DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Jon Scheyer and Tommy Lloyd followed overlapping paths in going from working on the staffs at national-power programs and crossing paths in recruiting to being in charge of one as a first-time head coach.
That connection is a key reason why Scheyer’s No. 2 Duke team is hosting Lloyd and No. 12 Arizona at its famously hostile arena on Friday night — the kind of marquee matchup that’s getting trickier for coaches to schedule with lengthy conference slates, NCAA Tournament bids and even coaches’ job security on the line.
“I mean, a lot more difficult than people realize,” Lloyd said this week. “I know you always hear people, fans of college basketball saying, ‘We need this.’ It’s hard, it’s really hard. It’s become big business.”
The game at Cameron Indoor Stadium opens a home-and-home series, with the Blue Devils visiting Tucson in 2024. Yet these days, these types of matchups are seemingly giving way to more neutral-court meetings — including made-for-TV events like the Champions Classic or CBS Sports Classic — and conference-versus-conference tussles that are annual fixtures on the schedule.
Setting up these games is a matter of trying to wedge them in a shrinking list of openings in a time of constant change across college athletics. By the time Duke returns the trip next year, Arizona will have left the Pac-12 for the Big 12.
“The last two years, there’s been so much change, unpredictability in terms of not only your conference schedule, but who’s going to be in your conference, too,” Scheyer said Thursday. “Tommy and I talked about for each of us, just be able to do this early on. It’ll be great for our fan bases, it’ll be great for our players. So it was really an easy process and a few conversations.”
Still, look down the road at Duke rival North Carolina for an example of how things are evolving.
The Tar Heels — who recently announced a series with fellow blueblood Kansas for 2024 and 2025 — had a long-running series with fellow power Kentucky that bounced between Chapel Hill and Lexington from 2000-2014. But the teams now see each other on neutral courts in the CBS Sports Classic, which also features UCLA and Ohio State in a rotating schedule.
As for the Blue Devils, they play a 20-game schedule in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They play either Kansas, Kentucky or Michigan State in the Champions Classic. And they have a game in the ACC/SEC Challenge — this year, that’s a trip to No. 14 Arkansas — to account for 22 games.
Throw in three games from hosting a four-team round robin event in November, and that leaves just six openings before hitting the NCAA cap of 31 regular-season games.
“And then obviously the fact you don’t fully know your roster, it’s early in the year,” Scheyer said. “I don’t want to call it risky, but it’s bold. Both of us, both programs, we’re going to learn a lot tomorrow night. And that’s why we want to do it. … Ultimately our guys want to play in games like this. That’s what it comes down to for me.”
Scheyer is in his second year as the successor to retired Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski. He won an NCAA title as a Duke player in 2010 and an assistant in 2015 and worked under Coach K for nine seasons.
Lloyd is in his third season at Arizona after spending two decades on Mark Few’s staff during Gonzaga’s metamorphosis from rising mid-major to full-fledged power, including trips to the NCAA championship game in 2017 and 2021.
The schools announced the series in July 2022, three months after Scheyer had taken over and Lloyd had closed a 33-win debut season that included being named The Associated Press men’s national coach of the year.
Scheyer said he hopes to find more such games for the future. As for Lloyd, he called it “pretty cool” that the big-name teams were eager to face off on each other’s homecourt even while acknowledging this might not be the norm.
“It was an easy process,” Lloyd said. “I wish they were all like that.”
AP Basketball Writer John Marshall contributed to this report.
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