You hear the hype all throughout November, on ESPN and throughout the college basketball world.
Maui Invitational. Coaches vs. Cancer. Bahamas. Puerto Rico. Virgin Islands. Cancun. This Classic. That Classic. And, the early-season event the Arizona Wildcats will participate in this season, the NIT Season Tip-Off.
But first, the No. 6 Wildcats will face a different challenge Thursday night at San Diego State, playing the kind of difficult true road game that often isn’t seen until December.
“There’s not a lot of teams like us that, I believe, play a true road game” in November, UA coach Sean Miller said. “Everybody makes a big deal out of the huge neutral-site venues, and I understand that. But that doesn’t count. What counts is when you play a team in their own arena.
“That’s when you’re going up against a very good team under conditions that favor them. You learn a lot about your own team but those are games that aren’t easy to win. We know that.”
Miller knew it no more painfully than during his first season at Arizona, when he took the Wildcats into SDSU’s Viejas Arena in December 2009 and lost a dreary one, 63-46.
“That was one of the biggest wake-up calls I’ve ever gotten in my life,” Miller said. “I felt like we were going to lose by 50 points. It was men against boys.”
This isn’t the same situation, however. Arizona was then a team that didn’t even make the postseason; now it’s the No. 6 team in the country, with a considerably upgraded roster that includes five high school All-Americans.
In between, Arizona lost to SDSU at home during the 2011-12 season but beat the Aztecs in the championship game of last season’s Diamond Head Classic, when Nick Johnson swatted away a potential game-winning shot from Chase Tapley in the final seconds.
This time, the Wildcats have spent much of the postseason preparing for a rematch in San Diego, even playing a closed scrimmage at Saint Mary’s on Nov. 2 partly in order to simulate a regular-season road trip.
“No doubt that will help us,” Miller said. “But this time there will be people in the stands.”
Like, very loud people. SDSU’s atmosphere, which includes its rowdy “The Show” student section, is now considered one of the toughest in the West.
“That’s always a huge advantage,” Aztec forward Matt Shrigley said during a news conference in San Diego on Tuesday.
Even UA freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a native of Pennsylvania, has heard about it.
“It’s different to play against a crowd like that,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “I keep hearing it’s tough. There’s nothing like it. But it’s something you want to do as an incoming freshman and a competitor.”
SDSU’s homecourt is tough enough, Miller said, that it compares to Pac-12 environments such as at Washington and Colorado.
“We play at a number of tough places,” Miller said. “But San Diego State, no question about it, they have a great homecourt. And one of the things that makes them a great homecourt is they have really good teams.”
Just not, maybe, as good as a year ago, since SDSU has lost the powerhouse backcourt of Jamaal Franklin and Tapley while picking up talented Tulane transfer forward Josh Davis, who was briefly a UA target during his recruitment last spring.
“We’ve got a lot of moving parts we’re replacing, but we feel we’re competitive and have a team that knows how to play,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher said Tuesday. “We’re glad we have them at home. ”
Quiet signing day
Wednesday is the first day of the fall signing period, but only one of Arizona’s three 2014 commits is expected to sign a letter of intent right away.
Forward Craig Victor of New Orleans told the Star via text message that he would sign Wednesday, but guards Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Kadeem Allen aren’t expected to sign until later in the week.
Jackson-Cartwright said via text message that he won’t sign until Saturday, because his dad is out of town all week and wants him to sign when he returns. Jay Cyriac, an assistant coach at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, said Allen won’t sign until Friday when his mother comes to watch Hutchinson play and will co-sign the letter.
In addition, there’s a chance that UA target Justise Winslow makes a decision during the signing period.
Winslow is believed to be considering UA, Duke, Florida, Stanford, and Texas A&M.
The delays mean Arizona may not officially announce its fall class until next week after all the letters are in.
Miller said that he expected he would sign “four or five” players all together in the class of 2014. One of UA’s biggest targets, wing Stanley Johnson of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., has said he will decide after the fall signing period.
Pitts may not redshirt
Miller said the odds of UA freshman guard Elliott Pitts redshirting this season are “very slim,” even though Pitts is not expected to be in the regular rotation and has missed a week with what Miller called “kind of a severe sprain” in his wrist.
Miller said Pitts has practiced well and that his continued improvement, combined with the potential for injury or foul trouble to other players, means he could be “a real part of this.”
Pitts will travel to San Diego State, but he still has yet to practice since hurting his wrist last week.