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November 1, 2013
The elite of college basketball and mid-majors around the country approach scheduling differently, but the two also help one another out in the process.
Programs like Arizona, ranked sixth in Thursday's Associated Press preseason Top 25, are looking for early-season games to gradually test the roster before meeting some of the tougher out-of-conference opponents. For the Wildcats, that includes San Diego State, No. 7 Michigan and UNLV, and possibly No. 4 Duke.
To do so, major programs offer a one-time sum for a "guarantee game" against mid-majors. Essentially, hit the road for a bludgeoning and leave with a nice check.
And that is perfectly OK for Cal Poly and Long Beach State, the first two teams on the Wildcats' schedule for the upcoming 2013-14 season.
"We've got to get them in some games and take some licks and get them comfortable a little bit," said LBSU head coach Dan Monson, who will incorporate a handful of new faces - mostly junior college transfers - into a program that dismissed three key pieces during the offseason.
One of his better players, UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb, will not be eligible until midway through the season and another, Branford Jones, "is still not quite 100 percent" after breaking his leg in last season's opener.
Monson will know as much about his own team as Arizona does, which isn't much.
Still, the 49ers have scheduled some of the toughest nonconference slates in the country since Monson took over the program in 2007, similar to what he did while at Gonzaga - which advanced to the Elite Eight under his watch in 1999. The idea has paid off, as LBSU has won three consecutive Big West Conference championships, made two NIT appearances and earned a 2012 NCAA tournament berth over the last three seasons.
Two seasons ago, LBSU stunned then-No. 9 Pittsburgh, ending its 58-game nonconference home winning streak.
This season is no different. Before their league schedule rolls around, the 49ers will have faced No. 6 Arizona, No. 7 Michigan (in Puerto Rico), Kansas State, Washington, Creighton, N.C. State, USC and Missouri. In the same Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament, they could meet Florida State or No. 14 Virginia Commonwealth.
All but two of those games are on the road or at a neutral site.
Last season, the Wildcats trounced Monson's 49ers, 94-72, in a game UA led by double digits after less than eight minutes.
"Last year's game was super ugly," Monson recalled. "It was probably one of the worst games we played all year, but it helped us. We went on to win our league and a game like that early in the year really humbled our guys and got them back in the gym working on some things we would've never known about without playing that game."
And Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero has taken a similar approach up north in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Last season, the Mustangs were dealt losses from the likes of Saint Mary's, Fresno State and Washington. But a 70-68 win at UCLA last November caught some attention.
This season, Callero has scheduled games against No. 6 Arizona, No. 19 Oregon, Fresno State, Pitt and Stanford, among others.
"The Big West Conference has been a one-bid conference for the last four, five, six years," said Callero, whose Mustangs have finished fourth and third, respectively, in the last two seasons. "Trying to move it up into a multiple bid [league], hence the reason why the way we're doing it and Long Beach State's doing it.
"For us, it truly is about getting prepared for January and February."
The Wildcats cruised past Augustana College, 84-52, in an exhibition Monday. Although televised on Pac-12 Networks, neither coach made it a priority to see what Sean Miller's squad has in store for them in a few weeks.
Arizona opens the regular season Nov. 8 against Cal Poly, before facing LBSU three days later.
"I'm a DirecTV guy. I don't get that," Monson said, laughing.
"The bad news is we're not in Arizona's league right now. But the good news is we don't really have to worry about them.
"I'll probably be one of the only coaches who plays Arizona this year that's not really concerned about Arizona. I'm excited that we get to play one of the top teams in the country, just so right out of the gate we have a barometer of how far back we are from that caliber of a team. We just want to come in and compete and get better."
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor
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