Fourteen months into Sean Miller's quest to reproduce the success Arizona basketball achieved under Lute Olson, the new coach has already strayed from the path of his legendary predecessor in at least one regard.
So far they don't seem to share the same scheduling philosophy.
Olson was notorious for annually loading his schedule with marquee opponents, arguing that it boosted recruiting and his team gained more from testing itself against elite competition than it would from cruising past sub-250 RPI squads. On the other hand, the first schedule Miller has constructed at Arizona features a couple tough opponents but nowhere near the murderer's row Olson's teams annually faced.
A neutral-court matchup with Kansas in Las Vegas is the highlight of Arizona's tentative 2010-11 schedule, with a road test at improved NC State and matchups with Mountain West contenders BYU and San Diego State also packing some punch. The remainder of the schedule includes the likes of three Big Sky teams, Bethune Cookman and Rice, dragging the average RPI of Arizona's 13 tentative non-conference opponents all the way down to a paltry 157.
Granted that schedule is a far cry from Virginia Tech's infamous cupcake-heavy slate last season, but check out Olson's schedule in his final two full-time seasons at Arizona by comparison. In 2005-06, the Wildcats opened with Kansas, UConn, Michigan State, Virginia and Houston and later played Utah, Western Kentucky and North Carolina. Arizona's schedule the next year was nearly as daunting, with North Carolina, Louisville, Memphis, Virginia, UNLV and San Diego State all included.
With a talented but unproven team returning on the heels of the program's first NCAA tournament absence in nearly a quarter century, there's definitely a case to be made that Miller's schedule is a good fit for next year's team. The best Olson teams peaked late as a result of the competition they faced throughout the season, but next year's Wildcats might not be good enough yet to recover from a 6-6 non-conference slate.
The loss of point guard Nic Wise is a blow to Arizona, but the Wildcats will have a talented young nucleus anchored by forward Derrick Williams, guards MoMo Jones and Kevin Parrom and touted incoming freshman Daniel Bejarano.
If that group shows steady improvement this season and pilots Arizona back to the NCAA tournament next March, maybe Miller will upgrade his schedule in 2011-12 to match his team's accomplishments.