’s scheduling partnersthip with the Southwestern Athletic Conference, was instead moved to McKale in order for the UA to meet its annual requirement of 18 home games (including exhibitions) for season ticket purposes.
“I have an obligation to this athletic department to help it meet its budget numbers,” Lloyd said. “And so, in order to play that neutral game against Florida Atlantic ...we kind of had to get creative and make sure we got the number of home games we needed.
“I’m excited to play Florida Atlantic, obviously they had a great run last year. They have a great coach in Dusty May, and they’re coming off a Final Four.”
Another schedule tweak, executed at the conference level, made it so Arizona would host UCLA one last time before the Pac-12 dissolves. The schedule rotation the league put in place years ago called for the Wildcats and Bruins only meeting in Los Angeles this season, but Lloyd said the Pac-12 realized the value in having its two best teams play twice.
“One of the things they’re trying to do is how do we enhance our opportunity to earn more at-large bids and increase our ranking as a conference,” he said. “And one of the things was, with us only playing UCLA once this year, I think the thinking was along the lines of, you have your teams that have taken first and second place the last two years only playing once, (it) probably isn’t a great thing for the conference overall. Assuming both of us can hopefully perform like we have the last couple of years, then it’ll be a very impactful, very good game for the analytics.”
Lloyd called Monday the start of Arizona’s “new journey” after getting bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the first round by 15th-seeded Princeton in mid-March. The Wildcats’ first official game is Nov. 6 against Morgan State, but there are exhibitions prior to that on Oct. 20 (Lewis & Clark State) and Oct. 30 (New Mexico Highlands) as well as the Red-Blue Showcase on tap for 7:30 p.m. MST Friday.
2023-24 Arizona MBB schedule
- Oct. 20 vs. Lewis & Clark State (exhibition)
- Oct. 30 vs. New Mexico Highlands (exhibition)
- Nov. 6 vs. Morgan State
- Nov. 10 at Duke
- Nov. 13 vs. Southern
- Nov. 17 vs. Belmont
- Nov. 19 vs. UT-Arlington
- Nov. 23 vs. Michigan State (Palm Springs)
- Dec. 2 vs. Colgate
- Dec. 9 vs. Wisconsin
- Dec. 16 vs. Purdue (Indianapolis)
- Dec. 20 vs. Alabama (Phoenix)
- Dec. 23 vs. Florida Atlantic (Las Vegas)
- Week of Dec. 27-31: at Cal/Stanford
- Week of Jan. 3-7: vs. Colorado/Utah
- Week of Jan. 10-14: at Washington State
- Week of Jan. 17-21: vs. UCLA/USC
- Week of Jan. 24-28: at Oregon/Oregon State
- Week of Jan. 31-Feb. 4: vs. Cal/Stanford
- Week of Feb. 7-11: at Colorado/Utah
- Week of Feb. 14-18: vs. ASU
- Week of Feb. 21-25: vs. Washington/Washington State
- Week of Feb. 28-March 3: at ASU, vs. Oregon
- Week of March 6-9: at UCLA/USC
- March 12-15: Pac-12 Tournament, Las Vegas