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Grading Big Ten Men’s Basketball Non-conference Schedules: A is for Acceptable

Purdue, Michigan, and Wisconsin receive their non-conference schedule grades

Liberty v Wisconsin
The winner of the BoilerUp89’s top scheduler award for 2023-24. Also, I enjoy the fact that Wisconsin went to the NIT last season.
Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Today we finish our preview of the Big Ten men’s basketball 2023-24 non-conference schedules. Today we finally separate the programs that shared my goal of scheduling better games this season from the athletic departments receiving angry emails from an anonymous college basketball fan.

If you missed the first four articles in this series, 1) congratulations that your football has continued to lose games and you’ve decided to finally turn your attention to the more entertaining sport of basketball and 2) you can find those articles in the links below. Most controversial were my grades for Indiana and Northwestern. Neither IU nor Northwestern fans agreed with my methodology or rationale, but I have attempted to use a consistent grading rubric throughout. I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but in case you missed it I’ll note that you can check the comment section of last week’s article for the full explanation behind the backbone of the grading criteria.

Next year (should we still be around), the methodology will likely change slightly, but I’ve enjoyed discussing each teams schedules and campaigning for a stronger Big Ten non-conference slate. Hopefully I’ve convinced some of you that there are alternatives available to scheduling a ton of sub 300 teams and you’ll be calling your athletic department to demand change. If not, hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to try again next year.

Speaking of next year, if you haven’t heard I’m sorry to be the one breaking the news that the Big Ten as a conference is being cowardly and the Gavitt Games are dead after this year. There is no one sadder about the demise of the end of the Gavitt Games than me (I’ve loved attending the Ohio State and Indiana games at Xavier - and yes I loudly cheered for the Musketeers in both games). Presumably the Big Ten is planning to see the non-conference portion of the schedule shrink to just 2 games as the Big Three Hundred gets underway next year. As a fan of the team with the most Big Ten titles, there is one upside to just absorbing everybody - eventually all that’s left will be the Big Ten and Purdue has shown they can win the Big Ten even if the NCAA tournament hasn’t been our friend.

Grading Criteria

As a reminder...

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

Grades are higher the more quality programs you play. This was honestly the criteria I cared most about and I attempted to grade teams mainly based on the number of quality programs they 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.

On to today’s grades.

Purdue Boilermakers - A-

The Big Ten program that needs the most practice playing low major teams is tied for the least amount of games against low major teams.

The Boilermakers have gone 22-0 in the non-conference portion of the regular season the past two years. During that time they’ve beaten Final Four North Carolina, Final Four Villanova, Duke, and Elite 8 Gonzaga. If Purdue goes undefeated in the non-conference slate again this year, it will be one of the most impressive performances I have seen from a team in a long time.

Xavier is a solid team that should compete for a NCAA tournament spot this season. They are a little thin in the post, but bring in some nice guards and wings and Sean Miller is an excellent coach - him and Painter are arguably the top two active coaches to not make a Final Four. Purdue has lost a lot of games in a row to the Musketeers and it would be really nice if the Boilermakers can snap that streak so my Xavier relatives stop bringing that up.

Top 25 neutral site games against preseason #12 Alabama and #24 Arizona give the Boilermakers interesting tests against athletic teams. It also gives Zach Edey a home game in Toronto and Purdue their annual game in Indianapolis after Finals week.

The Maui Invitational has been moved to Oahu but has one of the more loaded tournament fields I can remember. Going by AP preseason rankings, it contains #1 Kansas, #3 Purdue, #5 Marquette, #9 Tennessee, #11 Gonzaga, and 4th in receiving votes UCLA. Kansas, Marquette, and UCLA are on the other side of the bracket with Chaminade, while Purdue faces off against Gonzaga and then either Tennessee or Syracuse. There is no guarantee that Purdue gets three great games out of Maui, but they should get at least two with a pretty decent chance of three unless something goes extremely sideways. My nephew’s marching band is going to be in Oahu for a band trip over Thanksgiving weekend. I’ve volunteered to chaperone if my airfare is paid for. They haven’t taken me up on it, probably because it’s known that I would abandon the high schoolers the moment the plane landed in Honolulu.

With this loaded of a schedule, why only an A-? Why not give the Boilermakers a full A?

To be honest, my initial thought upon seeing Purdue’s schedule (and no other Big Ten schedules this year) was a B+. After chiding from some of the other OTE contributors, I relented and moved Purdue up to an A-.

The Boilermakers return all 5 starters and 7 of their 9 rotation players from a team that won the Big Ten regular season, Big Ten tournament, and earned a 1 seed. There are high expectations for this year’s season both within and outside the program. Even the buy games aren’t as terrible as I thought they would be when I graded Purdue’s schedule. Eastern Kentucky is the favorite in the Atlantic Sun this season and Samford is one of the favorites in the Southern Conference this year. While it won’t count (and isn’t considered for their grade), scheduling Arkansas in a charity exhibition is another good test against a pressure defense. Matt Painter deserves accolades for challenging this year’s team. While Purdue’s schedules are usually decent, this level of overall competition has been rare.

However, this team probably doesn’t need 5 buy games against low major competition though. I understand that you want to give non-rotation guys some playing time in the non-conference but 4 low majors would have been enough. The absence of any in-state competition also holds back the overall grade just a tick.

This is the hardest non-conference schedule in the Big Ten this season. It has the potential to be one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the country this year. My complaints are minor, but this isn’t quite perfect.

Games I’m excited to see: it’s cheating to say all of them so I’ll just name my favorites. Xavier (hoping to make my long awaited return to Mackey), Alabama, Gonzaga

Games I’m disappointed didn’t happen: Creighton. For two years now I’ve wanted to see a Ryan Kalkbrenner v. Zach Edey matchup. How the Big Ten and Big East didn’t match these two up for the Gavitt Games I will never understand. That was the easiest layup and they blew it. I hope these two teams face each in the NCAA tournament Final.

Michigan Wolverines - A-

Michigan was one of the first Big Ten teams to finalize their schedule and they nailed it.

Like Purdue, the Wolverines have 6 games against high major competition. Unlike Purdue, Michigan didn’t make the NCAA tournament last year and most basketball prognosticators don’t expect them to this year. They still went out and didn’t schedule a bunch of easy games to pad the record.

None of St. John’s, Oregon, or Florida made the tournament last season. All are expected to compete for a bubble spot this year with Slick Rick taking over the Johnnies and Dana Altman and Todd Golden coming off NIT appearances last season. All three are good measuring sticks for a Wolverines program that hopes to find itself on the bubble come March.

The Battle 4 Atlantis matches up Michigan with Memphis in the first round and a second round game with Arkansas or Stanford. The final game will be one of North Carolina, Villanova, Northern Iowa or Texas Tech. The tournament probably lacks national title contenders, but makes up for it with a deep field. 6 of these teams should compete for NCAA bids and the Panthers of Northern Iowa are expected to Drake’s top competition in the MVC this year.

Michigan stays at the A- level because while this schedule will be extremely challenging for their current roster, it seems more likely than not that the Wolverines will avoid any top 25 teams. I don’t expect the Wolverines to draw any of Arkansas, UNC, or Villanova. That could change, but that’s my expectation at the moment.

They also have 5 buy games against low majors and I will not stop advocating for games against mid majors. Would it kill people to schedule CUSA, Missouri Valley, or Sun Belt teams? Or the top of the MAC (Toledo, Akron, Ohio, Kent State)? Nevertheless, well done Juwan Howard. I won’t be calling you a coward today and not just because I don’t want to be punched in the face.

Games I’m excited to see: St. John’s, Oregon, Eastern Michigan

I’m extremely curious how Pitino does in year 1. While Oregon’s court is a disaster, I’ve watched the career of Dana Altman with much respect since his days at Creighton and I’ll try to suffer through the visuals to enjoy the two teams. Eastern Michigan is more of a morbid curiosity than anything. That game didn’t disappoint last year.

MaximumSam: Oregon is a sneaky playoff contender so I can see why Michigan scheduled a trip there in December.

Wisconsin Badgers - A- (and winner of best non-con schedule)

Best schedule is highly subjective, but in my opinion the final team on our list put it together. Be warned though that it does include at least one unwatchable game.

Greg Gard’s program returns just about everyone from a NIT roster last season. Despite last year’s disappointing season, Gard has not backed off of his commitment to scheduling a challenging slate. I’m not as high on the Badgers potential this year as some, but they’ve done an excellent job of packing the schedule with high major programs and they’ve given themselves a couple of stretch goals that could really boost their resume.

Tennessee, Marquette, and Arizona represent the top of the Badgers schedule. Should Wisconsin win one of these games they will have a major feather in their cap. Applause for continuing their in-state rivalry is well deserved and the Badgers have two true road games against Arizona and Providence. In an era where one true road game in the non-conference is a rarity, having two is spectacular.

While I won’t be watching Virginia-Wisconsin as I have a more exciting opportunity to watch paint dry that day, it’s represents another quality game on the Badgers schedule. Rounding out their list of high majors is either West Virginia or SMU. Both are tricky opponents that will be looking to grab a scalp for their own March resumes.

Like Purdue and Michigan, Wisconsin has 5 low major games although the Badgers’s buy games appear to be against weaker competition than the Boilermakers or Wolverines. Three come against teams projected to be below the 300 mark in the preseason KenPom rankings: Robert Morris, Chicago State, and Western Illinois.

The Badgers were the closest team to getting an A. Swapping out Robert Morris for Milwaukee or Green Bay would have been enough. No, those teams aren’t any better than Robert Morris, but the regional matchup would have been more appealing.

Games I’m excited to see: Marquette, Providence, Arizona, Tennessee

No: Virginia

MaximumSam: Kudos to you for being excited for any Wisconsin basketball game.


Your favorite B1G non-conference schedule this season not featuring your team

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    (29 votes)
  • 26%
    (33 votes)
  • 6%
    (8 votes)
  • 40%
    my Team
    (51 votes)
  • 3%
    (4 votes)
125 votes total Vote Now


Should Big Ten teams schedule more difficult schedules in general?

This poll is closed

  • 88%
    (105 votes)
  • 11%
    I’m an idiot and I say no
    (14 votes)
119 votes total Vote Now

I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of the non-conference opponents for the upcoming season.

Twelve days left until college basketball season starts.