When fourth-ranked Arizona begins its three-games-in-four-days swing at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, the ideal mindset would be to treat the tournament like any other.
There's just one problem: The Wildcats (9-0) are scheduled to play on Christmas Day.
"I'd like to say this is war, business, or whatever, but it's still Christmas," UA head coach Sean Miller said. "At the same time, it's that balance of trying to win the tournament."
The 'Cats will open the tournament Saturday night against East Tennessee State. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in Hawaii/8:30 p.m. MST.
The Buccaneers (2-7) are in the midst of a four-game losing streak. ETSU dropped a 72-51 decision to Charleston Southern on Tuesday.
The shorthanded Bucs are led by redshirt freshman Lester Wilson, who averages 17.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. But the team's next three leading scorers - Marcus Dubose, Jarvis Jones and Sheldon Cooley - have appeared in just two games apiece.
Cooley and Dubose were dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules, while Jones missed the first seven games because of academics. Also, the Bucs will be without senior forward Lukas Poderis for the remainder of the year because of a left foot injury.
Also in the field are Ole Miss, Miami, San Diego State, Indiana State, San Francisco and Hawaii. The Wildcats are scheduled to face either the host Warriors or Hurricanes on Sunday, have Monday off and then resume on Christmas Day against an opponent to be determined.
Should the 'Cats and No. 18 Aztecs (9-1) both advance to the finals, that could give UA another quality nonconference opponent. Steve Fisher's squad has won nine straight games since dropping its season opener to Syracuse.
SDSU knocked off Arizona in Tucson last season, 61-57.
But Miller said the rest of the field is "understated" as well.
"I've heard people describe the field where almost as if there's no heavyweights," Miller said.
"Miami, Florida is playing great. I know in preseason they were right there near the top of the ACC. Ole Miss is very good. San Diego State, I mean, I don't need to tell anybody about San Diego State. To me, they've been the best program in the West for the last seven years, them and Gonzaga."
The event also will give the Wildcats, a mix of seasoned seniors and inexperienced freshmen, a tournament feel on a neutral court to "prepare" for March.
"Guys understand the quick turnaround, and how it's so much more about us being ready to play as opposed to worrying about who we're playing," Miller said.
Click Here to view this Link.Tracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor