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December 14, 2012

Arizona beefing up future nonconference schedules

Coming into the season, much was made about the perceived lack of difficulty in Arizona's nonconference schedule.

Sure, there were games against the solid mid-majors around the country such as Charleston Southern and Long Beach State, but the Wildcats have yet to truly be tested. Saturday's meeting between No. 8-ranked Arizona and No. 5 Florida may be one of the better games in college basketball until March Madness hits, but it also is the lone marquee date on the UA schedule.

Look for that to change, head coach Sean Miller said Thursday.

"In the future I think you'll see continued games like this, where everybody can get excited before conference play starts because we have a great opponent coming in," said Miller, who has been criticized about this season's slate.

Miller announced that the program has agreed to a home-and-home series with Missouri that will start in 2015. Also in the works for "perhaps the year after" next season is a similar agreement with the nation's premier program not in a power conference, Gonzaga.

"That's certainly in the cards and we know that nonconference scheduling is important and the balance of it is important," Miller said.

In the next few seasons, the Wildcats also have home-and-home series inked with Michigan starting next season in Ann Arbor, as well as a similar agreement with UNLV that will start at McKale in 2013-14.

But Miller also defended this year's slate, despite the lack of instant name recognition that comes from playing teams not associated with one of the power six BCS conferences. Miller was confident that the other opponents on the schedule not named Florida will "quietly" do well, such as Charleston Southern.

"It's about sometimes just beating a number of good teams," as opposed to netting just one win over a top-five opponent, Miller said. He added that the Wildcats are not simply trying to load up on victories, and that the Diamond Head Classic during the Christmas holiday in Hawaii should add a few more quality games to test his team in a neutral setting.

Miller pointed to possible meetings with Ole Miss, Miami and/or San Diego State - the Wildcats could play two of the three - among the field.

UA also will wrap up a home-and-home with the Aztecs in San Diego next season. The series, which started last season, took a break because of the possible meeting in the finals of the exempt holiday tournament. So it is possible that the teams could meet in three consecutive seasons.

Miller said the meeting tomorrow against the Gators "really matters," not only to himself and the team but the Pac-12 Conference, too.

While he said nobody can take away his team's 7-0 start, adding a signature win would boost UA's NCAA tournament résumé.

"I think that the better that our conference does as a whole in nonconference play, it puts our conference in the best position to get the most teams in postseason - bottom line," Miller said.

"Of course, I want to represent our conference, we want to represent our conference the right way and make sure that everybody respects our conference, respects our own team and basketball here in the West.

"It's not just the power teams in your conference that you want to do well. Whoever ends up finishing at the bottom of our Pac-12 season in March, we want to look back and see that in nonconference play they fared well."

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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