Now that Arizona's non-conference schedule has been released, we will take a closer look at it in two parts. The first part takes us through November, where Arizona's most difficult opponent will likely come in the Maui Invitational.
November 14, Mount St. Mary's: This game likely would have been more difficult one year ago when Mount St. Mary's had its two best scorers. Instead, it is a team that will look to replace 18 points from guard Rashad Whack and 17 more from starting point guard Julian Norfleet.
In addition, The Mount is losing its third starting guard, Sam Prescott, who averaged 11 points per game.
The best player returning will be 7-foot center Taylor Danaher. He moved into the starting lineup in January of last year and made a major impact, finishing with seven points and five rebounds per game. Byron Ashe will likely be the go to player in the backcourt as he is coming off a freshman campaign in which he averaged seven points as well.
Again, this would have been a much more difficult game last season, but it is a well-coached squad. The Mount has about zero chance of beating Arizona, but the Wildcats could have started with worse opponents.
November 16, Cal St. Northridge: CSUN almost made the NCAA tournament, but fell two points short to Cal Poly in the conference tournament final. It returns quite a few players from that team and is hoping to improve on its 17-18 overall record.
Stephen Maxwell is the best play the Matadors have. At 6-7, 220-pounds, the senior averaged 17 and 9 last season and did so relatively efficiently. He will once again be asked to put up similar numbers if CSUN is going to have any success. Stephan Hicks is a 6-6 forward that is right there with Maxwell, averaging 17 points and seven rebounds per outing.
The Matadors are listing guard Josh Greene and his 16 points per outing, but are hoping that numerous transfers help make up that production. For starters, Amir Garrett is transferring from St. John's and will be eligible. His production is not great, but he is athletic and the potential is there. Devonte Elliott is a big man transfer from Nevada and will pair him with 6-10 Kevin Johnson, a transfer from Seton Hall.
This is another team that simply is not going to beat Arizona, but with the style of play, there is at least some entertainment value there and the Matadors will be improved as well.
November 19, UC Irvine: You can make an easy argument that Irvine is going to be one of the best opponents Arizona faces next season and certainly one of the best in the out of conference schedule. It should win its conference, is well-coached, and returns numerous players.
Luke Nelson is a 6-3 guard that shoots threes in bulk and made a respectable 37 percent of them last year to lead Irvine with about 12 points per game. He is now in his sophomore season, so the natural jump is to be expected. Forward Will Davis is the leading forward scorer returning, averaging 11 points and a team leading six rebounds per game last season.
Point guard Alex Young started all 35 games last season and will likely do the same. His job is made easier by having 7-foot-6 post Mamadou Ndiaye coming back as well.
Irvine is an experience team that won't get scared off by playing at McKale. The Wildcats will obviously be the favorites, but this should absolutely be the closest of the first few games and one that could require a late run to pull away if Arizona is not careful.
November 24-26, Maui Invitational: Arizona's opponents are not known yet, but there is some quality here despite Arizona fans thinking the opposite. For starters, BYU returns Tyler Haws and Kyle Collinsworth. The Cougars struggled a bit defensively last season, but when you have a team with shooters, they can get hot at any time and get a surprise win.
Pittsburgh is the matchup most want to see because of the back story and the Panthers returns a good chunk of players as well. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna are gone and it will be a difficult task to replace their combined 30 points and 13 rebounds per game. The hope is that Cameron Wright and James Robinson can help in addition to the incoming freshmen.
Another matchup with San Diego State may be inevitable. You already know plenty about the Aztecs by now and although Xavier Thames and Josh Davis are gone, SDSU will be able to play Angelo Chol, hopes Kevin Zabo can replace Thames, and returns guys like Polee, Shepard, and Spencer. It will be the regular SDSU team that Arizona has seen in the past few years.
Missouri will have a new coach, but that isn't a bad thing. It will bring in Namon Wright and Jakeenan Grant, two players that are expected to contribute right away. It lost Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson to the draft and Earnest Ross to graduation, which is crushing. Those three were the only ones to averages more than five points per game last season and it is obviously going to be nearly impossible to replace their production.
Purdue is another squad that lost its two best scorers. Terone and Ronnie Johnson both left for different reasons, but that is 22 points per game that the Boilermakers have to replace. The hope is that 7-foot center A.J. Hammons keeps improving and is able to be the focus of the offense. Purdue also has four-star center Isaac Haas coming in, but it would be a surprise if this wasn't a down year for the Boilermakers.
Lastly, Kansas State is a fringe tournament team. It lost major contributors Shane Southwell and Will Spradling, but will return Marcus Foster and his 15 points per game. Thomas Gibson also returns as Kansas State's leading rebounder and when you add him and Foster to incoming four-star Malek Harris, you have a talented core that is capable of giving teams fits.