We can’t help but look forward to what should be a tremendously exciting year of college basketball for the Arizona Wildcats next season, which is chock full of big games. But which ones should you circle on the calendar? Here’s a look at five games Wildcat fans will want to call in “sick” for, or at the very least set their DVR to record.
#5. Arizona vs UNLV, Saturday December 7th, 2013, 3:35 pm (MST)
UNLV has been a steady force in west coast basketball in recent years, and the Runnin’ Rebels are focused on getting back to the level they were at in the early 90’s. Head coach Dave Rice might be the guy to take them there.
While UNLV won’t have #1 NBA Draft pick Anthony Bennett, the matchup in Tucson is still one of the biggest games between west coast schools on the slate for next year. With the way Rice has been recruiting talent to Las Vegas, look for a hungry rebels team to play Arizona tough at McKale in what could be an emerging out of conference rivalry.
#4. Arizona @ San Diego St, Thursday November 14th, 2013, 8:05 pm (MST)
There aren’t going to be many more hostile environments than Arizona’s rematch with San Diego St. The two teams battled last year in an epic Christmas day thriller in finals of Hawaii’s Diamond Head Classic, a game that the Wildcats won in the final seconds. After a heart breaking loss, you can be sure Aztec fans will have revenge on the mind.
Arizona will have a familiar face on the opposing bench, as ex-Wildcat Angelo Chol will be sitting out the year after transferring to SDSU this offseason. Chol, who played high school in the San Diego area, will be eligible to play at the beginning of next year.
Aztec sophomore Winston Shepard also has ties to Arizona’s Brandon Ashley, who were both high school teammates at the illustrious Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada. Both Shepard and Ashley are poised to play large roles for their teams and many are expecting breakout seasons from both.
It will also be Arizona’s first true road test, and could be a baptism by fire for Arizona’s young players. How will Arizona respond to the raucous SDSU fans? Will the Wildcats get rattled or keep their composure? This will be a very telling challenge early in the season.
#3. Arizona @ Oregon, Saturday March 8th, 2014, 2:00 pm (MST)
The Wildcats’ last game of the regular season, a showdown at Oregon could have major implications in the Pac-12 race. The Ducks are looking to build off a promising last season, and could be Arizona’s biggest threat for the conference title.
Oregon returns standout guard Dominic Artis, another former Findlay Prep and AAU teammate of Ashley’s. Artis is helped in the backcourt by fellow sophomore Damyean Dotson, who averaged 11 points per game last year.
And while Arizona has an impact transfer in point guard TJ McConnell, Oregon has one of their own in grad transfer forward Mike Moser. Moser, who played previously for UNLV, figures to be a huge boost to the Ducks interior presence and he could emerge as one of the best players in the conference with his shooting and rebounding ability.
A nationally televised game on CBS, the matchup at Oregon is the Wildcats’ last chance to punctuate their tournament resume before postseason play and cement their dominance over the Pac-12.
#2. Arizona vs Duke, Friday November 29th, 2013, Madison Square Garden
This one should have an asterisk by it, because there’s a chance this juicy matchup never happens. But if things go the way they should in the NIT Season Tip Off in New York, Arizona and Duke would meet in the tournament’s finals at Madison Square Garden.
The magnitude of the opponent plays a big role in this game’s significance, as Duke is always one of the nation’s most hyped teams. This year, the hype should be warranted. The Blue Devils claim a top recruiting class headlined by phenom Jabari Parker, you can bet the talking heads will compare Duke’s top frosh with Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.
How Arizona and Duke match up will be interesting. Like the Wildcats, the Blue Devils don’t have many juniors or seniors but they have loads of young talent. Guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon are tested and rangy forwards Amile Jefferson and Semi Ojeleye are tough checks for opposing players.
The game also features a pair of 7 footers squaring off in Kaleb Tarczewski and Marshall Plumlee. Whoever gains the edge inside could have the inside track in an important game for Arizona’s tournament resume.
#1. Arizona @ Michigan, Saturday December 14th, 2013, 10:00 am (MST)
Without question, this is the game fans should be looking forward to most. Last year’s national runners up, the Wolverines return a fierce team and are always tough to beat at home. This should be the Wildcats’ stiffest test of the year, but the potential victory would be a huge boost to Arizona’s seeding come March.
Michigan sophomore Mitch McGary surprised many by returning to college and forgoing the NBA Draft after a stellar run in the NCAA tournament. McGary would have likely been a lottery pick, and for good reason. Highly skilled, McGary is an offensive force who has the size and mobility to be a force in the college game.
The Wolverines will begin and end with McGary next year, so whoever draws the defensive assignment will have a tall order. Will Arizona put the mobile Ashley on him, or will they go with the uber athletic Gordon? No matter who guards McGary, it will take a team effort to stop him.
Michigan also returns sharp-shooting Glen Robinson III, who averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds on a scorching 57.4% from the field last year. With the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr, Robinson will be a focal point of the offense and perimeter counterweight to McGary.
Arizona will likely come into the game as underdogs, but if they emerge with a win it could be the most important of the regular season. With many Pac-12 teams rebuilding, the conference slate doesn’t offer the chance for RPI boosting wins that it has in past years. But if the Wildcats take care of business in the non-conference portion of the schedule, they could have a body of work worthy of a #1 seed.