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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Strength of a weak schedule

By now it’s obvious. Arizona is the young and vulnerable team that head coach Sean Miller first described before his team hit the road to the Maui Invitational.

After a shameful loss to Oklahoma, the same question kept popping up: will the Wildcats keep The Streak of 25 straight years of getting into the NCAA tournament alive?

To Miller, the answer seems to remain irrelevant. For the first-year coach, what does it matter if his team is selected for the NCAA tournament if they won’t make anything of it? What does matter to Miller, though, is improvement and building the future.

Aided by the anemic Pacific 10 Conference and with games against Louisiana Tech and Lipscomb upcoming, the Wildcats find a hidden gem — a schedule that fits like a glove.

Some call it weak, but the Wildcats’ schedule is tailor-made to give an inexperienced squad not only a chance to learn, but also a chance to maintain enough confidence to move into next season with a positive vision rather than a worn and beaten mindset.

So far this year, teams like Oregon have fallen to unknowns like Portland in embarrassing fashion. The league is a combined 0-9 against The Associated Press-ranked top-25 opponents.

That’s OK, though. How much more could a freshman- and sophomore-laden team like Arizona’s benefit from getting smothered nightly once it enters a league — such as the Big East or ACC — that boasts the Connecticut Huskies or the Duke Blue Devils among a slew of other highly competitive squads? Playing in that environment could demoralize a team as fragile as Arizona and possibly wear the team down to the point of giving up.

Look no further than the ever-strong Pac-10 football conference and the lowly Washington State Cougars, who had no shot at regaining traction once they hit a wall in their conference schedule. It tore them up like a wood chipper.

But that threat of mental destruction doesn’t exist for the basketball version of the Wildcats. Not in the Pac-10. Arizona showed in Wednesday’s double-overtime loss to the UNLV that when it plays well, there’s enough raw talent to potentially steal a game here and there. That’s definitely possible in the Pac-10.

With the Louisiana Tech and Lipscomb games acting as filler between tougher matches against the likes of BYU and North Carolina State, there’s always opportunity to keep the wheels turning and the outlook positive.

The same can be said for a weak, meek conference schedule that will give the Wildcats reasons to look forward to next year, giving them a chance at winning on any given night. Perhaps they’ll get blown out by a team like Washington, the conference favorite. But just as memories of the team’s poor showing in Oklahoma can be put to rest by a win against Louisiana Tech on Wednesday, the team will be able to forget a Pac-10 loss with a victory, avoiding any spiraling losing streak.

Whether he admits it or not, Miller can’t be stewing about a weak schedule. Not this year.

— Kevin Zimmerman is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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