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Grading Big Ten Men’s Basketball Non-conference Schedules: C is for Cowardly

Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois are today’s offenders

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Kent State vs Indiana David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our preview of the Big Ten men’s basketball 2023-24 non-conference schedules with the third installment in this series. Three more programs receive their grades and today’s grades are all variations of Cs as there is some good mixed with some bad. If you missed the first two articles in this series, you can click the below links to check them out. Alternatively you can just note that the Minnesota, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, and Nebraska athletic departments aren’t on my Christmas card list.

Today’s three programs have semi-reasonable expectations of tournament bids this upcoming season. All three have taken steps to schedule roughly four games against quality competition and some of those games are against really good teams. That’s the good news. The bad news is that after their top games, the competition level drops off a cliff. There aren’t a ton of Quad 2 opportunities in this group and the Quad 1 opportunities are going to be difficult to manage victories in. Should this trio of teams collectively lay an egg in their top games (and to be honest I sort of expect them to), the conference strength will be rightfully questioned and probably result in fewer conference wide bids come March.

Before getting into the details of these teams’ schedules, let’s review the grading criteria I’m using.

Grading Criteria

Each team’s schedule was graded using a super scientific gut feel approach.

Grades are higher the more quality programs you play. By quality I mean high major competition in the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC, American, A10, and Mountain West. Select teams from other conferences (think Charleston or Drake) will also get you credit.

Season expectations were considered. Each team should be challenging themselves and not relying on just the Big Ten schedule for their tournament resume. That means something different for every program. A schedule that would get a C for the Boilermakers probably gets an A for the Nebraska this year.

I prefer to see mid majors over low majors and local or regional teams over bussing in a team from California or Alabama. Only Purdue needs the practice beating low major teams. If you must have a set number of buy games (games you are paying for an opponent to show up), let’s try not to pay for a bottom 50 team to travel through 5 states to reach you.

Since each Big Ten team is playing in a multiple team event (MTE), each of your Big Ten programs have opportunities to schedule up to 11 games.

Indiana Hoosiers - C-

Calm down Hoosier fans. I see and acknowledge your games against UConn and Kansas. Let me explain my reasoning to you and everyone else.

Skip the games against Indy and Marian. Those are exhibitions and I don’t care what you do with those. It’s interesting to me that the Hoosiers don’t have a secret scrimmage with someone to tune up before the games count, but it’s not super relevant to our discussion on non-conference scheduling.

That leaves 9 games against Florida Gulf Coast, Army, Wright State, Harvard, Auburn, Kansas, Morehead State, North Alabama, Kennesaw State and the 2 game Empire Classic tournament. For non-Hoosier fans out there, the Empire Classic sees Indiana face off against UConn in the opening game. When the Hoosiers lose that game, they will then face Louisville in the 3rd place game after Louisville also loses to Texas (just being honest about how I see those four programs this season). This is somewhat of a shame as I think Indiana could give Texas a game.

Kansas and UConn may be the best two opponents any Big Ten team faces this year. There are some other contenders for strongest two teams faced by a Big Ten team this year depending on what you think of Tennessee, Marquette, and Arizona, but you can’t say Indiana isn’t challenging themselves with these two games. Should the Hoosiers get a win in either of them, they will have almost certainly secured themselves a NCAA tournament bid as long as they eke out a .500 Big Ten record.

For the sake of argument though, let’s say the Hoosiers lose those two games - which would be the expectation of most neutral observers. What else on this schedule helps their resume? There is Auburn and Bruce Pearl who should be a solid bubble team. That’s it.

Louisville can’t be as bad as they were last year, but they aren’t likely to suddenly become a NIT team this year either. If Indiana can somehow find a way to play Texas in New York, the schedule looks better, but pinning your strength of schedule on beating UConn seems dubious.

Kennesaw State might seem like an interesting opponent after they made the NCAA tournament last year as a 13 seed, but their head coach took the South Florida job and took all of their non-senior starters with him. It looks like a hard reboot for the Owls this year.

I’ll note that Indiana continues their recent tradition of playing a game in Indianapolis each year. This year it’s Harvard. Last year it was Miami Ohio. The previous 11 years it was Butler or Notre Dame. I understand that the Hoosiers are using the weekend that formerly hosted the Crossroads Classic to schedule home and home games against the likes of Kansas. I also understand that Indiana doesn’t owe Purdue, Notre Dame, or Butler anything when it comes to scheduling. That’s fine. However, it sure looks to me like Indiana has replaced the Crossroads Classic with a buy game against middling competition in Indianapolis. Both would have been better.

Rounding out the Hoosiers schedule are a bunch of games against low majors.

For a program that views itself as the premier Big Ten basketball program with a head coach entering year 3, the schedule is just slightly lacking in substance. Indiana has scheduled two games they are expected to lose and nine games they should win with only one being a decent challenge. Kansas and UConn help Indiana to avoid a D grade because they are so difficult, but this is a low risk schedule. The absence of any in-state mid majors or even low majors isn’t surprising considering the IPFW game in 2017, but it also means this schedule getting a minus added on to the back of the C.

Games I’m excited to see: Kansas, UConn

If Indiana’s incoming players are better than expected and Xavier Johnson is fully recovered, we will find out in these two games. If they haven’t filled in the massive gaps left by Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino, we will also find out in these two games. Both Kansas and UConn are national title contenders.

MaximumSam: C’mon, you have to bump them up to a B just because they give me an excuse to run the Hunter Dickinson photo this year.

Buffkomodo: I have voiced my disagreement in the company Slack…okay I sent an emoji, but still. The C- grade is harsh I guess but considering you’re giving Illinois a C, it’s hard to argue you aren’t being consistent. Out of a non-conference schedule, you need 1) some challenge and 2) some fluff just so all the pieces work right. This is the exact schedule this team needs, and if you compare last year’s schedule to this years schedule, you’ll find that the lower tier opponents are now in the 150-200 range as opposed to being 300+ like they normally are. There’s a point of finishing returns with regards to scheduling, and if Indiana were to beat UConn and play Texas, I’d say that’d be the perfect amount of non-con tests. Personally, I like this as a B, but we must remember the author’s bias. Stay strong Hoosier fans and don’t take the bait!

Iowa Hawkeyes - C

What’s that? You can’t read the poorly designed schedule graphic that Iowa put out? Me either. Iowa’s non-conference includes home games against North Dakota, Alabama State, Arkansas State, North Florida, Florida A&M, UMBC, and Northern Illinois. They also travel to Creighton and Iowa State and play two neutral site games against Oklahoma and either Southern Cal or Seton Hall.

Iowa has four solid non-conference opponents for the first time since 2020. I’m not sure why they chose this year to stop scheduling 8+ low majors, but they did.

Creighton and Iowa State highlight the schedule as both could be top 25 caliber programs this year and will be tough matchups for the Hawkeyes on the road. Oklahoma missed the tournament last year, but was a middle of the road Big 12 team capable of challenging good teams and the exact type of opponent an Iowa team expected to be on the wrong side of the bubble should be scheduling to improve their resume and boost their own odds of making the tournament. USC or Seton Hall round out the resume and I’m hopeful that the Hawkeyes get to play the Trojans who are expected to take a big leap forward this season.

Don’t think Fran has completely changed his ways though. Despite scheduling four quality opponents Iowa still has their usual complement of low major competition. None of their seven buy games come against top 200 caliber competition. Hopefully the Hawkeyes avoid losing one of their buy games this season.

Iowa gets a C because they met the bare minimum requirements in scheduling four games against top 100 quality teams. This is still not the greatest schedule in the world, but for a program that is expected by many to be somewhere around the bubble come March, they haven’t handicapped themselves quite like Rutgers. Like Indiana, Iowa’s non-conference schedule is low risk.

Games I’m excited to see: Iowa State, Oklahoma, hopefully USC

The rivalry with Iowa State is always an interesting one and Oklahoma will be an early measuring stick for Iowa. I’m hopeful that Iowa and USC manage to play each other as it will give us an early glimpse at future Big Ten conference mate USC and the Trojans have some extremely talented freshmen that I’m excited to watch.

I am not interested in the Creighton game because I don’t think the Hawkeyes have the guys to keep up in that one. Prove me wrong Hawkeyes.

MaximumSam: I guess economics explains why teams like Iowa have to play a bunch of garbage teams. But like what is coming to football, wouldn’t economics also encourage better games? I’d like to see the bottom line on what schools make on ticket sales v. television when it comes to basketball. Peacock probably doesn’t want FAMU.

BoilerUp89: That game is in fact on BTN not Peacock so you are correct.

Illinois Fighting Illini - C

Illinois has a schedule that I struggled to grade this season. There is a lot of like so let’s talk about that first.

Marquette and Tennessee are challenging games that Illinois will not be favored in. Both could be top 10 teams this year and return most of their pieces from 2 and 4 seeds last season.

Playing rival Missouri is a plus. Anytime basketball programs schedule a non-conference rival I will applaud both teams for helping better the sport.

Scheduling last year’s Final Four participant Florida Atlantic was always going to get applause from me as most big programs won’t schedule those types of games.

Illinois even has several buy games against local mid and low majors in Valparaiso, Western Illinois, and Eastern Illinois.

So why does Illinois only get a C? There is clearly a lot of things I like on their schedule.

For starters they only scheduled four good games. Valparaiso may play in a mid major league but they have pretty consistently been at the back of the Missouri Valley. Colgate is probably better than I’m giving them credit for. They’ve made the last three tournaments and won four of the last five Patriot League tournaments under head coach Matt Langel. Langel is a good coach and I’m surprised he’s still at Colgate, but the Raiders best four players last year were seniors. They could still win the Patriot League, but they are less of a risk to knock off a good high-major this season than last year and therefore less valuable on the resume.

All of that pales in comparison to the real reason holding back the Illini’s grade. Illinois went out and scheduled Fairleigh Dickinson. Your trolling is not appreciated and the Purdue-Illinois games have been circled on the calendar.

Games I’m excited to see: Missouri, Florida Atlantic, Marquette, Tennessee

Games I will not watch because the Big Ten Network crew calling the game is going to mention the 2023 NCAA tournament too many times: Fairleigh Dickinson

MaximumSam: But what if they lose to Fairleigh Dickinson?


Who has the best overall non-con schedule?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    (55 votes)
  • 17%
    (32 votes)
  • 53%
    (99 votes)
186 votes total Vote Now


My team is graded too low and I want to complain

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    (46 votes)
  • 2%
    Yes and I’ll complain in the comments
    (4 votes)
  • 62%
    No, all teams are graded appropriately. C is average. These schedules are average.
    (85 votes)
135 votes total Vote Now


Most offensive game?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Illinois - FDU
    (55 votes)
  • 23%
    Indiana - Harvard
    (40 votes)
  • 44%
    Iowa - Alabama State
    (77 votes)
172 votes total Vote Now

We will be back next week as we finally get into programs that don’t make me irrationally angry about their scheduling philosophy.