There is really only one thing about the Arizona Wildcats' schedule that Sean Miller can control: the nonconference games.
And even then, the UA coach can adjust the difficulty of that schedule depending on the players he projects having … only to have those players (most notably Derrick Williams, the No. 2 NBA draft pick) disappear.
He also can't totally control who might be assigned to the special events. The Wildcats' entrance into the 2K Sports Classic, for example, came with a semi-expected date against St. John's at Madison Square Garden but also a potentially difficult game in New York with either Mississippi State or Texas A&M - and two home games, against Valparaiso and Duquesne, that aren't automatic mid-major gimmies, either.
In other nonconference games, Arizona faces two top-10 RPI teams from last season - Florida and San Diego State - as well as a home game with Clemson, a date with Gonzaga in Seattle and a potential trap game at New Mexico State.
"I worry about our nonconference schedule a little bit," Miller said. "To me, we're really pushing the envelope in terms of tough games. … These games were scheduled with the expectation that certain players would return. Right now we have something different, but we are better because we challenge ourselves."
But the Wildcats do get a break, at least relative to their conference peers, once Pac-12 play rolls around. They just might have the easiest unbalanced schedule in the conference, which has scrapped its traditional double round-robin in order to keep the schedule at 18 games and incorporate newcomers Colorado and Utah.
Assuming Arizona is the favorite to defend the conference - a dangerous assumption, considering the strong competition it is likely to find with UCLA, Washington, Cal and Oregon - the Wildcats appear to have the weakest conference strength of schedule.
Part of that, of course, is that Arizona doesn't have to face itself. The other factor is that the unbalanced schedule still allows the Wildcats to face five of the league's projected lower-six teams two times. The only miss is a game at Oregon State, which has a history of recent success against Arizona in Corvallis.
Then again, it is all relative. The Pac-10 had four teams (Arizona, Washington, UCLA and USC) in the NCAA tournament last season, plus two in the NIT (Cal, WSU) and another, Oregon, that won the College Basketball Invitational.
Colorado, meanwhile, nearly made the NCAA field out of the Big 12, instead finishing its season in the NIT. And seven Pac-10 players were taken in the two-round NBA draft, plus Colorado's Alec Burks.
So the Pac-10 was always challenging. And it just may be more difficult across the board as the Pac-12 this season.
"The Pac-12 Conference is more balanced and deeper this year," Miller said. "Last year we weren't as healthy as we will be, and we still were so close to having three teams in the Sweet Sixteen.
"That's what you forget. Some conferences have a lot of teams, but there aren't many that have 40 percent of their teams going to the NCAA tournament.
"I do worry about the combination of our nonconference season and our conference season. But no one will say in March that we didn't challenge ourselves."
How the schedule works
Under the new Pac-12 basketball scheduling formula, teams will still play 18 regular-season games but will no longer play a double round-robin.
Instead, each team will play its natural geographic rival twice every season and then skip one two-game weekend on the road and one two-game set at home. The skipped teams will also be skipped once the following season, but the sites will be reversed.
For example, Arizona will not take the Oregon-Oregon State road trip or host Stanford and Cal this season. Next season, the Wildcats will not host the Oregon schools and will not make a trip to the Bay Area.
The four teams to be played only once will be rotated and, over the course of a 10-year cycle, all teams but the geographic rival will be played 16 times while the rival will be played 20 times. Arizona will always play ASU in Tucson and in Tempe.
The unbalanced schedule could make the difference this season in a conference that is expected to have four or five teams challenging in a close race for the title.
Bears miss a road game at Arizona and must face Washington only once. They also have a respectable travel partner, Stanford, that could drain opponents that Cal faces in the second game of a weekend.
Wildcats must take a potentially scary trip to the Bay Area. But they get to play five of the league's projected bottom six teams twice, and miss their annual trip to Oregon - which includes the improving Ducks and their new arena, plus a game at Corvallis that is often troublesome for the Wildcats.
Bruins must face all three of the other top contenders, and the one game it plays against Oregon is in Eugene. In addition, all the Bruins' "home" games will be played at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., or the Sports Arena in Los Angeles due to renovations of Pauley Pavilion.
Huskies don't have to play at Cal, but they will make trips to Los Angeles and Arizona. Their "home misses" of Colorado and Utah would have likely been wins, anyway.
Strength of schedule
Assuming the following Pac-12 finish and hypothetical power ratings, Arizona comes out with the weakest Pac-12 schedule.
The following strength of schedule, or SOS, is a result of adding up the points each team faces over the 18 games and dividing by 18. It assumes the same advantage for all home games, including the ones UCLA will play at its semi-neutral venues.
Proj. finish Proj. power rating
1. Arizona 87
2. Cal 86
3. UCLA 85
4. Washington 84
5. Oregon 82
6. Stanford 80
7. USC 78
8. ASU 76
9. OSU 75
10. Colorado 74
11. WSU 72
12. Utah 70
Conference SOS based on above power ratings:
1. WSU 80.22
2. USC 80.06
3. Utah 79.94
4. Colorado 79.50
5. UCLA 79.28
6. ASU 79.06
7. Oregon State 79.00
8. Washington 78.89
9. Stanford 78.83
10. Oregon 78.22
11. California 78.17
12. Arizona 77.83
Under these assumptions, Arizona has the easiest schedule in part because it doesn't play itself, so that's one or two times its hypothetical 87 rating that does not go into its SOS average.
But the Wildcats also get to play five of the six bottom teams twice (and the one game they miss out of the bottom six is a road game at Oregon State that has historically been troublesome for the Wildcats).
Arizona's 2011-12 opponents, and their RPI at the end of 2010-11:
San Diego State 3
St. Johns 28
Texas A&M* 34
Mississippi State* 121
New Mexico State 146
Ball State 165
Washington State 70
Oregon State 210
*Arizona will face either Mississippi State or Texas A&M in the 2K Sports Classic, but not both.