The biggest and best matchup of the first week of the men's college basketball season will go down Friday at 7 p.m. ET and arguably the best part is where the game will be played. It won't be staged inside a spottily attended NBA arena or tip off in some far-flung gym in a warm locale. This one's going to be on campus, in a packed basketball cathedral, a sparkling matchup between two teams with rosters capable of winning the 2024 NCAA title.
Cherish it, for this is the only game between ranked foes in the first eight days of the men's college hoops calendar. And if Arizona playing at Duke seems like a rare matchup, that's because it is. This will be their 10th head-to-head game, and only the second time the Wildcats have gone to Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke won the first, beating Arizona 78-76 in a 1990 nonconference affair in Durham that was held — get this — in late February that season.
College basketball nonconference scheduling used to be a lot different, and a lot better, and that brings me to today's column.
When the Blue Devils and Wildcats tangle, it's always must-see. Friday marks the seventh time an Arizona-Duke game features both ranked 12th or better in the AP Top 25. The two most famously met in Minneapolis for the 2001 national championship, an 82-72 Duke win, giving the program and Mike Krzyzewski a third NCAA Tournament trophy.
Yet if Krzyzewski was still coaching Duke, this game wouldn't be happening.
As a younger, more eager coach in the late 1980s and early '90s, Krzyzewski twice agreed to fly his Blue Devils out to Tucson, Arizona. Duke lost both times to Lute Olson's Cats. What's more, K didn't care for the refs' whistle in the desert. He never scheduled another matchup with Arizona; every ensuing contest came as a result of bracket play. Thankfully, Jon Scheyer was not conditioned to shun Arizona when he took over for Krzyzewski 19 months ago. Scheyer is part of an emerging generation of coaches willing to lean into not just ambitious scheduling, but specifically and intentionally arranging for big-brand opponents in home/road environments.
"This isn't going to be a one-time thing," Scheyer told CBS Sports. "I want to schedule really good teams every season, whether it be Arizona or other big-time teams in the future."
In speaking to Scheyer, he was clear: He's talking about home-and-home series with some of the biggest schools in college basketball.
Arizona's only the start of it. Perhaps home-and-homes await in the future against the likes of Kansas, or Gonzaga, or Indiana, or UCLA, or UConn, etc.? Having Cameron Indoor play host to top-shelf competition in November — and on the flipside, getting Duke into some hostile territory prior to ACC play — is an important tone-setter that can percolate to other top 25-type programs.
"There's a lot of really good programs and lots of programs that can beat you on any given night, but only few programs that have a national brand," Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd told CBS Sports. "For me, I want to have Arizona playing other big programs and have it be a big deal. I want to be involved in those types of games."
Lloyd and Scheyer are taking calls and open to playing the best of the best in the best of environments: on-campus venues, where the volume can buzz your brain and test your team's mettle in the most challenging ways. This is especially important given how the multi-team event (MTE) space continues to grow. By their very nature, MTEs are staged in neutral environments, which vary in terms of location appeal, and drastically vary in quality. Some are tremendous; many are forgettable. Each year, college basketball's November and December calendar gets more of these MTEs sprouting up because, why else, there's money to be made. The creep has a trickle-down impact on home-and-home likelihoods between schools that matter most.
The Dukes and Arizonas of the sport making sure to face each other on campus grounds adds a little more juice. Hopefully it's contagious. Let me be clear on something: It's not that men's college basketball is devoid of home-and-home series at the high-major level. We've still got 'em, but the potency has receded in the past decade. Games like this one, in addition to programs such as Kansas and Indiana doing a two-year on-campus series, and a six-year agreement between Kentucky and Gonzaga, make the regular season matter more.
That in mind, Scheyer told me we can expect Duke (under his command) to schedule at least one high-major home-and–home in November/December every year moving forward. Later this month, the Blue Devils will play at No. 14 Arkansas (another NCAA title game rematch, that one being '94) for the first time in program history. On Nov. 21, 2024, Scheyer will fly his team out to Tucson for a rematch with Arizona. With Scheyer locking up the No. 1 2024 recruiting class, led by top overall recruit Cooper Flagg, Blue Devils @ Wildcats could well be the biggest non-con game next season.
"Obviously, the chance to test your team's principles early in the season against an opponent like Arizona is too good to pass up," Scheyer said. "Respect for Tommy and what he has done, and it's a great opportunity for both programs."
It would have been easy for Scheyer to continue going with Krzyzewski's scheduling ideology. Duke is powerful enough to where it can play anyone, anywhere in its nonconference schedule. Credit to Scheyer for shifting off K's way, which was far from egregious, but still could have been more daring. For as undeniably great as Krzyzewski was, he refused to schedule home-and-homes over the final 13 years of his career. The last time Duke played a non-league road game that wasn't a TV-mandated arrangement (i.e. ACC/Big Ten Challenge) was a 2008 loss against Michigan.
"It's good for Duke, good for the ACC, good for college basketball," Scheyer said.
However, the person responsible for catalyzing Friday's game is Lloyd. In the spring of 2022, he reached out to Scheyer and the two quickly got to scheming on how they could make a home-and-home work. It was done in relatively short order, which speaks to the resourceful approach both have despite just three combined years of head coaching experience.
For Lloyd, this won't become the norm — it's already the norm. Arizona at Duke on Friday night is the latest example of Lloyd's bold scheduling philosophy. Since taking the job, he's coached or scheduled Zona non-con games in home/road environments against Illinois, Tennessee, Duke and Wisconsin. He's also playing Purdue in Indianapolis and Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama later this season. Lloyd said there will be more big nonconference Arizona games in home/road environments in the years to come, even with Arizona making its 2024 move to the ultra-competitive Big 12.
"I think it's important to play games like this," he told CBS Sports. "Obviously scheduling is very difficult and it's probably an art more than a science based on preference. When you're at a program like Arizona, you have to put your program on a national platform as often as you can. The opportunity to do this at a school like Duke is one I appreciate."
The 36-year-old Scheyer and 48-year-old Lloyd have both been great out of the gate. Lloyd's 61 wins in his first two seasons are an NCAA record for a first-time coach. Scheyer's debut season included guiding Duke to a No. 5 seed, winning the ACC Tournament and going undefeated at home.
Two young, rising stars in the profession are doing their part to improve men's college hoops' early season product. It's refreshing.
The winner of Friday night's game gets a Quad 1 victory that will be worth plenty by the time Selection Sunday arrives. And the loser? It may well be the most respectable loss on the schedule four months from now. It might not even cost a seed line. There isn't much risk, but the upside is immense. Lloyd and Scheyer understand that. Let's spread the word.
It's all too easy to see how these two could have tried to ease into their once-in-a-lifetime job opportunities. Instead, they're capturing what's best for their programs while uplifting the sport in the process. Terrific. Every coach at every power-conference program of note should be doing the same. If they did, we'd have more than one ranked-on-ranked matchup in the first eight days of the season.
Duke vs. Arizona all-time series
|Dec. 16, 1961
|Duke 78, Arizona 47
|Dec. 30, 1987
|Arizona 91, Duke 85
|Feb. 26, 1989
|Arizona 77, Duke 75
|Feb. 25, 1990
|Duke 78, Arizona 76
|Feb. 24, 1991
|Arizona 103, Duke 96 (2OT)
|Nov. 26, 1997
|Duke 95, Arizona 87
|April 2, 2001
|Duke 82, Arizona 72
|Minneapolis (Final Four)
|March 24, 2011
|Arizona 93, Duke 77
|Anaheim (Sweet 16)
|Nov. 29, 2013
|Arizona 72, Duke 66