By adding a two-year series with defending national champion Connecticut starting in 2017-18, the Arizona Wildcats have made themselves decidedly untrendy.
That’s just the way coach Sean Miller likes it.
While the recent proliferation of neutral site events has allowed some teams to avoid playing a single true road game in nonconference play, the Wildcats still prefer to have three or four high-profile “home-and-home” series active every season.
That typically produces two true road games and two challenging homecourt games before conference play, not just one splashy made-for-ESPN event in some warm place and a bunch of so-so home games.
“The reality is that the hardest games to win are over teams on their home court,” Miller said. Teams that don’t play those games “can spin it however they want, but what they’re saying is, ‘We don’t want to lose in our nonconference season.’ ”
So UConn will visit McKale Center in 2017-18, and the Wildcats will play on UConn’s campus or in Hartford, Connecticut, in 2018-19. UA will likely add two or three other home-and-home series during those seasons.
This season, Arizona will play in a multi-team event — the Maui Invitational — but supplement that experience with four games from home-and-homes: road games at UNLV and UTEP, plus home games with Gonzaga and Michigan.
It’s old-school, hard-nosed scheduling.
“We want to play a schedule to prepare us for conference play and the (NCAA) tournament,” Miller said. “We don’t want to be punished by the selection committee because we didn’t give our players a chance” to prove themselves in big games.
Not everyone shares Miller’s philosophy, and UA director of basketball operations Ryan Reynolds said it has become tougher to schedule home-and-homes as a result.
After all, while beating Michigan and San Diego State on the road last season likely earned UA a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed, teams can still gain RPI credit and TV exposure from facing highly rated teams on lower-risk neutral courts.
“It’s hard to find teams for home-and-homes with how scheduling has changed,” Reynolds said. “There’s not a lot of home-and-homes. Sean likes playing them. That’s what college basketball is all about.”
Reynolds said the basketball program also wants to bring in big home games in order to help out the athletic department, and Miller said rugged scheduling is important not only to fans but also recruits.
“In recruiting, you can’t walk into somebody’s house and tell them, ‘your son is in the best position to get better,’ if you’re not playing these games,” Miller said. “We want to back up our claims.”
Ashley on schedule
Forward Brandon Ashley has been practicing fully except in competitive (contact) drills over the summer and should continue doing so before beginning full participation in October, Miller said.
Ashley suffered a right foot injury Feb. 1 and had ligament surgery 10 days later. Miller said Ashley has been in on some 5-on-5 drills so he can become comfortable in that setting while also participating in most everything else.
“We’ve been aggressive in his rehab, but he’s still healing,” Miller said. “We’ve held him out of contact for no other reason than the big picture. We want to err on the side of giving him the most time.”
The Wildcats will begin brief drills with four-player groups beginning next Wednesday, transition into limited team practices in mid-September and will begin full practices Oct. 5. Teams are limited to two hours a week of drills until 42 days before their first game.
It’s warm inside
When UA commit Justin Simon opted to transfer from Temecula Valley (California) High School to Brewster Academy for his senior season last week, the move didn’t just involve a higher level of basketball.
While playing an elite schedule for Brewster, Simon will also be adjusting to an academic-minded boarding school — and enduring a New Hampshire winter after growing up in Southern California.
“We’re trying to get him mentally prepared for that,” said Simon’s father, Ken, chuckling. “I talked to somebody who went to Syracuse for basketball, and he said: ‘You have to realize I just had to walk from the dorm to the gym. I limited my time in the elements.’
“So it’s, ‘Hey, Justin, you don’t have to be outside.’ And the whole thing is get him in the mindset for independence so he’ll be ready.”
Ken Simon said Brewster was chosen in part because Justin struck up a friendship with one of its players, Louisville commit Donovan Mitchell, and to be better prepared for college on and off the court.
“We wanted him to be more ready and focused for U of A,” Ken Simon said. “He’ll be pushed every day in practice and in their league. Their roster is a Division I (college) roster, and if you go against those guys in practice, every day is going to get you better.”