UA guard Nick Johnson is one of the three players who have helped energize the Cats. Here he floats in for a layup against Harvard on Saturday.


Anyone wondering how good Arizona really is this season may have to wait a while.

The Wildcats are a consensus top-20 preseason team, but their nonconference basketball schedule could be among their weakest in decades, for reasons both in and out of UA's control.

The average RPI last season of teams on this year's nonconference schedule is 132 - there are 344 Division I teams - and the opponents' collective RPI could be worse as this season plays out because of the obstacles many of them are facing.

Arizona coach Sean Miller said he doesn't want to play a noncompetitive schedule but says he must schedule carefully because it is difficult to know what players will still be around when the games are finally played (typically one to three years after they are scheduled).

In other words, the days of Arizona's anytime-anybody-anywhere scheduling philosophy are probably over.

"One of the things we want to do is play a very competitive nonconference schedule," Miller said. "One of the many things that is remarkable about our past is the incredible nonconference schedules that Arizona teams have played. But one huge change for all of us now … is you can no longer count on who will be in your program two or three years out.

"So if you start to go down that path and one of these guys, like Derrick (Williams), for example, leaves unexpectedly, you schedule foolishly because you did not schedule your team on the best position to be successful."

Miller said the flip side is dangerous, too. There must be some tough games mixed in to challenge a team and generate NCAA tournament credentials.

"If you try to play an easy nonconference schedule, the days of making the tournament because you're in a conference like the Pac-12 ended a long time ago," he said.

While only one team on the Wildcats' nonconference schedule is in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 (No. 10 Florida, though UA could meet No. 20 San Diego State in the Diamond Head Classic), Miller said UA has tough nonconference games scheduled for the future, with UNLV and Michigan among them.

And while the Wildcats are in the midlevel Diamond Head event this season, they also plan to return to tougher nonconference events such as the NIT Tip-Off and Maui Invitational in the near future, Miller said.

"I guess the word I am after is balance," Miller said. "You want to play competitive nonconference games both away from McKale and at McKale, have marquee games here … and hopefully, the conference can provide marquee games after Christmas."

Although the Pac-12 is expected to be better this season, several of the nonconference opponents may not be as good as when UA scheduled them. Here's one look at them:

Nov. 11: Charleston Southern

Last season: 19-12, RPI 163

This season: The Buccaneers had their first winning record in 16 years last season, and they could be even better this time in the Big South.

Nov. 15: UTEP

Last season: 15-17, RPI 146

This season: Onetime UA coaching candidate Tim Floyd will make a stop at McKale Center with a team he may upgrade with freshmen and transfers.

Nov. 19: Long Beach State

Last season: 25-9, RPI 37

This season: The 49ers lost four starters from a team that won back-to-back Big West titles.

Nov. 28: NAU

Last season: 5-24, RPI 338

This season: Former UA aide Jack Murphy takes over a Lumberjack program still recovering from the bizarre early-season resignation of coach Mike Adras last season.

Dec. 1: Texas Tech

Last season: 8-23, RPI 241

This season: Coach Billy Gillispie left on Sept. 20 under allegations of player mistreatment, and the recovery could take years.

Dec. 4: Southern Miss.

Last season: 25-9, RPI 26

This season: Coach Larry Eustachy left after an NCAA tournament appearance last season, and so did all but five returnees.

Dec. 8: Clemson

Last season: 16-15, RPI 150

This season: The Tigers missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years last season, and they're even younger this time.

Dec. 15: Florida

Last season: 29-8, RPI 19

This season: The Gators have enough talent to reach a third straight Elite Eight, especially if they can patch up holes in the backcourt.

Dec. 18: Oral Roberts

Last season: 27-7, RPI 65

This season: Winners of the Summit League last season, the Golden Eagles move over to the Southland Conference, and they could win that one, too.

Dec. 22-25: Diamond Head Classic

Participating teams: East Tennessee State (172 RPI), Indiana State (137), Hawaii (203), Miami, Fla. (71), Mississippi (74), San Diego State (31), San Francisco (148)

Up next

• Who: Humboldt State at Arizona, exhibition

• When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

• TV, radio: None

Strength factor

Arizona's past nonconference strength of schedules, according to

Season RPI

2011-12 156

2010-11 51

2009-10 26

2008-09 45

2007-08 5

2006-07 12

2005-06 7

2004-05 21

2003-04 41

2002-03 8