Arizona’s T.J. McConnell didn’t celebrate Friday’s win over Duke for long before he turned his attention to Tuesday’s game against Texas Tech.
Even after Frank Sinatra stopped singing and the cameras stopped rolling, after the trophy-clutching Arizona Wildcats finished posing for pictures and walked off the Madison Square Garden stage, the party kept going.
Nearly an hour after UA’s win over Duke in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game Friday, staffers and families were still happily chatting outside the locker room while bags were packed and everyone prepared for a cheerful red-eye charter flight home.
Key players Aaron Gordon, Brandon Ashley, Nick Johnson and T.J. McConnell were willingly accommodating reporters from ESPN, USA Today and Sports Illustrated, with national interest in how coach Sean Miller might now have a national title contender in his fifth season.
But McConnell, without prompting, added another thought when he discussed things with the Star.
“We’ve gotta keep everyone level-headed, knowing we’ve got a game on Tuesday, and that’s against a very good Texas Tech team,” he said. “We can be happy about our win now, but tomorrow we’re going to focus on Texas Tech.”
You mean the calendar doesn’t just flip to that Dec. 14 showdown at Michigan?
Nope. In fact, UA faces three teams before then at McKale Center, all of whom are respectable: Texas Tech, which is rebuilding under veteran coach Tubby Smith, UNLV on Saturday and New Mexico State on Dec. 11.
It’s all part of Miller’s scheduling science, which has already taken the Wildcats on the road for a closed exhibition scrimmage at Saint Mary’s, a game at San Diego State and then the NIT Season Tip-Off, which concluded with two games in New York.
“One thing I learned at Xavier was the importance of the nonconference schedule,” Miller said. “The days of hiding at home or ducking the parity that exists have ended. … Having gone to San Diego State, then coming to New York to play two quality opponents … that’s why you want to play in an event like this one.
“It makes you better. If we wouldn’t have won both, I feel like we’d have gotten on the plane knowing more about our team and being better because of it.”
Here’s a quick look at UA’s upcoming three games, with power and strength of schedule ratings according to Sagarin:
Biggest win: Houston (at Houston), 76-64
Toughest loss: Alabama (at Brooklyn, N.Y.,) 76-64
Power rating: 109
Strength of schedule: 313
Top threat: F Jaye Crockett (14.5 ppg)
Key stat: 5.0 – Positive rebounding margin
Biggest win: Neb.-Omaha (at Las Vegas), 73-70
Toughest loss: UC Santa Barbara (at Las Vegas), 86-65
Power rating: 159
Strength of schedule: 247
Top threat: F Roscoe Smith (12.7 ppg, 16.2 rpg)
Key stat: 0 – Games UNLV has played away from home so far
New Mexico State
Biggest win: UTEP, 77-69 (at El Paso)
Toughest loss: Western Michigan, 70-64 (at Honolulu)
Power rating: 61
Strength of schedule: 218
Top threat: G Daniel Mullings (17.9 ppg)
Key stat: 34.4 – Free throws attempted per game