EDITOR'S NOTE: Wednesday's opener against NAU has been postponed because of a positive COVID-19 test from the Lumberjacks.
Arizona will play only seven nonconference games this season, after the NCAA lopped off four from the maximum number teams could play and pushed back the start of the season from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25 because of coronavirus concerns.
To create their new nonconference schedule, which now will be played entirely at McKale Center, the Wildcats pushed their Nov. 10 opener with NAU to Nov. 25, and moved a Nov. 12 date with Northern Colorado to Dec. 5.
UA also pulled out of the NIT Season Tip-Off, which was expected to move from New York to Florida but was eventually canceled, and opted instead to host its own multi-team event with Grambling State and UTEP.
Finally, UA postponed mid-November games against Loyola Marymount and Wyoming to future seasons, while moving a Dec. 12 game at Illinois to Dec. 11, 2021. Another road game, scheduled for Dec. 5 at Gonzaga, is expected to also be played sometime next season. Previously scheduled home games against Cal State Bakersfield, Cal Baptist and Montana remain unchanged.
Here’s a look at the seven games Arizona is now scheduled to play outside of the Pac-12:
Game: Wednesday, 5 p.m. (Pac-12 Arizona)
School location: Flagstaff
Series history: UA leads 99-27
Coach: Shane Burcar (second year at NAU, 16-14)
Last season: 16-14 overall; 10-10 Big Sky (tie, 5th)
Returning core: G Cameron Shelton (Jr., 14.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg), G Luke Avdalovic (Jr., 8.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg), F Nik Mains (Jr., 4.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg), F Isaiah Lewis (So., 2.4 ppg, 1.1 rpg),
Key losses: F Brooks DeBisschop (12.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg), F Bernie Andre (11.2 ppg, 6.5 rpg), G Cameron Satterwhite (9.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg).
New guys: G Jay Green (UNLV grad transfer, 0.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg), F Wynton Brown (three-star freshman), C Olgierd Dmochewicz (freshman from Poland), G Dayton Harris (freshman from Mesa Skyline HS), G Carter Mahaney (unranked freshman from Moraga, Calif.)
Upside: After taking over in June 2019 when Jack Murphy left as NAU’s head coach to become UA’s associate head coach, Burcar performed beyond expectations and earned the permanent job. There’s enough talent on hand that the Lumberjacks could be even better this season.
Downside: The Lumberjacks’ defense ranked in the 300s in both field goal percentage defense (36.4) and 3-point percentage defense (52.8) last season. Josh Green’s older brother, Jay, is expected to improve that area, either as a starter or major contributor off the bench.
He said it: “To get to 16-14, I would say zero people believed that we would keep the job — maybe 1% of the people outside of the building at NAU. To get the interim (tag) pulled off to get the contract, it was a heck of an accomplishment for our whole staff and our players.” — Burcar, to the Detroit News.
GRAMBLING STATE TIGERS
Game: Friday, 3 p.m. (Pac-12 Arizona)
School location: Grambling, Louisiana
Series history: UA and Grambling have never played each other.
Coach: Donte Jackson (51-46 in three seasons at Grambling; 177-119 in 10 seasons overall)
Last season: 17-15 overall; 11-7 Southwestern Athletic (tie, 4th)
Returning core: G Cameron Christon (Jr., 9.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg), G Prince Moss (Sr., 8.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), G Kelton Edwards (Sr., 8.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg), G Tra’Michael Moton (So., 6.0 ppg, 1.6 rpg), F Terreon Randolph (Sr., 4.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg).
Key losses: F Devante Jackson (12.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg), F C Travon Bunch (6.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg), G Ivy Smith (12.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg).
New guys: F Brian Thomas (Florida Gulf Coast transfer), F Cam Woodall (juco transfer), F Reyhan Cobb (juco transfer), G Peyton Taylor (juco transfer), F Sarion McGee (juco transfer), G Dwayne Walker (juco transfer)
Upside: Jackson has posted three 17-win seasons since taking over the formerly downtrodden Tigers program. This time, he returns three of his top five scorers and has a stash of junior college transfers to fill in holes and add experience for a team that could compete for the SWAC title.
Downside: After Grambling State lost 6-9 Davante Jackson, its leading scorer last season, and 7-foot-1 center Travon Bunch, it is likely to focus on more of a perimeter attack this season. But the Tigers shot only 30.0% from 3-point range last season, the 24th-worst mark in Division I.
He said it: “Last year we played a lot of inside-out type of ball because of the post presence we had. But this year’s team is going to be freer to shoot the ball and become more 3-point centric.” — Jackson, to Blue Ribbon Yearbook.
Game: Nov. 29, 4 p.m. (Pac-12 Arizona)
School location: El Paso
Series history: UA leads its former Border Conference and WAC rival 62-30, but the teams have played only three times in the past quarter-century. UA won the last matchup, 79-46, on Nov. 14, 2018 at McKale Center
Coach: Rodney Terry (25-36 in two seasons at UTEP; 151-144 in nine seasons overall).
Last season: 17-15 overall; 8-10 Conference USA (tie, 9th)
Returning core: F Bryson Williams (Sr., 17.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg), G Souley Boum (Jr., 12.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg), F Tydus Verhoeven (Jr., 1.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg), F Eric Vila (Sr., 3.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg), F Efe Odigie (Jr., 6.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
Key losses: F Jared Savage (11.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
New guys: G Keonte Kennedy (So., Xavier transfer), G Adam Hess (So., juco transfer), G Jamal Bieniemy (Jr., 5.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg), (Oklahoma transfer, 5.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg), G Christian Agnew (North Alabama transfer, 12.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg), F Kristian Sjolund (So., Georgia Tech transfer, 3.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg in 2018-19), F Ze’Rik Onyema (freshman), F Cam Clardy (freshman), G Vuke Vulikic (freshman)
Upside: The Miners gained momentum in Terry’s second season, winning nine more games, including their last four games of the regular-season. This time, they return all-Conference USA forward Williams and a core of transfers who gained experience last season.
Downside: The Miners were one of Division I’s worst 3-point shooting last season, hitting only 29.9% overall and 28.3% in C-USA games. The addition of Hess, who hit 47 3s last season for Salt Lake Community College, could help. And Williams is a good enough free-throw shooter (81.%) that he should be able to spread out his offense.
He said it: “I think when we initially got here as a staff, we took a collection of talent and guys that were athletic, but this year’s team has a chance to be more skilled, more team-oriented in terms of guys being able to play to who they are.” — Terry, to Blue Ribbon Yearbook.
NORTHERN COLORADO BEARS
Game: Dec. 5, time TBA (Pac-12 Arizona)
School location: Greeley, Colorado
Series history: UA leads 3-1, having lost in Greeley during the 1959-60 season but winning all three games in Tucson since then. UA won the last matchup 71-55 on Nov. 21, 2016.
Coach: Steve Smiley (first year at Northern Colorado and overall)
Last season: 22-9 overall; 15-5 Big Sky (2nd)
Returning core: F Bodie Hume (Jr., 13.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.0 bpg), G Matt Johnson (Jr., 7.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.3 apg), C Kur Jochuch (Jr., 5.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg), G Sam Masten (Jr., 7.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg), G Tre’Shon Smoots (So., 2.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg).
Key losses: G Jonah Radebaugh (16.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg), G Trent Harris (11.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg), C Kai Edwards (9.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg).
New guys: G Daylen Kountz (Jr., Colorado transfer, 3.0 ppg, 0.6 rpg), G Greg Bowie (Jr., UTRGV transfer, 8.7 ppg in 2018-19), F Marque English (juco transfer), C Theo Hughes (7-foot freshman from England), F Bryce Kennedy (freshman), G Malcolm Little (redshirt freshman), F Jamal Melvin (freshman).
Upside: The Bears return three junior starters from a team that surpassed the 20-win mark last season for the third straight time. They were the 45th most efficient offensive team and remarkably stingy defending the 3-point line: Northern Colorado allowed the fewest 3-pointers as measured by percentage of total points (17.6%) of any team in Division I and opponents hit those threes at just a 28.5% rate.
Downside: Smiley is taking over a program that set a high bar under coach Jeff Linder, who parlayed his success in Greeley into a job at Wyoming. Smiley was involved in recruiting every player on the roster but still has yet to call his own shots at any level.
He said it: “We’re a 99% man (defense) team. It’s not a lot of gimmicks or a lot of zone with us. The biggest thing we do, the best thing we do, is we’re built around taking away 3s…. You just can’t get them off against us.”– Smiley, to Blue Ribbon Yearbook.
CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD ROADRUNNERS
Game: Dec. 9, 5 p.m. (Pac-12 Arizona)
School location: Bakersfield, California
Series history: UA leads 3-0, last beating the Roadrunners 91-59 on Nov. 16, 2017 at McKale Center.
Coach: Rod Barnes (148-141 in nine years at Bakersfield; 334-330 in 21 seasons overall)
Last season: 12-19 overall; 6-10 Western Athletic (7th)
Returning core: G Taze Moore (Sr., 11.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg,), G De’Monte Buckingham (Sr., 8.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg), G Czar Perry (Sr., 8.4 ppg, 3.8 apg), F Shawn Stith (Sr., 7.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg), G Justin Edler-Davis (Sr., 6.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg), F Justin McCall (Sr., 5.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg), C Ronne Readus (Sr., 2.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
Key losses: F Greg Lee (grad transferred to Western Michigan, 6.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
New guys: G Shaun Williams (So., Kansas State transfer, 3.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg), C Ray Somerville (redshirt freshman), G Grehlon Easter (juco transfer), F Travis Henson (juco transfer), F Cameron Smith (juco transfer)
Upside: The Roadrunners are among the most experienced teams in college basketball, with seven of their nine top scorers — including their five senior starters — all returning as they transition from the WAC into the Big West. Boxscore-stuffer Taze Moore was an all-defensive team pick in the WAC last season, too.
Downside: Moore is actually the only returning double-figure scorer and the Roadrunners lost nine of their last 11 to finish last season. They aren’t a great shooting team, either, having hit only 31.4% from 3-point range and 46.3% overall last season.
He said it: “A lot of our guys have been in the wars already together and especially this year, at this point where we are, hopefully that’s an advantage.”– Barnes, to Blue Ribbon Yearbook.
CAL BAPTIST LANCERS
Game: Dec. 16, 5 p.m. (Pac-12 Arizona)
School location: Riverside, California
Series history: UA has never played Cal Baptist
Coach: Rick Croy (169-54 in nine seasons at Cal Baptist and overall)
Last season: 21-10 overall; 10-6 WAC (2nd)
Returning core: G Ty Rowell (Jr., 8.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg), G Tre Armstrong (So., 4.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg), G Reed Nottage (So., 3.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg).
Key losses: G Milan Acquaah (18.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg), G Ferron Flavors (13.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg), G Brandon Boyd (11.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg), C Zach Pirog (5.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg), F De’jon Davis (11.6 ppg, 9.7 rpg)
New guys: F Elijah Thomas (St. Mary’s transfer), C Gorjak Gak (Florida transfer), C Russell Barlow (TCU transfer), G Tyree Campbell (freshman), G Freddie Dybala (freshman), G Suraj Gahir (freshman), F Malik Wade (freshman), F Juhlawnei Stone (freshman).
Upside: A transitioning program to Division I that joined the WAC in 2018-19 but won’t be eligible for the NCAA Tournament until 2022-23, the Lancers nearly turned the league upside down last season, finishing second in the WAC and producing the league’s player of the year in Acquaah. This time, Rowell returns from an ACL tear he suffered in December and Croy brought in three Division I transfers to help out.
Downside: Because Cal Baptist lost Acquaah and its five other top players from last season, further progress appears difficult this season. The Lancers shot well from 3 (37.7%) but were the 59th least defensively efficient team in Division I, and were the worst team in the country at turnover percentage, forcing them on just 14.0% of opponent turnovers.
He said it: “To finish second in the WAC and win 21 regular-season games, it’s fun to look back and say ‘That group came together quickly. They did it. They created a lot of great moments.’ I’m really proud to have coached those guys. But we’ve had other great teams when we’ve lost a lot of guys but then you have guys step up. I believe that’s what gonna happen this year.” — Croy, to WAC Hoops Digest.
Game: Dec. 22, 5 p.m. (Pac-12 Arizona)
School location: Missoula, Montana
Series history: UA leads 2-0, beating the Griz 84-66 in 1995-96 and 61-42 on Dec. 10, 2016, with both games at McKale Center.
Coach: Travis DeCuire (127-71 in six seasons at Montana and overall)
Last season: 18-13 overall; 14-6 Big Sky (3rd)
Returning core: F Mack Anderson (Jr., 3.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg), F Derrick Carter-Hollinger (So., 6.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg), F Kyle Owens (So., 4.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg), G Josh Vasquez (So., 5.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.7 apg).
Key losses: G Sayeed Pridgett (19.8 ppg, G Kendal Manuel (15.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg).
New guys: F Michael Steadman (San Jose State transfer, 13.2 ppg, 8.5 ppg in 2018-19), G Cameron Parker (Sacred Heart grad transfer, 9.9 ppg, 7.8 apg), G Cameron Satterwhite (NAU grad transfer, 9.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg), F Darius Henderson (UMass-Lowell transfer, 3.3 ppg), G Brandon Whitney (freshman), G Robby Beasley (freshman), F Josh Bannan (freshman), G Hunter Clarke (freshman).
Upside: A perennial contender for the Big Sky title, Montana may be the toughest nonconference team on UA’s schedule. The Griz fell two games short of winning their third straight conference championship last season, but could be even more competitive this season with four D-I transfers joining Carter-Hollinger, the Big Sky Conference’s Freshman of the Year.
Downside: While the Grizzlies were one of the Big Sky’s most efficient offensive and defensive teams last season, they struggled to grab offensive rebounds and they fouled a lot. Montana had 22 combined foul outs and its opponents took the 11th highest ratio of free throws to field goals attempted in Division I, though the Griz did have three true freshman in its regular rotation.
He said it: “If you want to win a championship, you can’t be freshmen-led. There’s just a lot that freshmen don’t know that they’re learning throughout the year. If you don’t have upperclassmen that can lead them and communicate and get them to the right spots, it’s pretty difficult.” — DeCuire, to Blue Ribbon Yearbook.
Contact sports reporter Bruce Pascoe at 573-4146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brucepascoe