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Grading Big Ten Men’s Basketball Non-conference Schedules: D is for Dreadful

With apologies to nobody, 3 more Big Ten teams are below acceptable

Syndication: Asbury Park Press Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

We continue our preview of the Big Ten men’s basketball 2023-24 non-conference schedules with three more teams that don’t understand the value of challenging yourself in the non-conference. If you missed the first article in this series, we graded the Gophers and Nittany Lions non-conference schedules as Fs.

As was pointed out in the comment section of last week’s article, Penn State may actually have an 11th game on the schedule. Earlier this summer, it was rumored that Penn State and Georgia Tech would be playing this upcoming season in the second weekend of Holiday Hoopsgiving on December 17. While I had previously seen this rumor, I took Penn State’s schedule announcement tweet at face value. I assumed that for whatever reason this game had fallen through as non-conference games sometimes do. It is unclear, it still may have fallen through.

Although the Holiday Hoopsgiving website states that their event is on December 9 and 17, they only list their two games on December 9 (neither of which includes Penn State). For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll mention that Georgia Tech’s non-conference schedule also currently sits at 10 games and both teams have December 17 open, so perhaps there is some hope for Penn State to play a full slate of games.

Should Penn State play Georgia Tech, that should upgrade their grade to a C. Or it would if they weren’t turning in their homework so late. The season starts in a month. You’ve already been granted a week’s extension and still haven’t changed anything. Get it together Nittany Lions.

Okay, enough about Penn State. We have three new teams to talk about today. All three have made decisions that disappoint me, but for different reasons. One of today’s teams is a perennial offender and formed half the inspiration for this year’s series as I wanted to call them and another program out. Another team looks like they will become a perennial offender under their current head coach and the third team takes a giant step back from what was my favorite non-conference schedule in the Big Ten last year to dog shit bad. Good job.

Before we reveal exactly which teams meet those descriptions, let’s review the grading criteria set up last week.

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.

Nebraska Cornhuskers - D

Ignore the game against Doane in the graphic. That’s an exhibition and doesn’t count. I don’t care who you play your exhibitions against.

Nebraska wins the award for most disappointing non-conference schedule. Now some of that is because last year created expectations for me with regards to Nebraska’s scheduling. Last year saw the Cornhuskers play St. John’s, Oklahoma, Memphis, Florida State, Boston College, Creighton, and Kansas State. Now FSU and BC didn’t end up being very good when it was all said and done, but Nebraska challenged themselves, collected a big scalp at Creighton, and prepared themselves to go 9-11 in the Big Ten. That was an excellent, if somewhat difficult for the state of the Nebraska program, schedule.

Fast forward a year. Nebraska has taken all the wrong lessons from Penn State, Iowa, and Rutgers being on the bubble last year despite horrendous non-conference schedules. There are just two games against top 100 caliber teams (Creighton and Kansas State). Duquesne is at best a middle of the pack Atlantic 10 program, and while Fullerton has had moments, they aren’t likely to compete for an at large bid anytime soon. That’s the end of the good news.

Oregon State is a Pac 12 school, but they won 11 games last year. That’s 11 games total, not in conference play. A full four opponents finished last season below 300 in the KenPom rating system. Nebraska also has nine home games.

I know Hoiberg is somewhat on the hot seat and can’t afford to take too many losses, but he brought in some talented transfers this offseason. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that Nebraska competes for an at-large bid this year. The schedule didn’t need to be as challenging as last year to do that. The Cornhuskers could have scheduled some Quad 2 games though.

Games I’m excited to see: Creighton and Duquesne.

The game versus Creighton is a rivalry game and the better basketball program lost it last year. With Nebraska hosting this year, the atmosphere should be great. Add in the fact that Kalkbrenner and Tominaga are two of my favorite players and this becomes much watch TV.

Duquesne probably isn’t anything special this year, but this game is an opportunity for the Atlantic 10 to claim a scalp and try to bounce back from a year that saw the conference get 0 at large bids. I’m curious enough to watch.

MNW: For me it’s the “Cornhusker Classic” that really pisses me off. GO SOMEWHERE AND PLAY GAMES. Multi-Team Events (MTEs) that are just an excuse to bring three tomato cans to your gym are stupid. Looking at you, Rutgers and Indiana.

I don’t necessarily mind the Oregon State scheduling—yeah, the Beavs were bad, but they showed marked improvement from bottoming out in 2021-22 at 3-28 (1-19). The “neutral site” of Sioux Falls (lol) should make it a minimum Quad 3 game, and a little improvement by Wayne Tinkle’s men could make it a Quad 2. Good it ain’t, but it’s an NIT-esque schedule.

MaximumSam: Let my beautiful boys get to the NIT before nailing their schedule.

RU in VA: This looks like our schedule in 2018. Seriously, go look at it.

Maryland Terrapins - D+

Maryland’s schedule is feast or famine. UCLA and Villanova are good games against should be tournament teams. UCLA probably takes a small step back but could still be top 25 quality. Villanova should bounce back after experiencing some growing pains under new head coach Kyle Neptune that appeared to have been put behind them by the end of last season. After those two games, it gets hard to see another tournament team on the schedule.

The Asheville championship is a four team bracket that sees Maryland face off against a Davidson program that fell off hard last year under first year head coach Matt McKillop. The second round game has the Terps matchup with either UAB or Clemson. UAB is coached by the underrated Andy Kennedy and they’ve been a solid team the past three years under him, but they just saw 6 of their top 7 players graduate after their run to the NIT final last year. Expecting UAB to take a step back as they move up into the American and rebuild seems more likely than them being a big resume builder. Clemson is still coached by Brad Brownell who will enter his 14th year mismanaging the Tigers. I don’t know which university administrator Brownell is blackmailing, but it’s fair to say don’t count on them helping your resume.

South Alabama is better than I’m probably giving them credit for as I had forgotten they were in the Sun Belt. They were a top 100 team last year, but again we are dealing with a team that was senior heavy last year and likely takes a step back.

If we give Maryland credit for South Alabama (and I’m not overly inclined to), there are still six games that you can’t describe as anything but buy games. For a team coming off a NCAA tournament appearance and returning the majority of last team’s core, I don’t understand the soft scheduling. Maryland could be in contention for 3rd in the Big Ten this year and needing a strong non-conference resume to help improve their seed line. Instead they are scheduling like they think they will be 8th and firmly on the bubble by trying to avoid losses.

Maryland is firmly in the D grade range. They are awarded a plus due to mostly avoiding truly awful sub 300 programs (just Coppin State) and having the decency to at least schedule most of their buy games locally with three Maryland opponents and one New Jersey opponent.

Games I’m excited to see: Villanova. A matchup with outgoing Maryland transfer Hakim Hart adds spice to what should be a solid game between two good middle Atlantic teams. I don’t need to watch Maryland-UCLA again after last year.

MNW: ‘Nova because you had to, UCLA because you wanted to, and a bunch of Quad-2s in Asheville. Sure, good enough for a passing grade.

RU in VA: In keeping with the trend of two real teams and a bunch of tomato cans...

Rutgers Scarlet Knights - D+

  • Princeton (Trenton, NJ)
  • Boston (home)
  • Bryant (home)
  • Georgetown (home)
  • Howard (home)
  • St. Peters (home)
  • Wake Forest (road)
  • Seton Hall (road)
  • Long Island (home)
  • Mississippi State (Newark, NJ)
  • Stonehill (home)

Was it too much to ask you to tweet out a graphic with your non-conference schedule?

Under Steve Pikiell Rutgers has routinely faced questions about their non-conference strength of schedule. Or lack thereof. It’s one of the reasons they were left out of the NCAA tournament field last year and one of the reasons they only merited a play-in game in 2022. In Pikiell’s 7 seasons at Rutgers, they have not had a top 250 non-conference strength of schedule once. It’s been a deliberate policy of playing weak slates.

Did Rutgers do better this year? Sort of, but not noticeably so. Last year saw games against Miami Florida, Seton Hall, Wake Forest, Temple, and UMass Lowell highlighting the schedule. This year Rutgers replaces Miami Florida with Mississippi State, and Temple with Princeton. Collectively that’s a push. While UMass Lowell doesn’t jump out as a great program, they’ve been decent the past couple of years while Georgetown has been on fire. Ed Cooley is going to fix Georgetown, but that’s not going to happen overnight so that’s probably a push too.

Then we are left with Rutgers’ collection of bad northeast programs. A real who’s who of teams that Purdue should be scheduling as they prepare for their next NCAA tournament. Despite the fact that the Boilermakers can’t beat any of these programs when the spotlight of the Big Dance is on them, that doesn’t make them good teams to bolster anyone’s schedule.

Games I’m excited to see: Princeton, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Mississippi State

The Rutgers games I’m excited to see have a lot more to do with their opponents than Rutgers. I want to see if Princeton is able to build off of last season’s NCAA tournament run or if they are just one of the Ivy League contenders. How quickly is Ed Cooley’s turnaround going to occur? Is Seton Hall as bad as I think they will be? Are the Bulldogs ready to be more than an SEC also ran? Rutgers gives me an excuse to watch these teams play.

MNW: Make sure you’re sitting down.

We might be being too harsh on Rutgers here.

Hey no wait, come back! The Scarlet Knights loaded up a good selection of major-conference programs and gave themselves an interesting mid-major test in Princeton. Bryant is Fun and will hopefully push Rutgers out of their comfort zone, and there’ll be improvement from Georgetown. I’d put the Pikemen at a solid C-.

MaximumSam: I don’t really understand Pikiell’s philosophy. He has a talented team now hell bent on toughness - play some danged opponents.

RU in VA: Based on my limited inside knowledge as a donor, Rutgers is in a bad spot - likely where Nebraska will be next year.

No Top 30 D1 program is going to do a two year home and home with you - there’s little to gain and a lot to lose with a middle of the pack P5 team. So then you’re stuck with trying to play out contenders in the 30-100 RPI pool, but having to crystal ball it a little bit, since matchups are decided years beforehand.

At the time of scheduling, Bryant, Georgetown, and Howard looked like legitimate options. At current time, no.

I guess my problem is that RU can schedule a murderer’s row just in the northeast (Syracuse, Seton Hall, Princeton, VCU, UConn, Yale, Hofstra, Vermont, etc. etc.) - but chooses to do these weird tune up games against high school teams. It almost seems like Pikiell is afraid of taking that next big step into competing in the top 4 in the B1G and getting a single digit seed in the tournament. Too late now.


Worst schedule out of these three?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    (45 votes)
  • 63%
    (134 votes)
  • 15%
    (33 votes)
212 votes total Vote Now


Will Rutgers miss the NCAA tournament again because of a weak non-conference schedule?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    (72 votes)
  • 36%
    No, their schedule is fine. Stop hating New Jersey.
    (83 votes)
  • 31%
    No, they aren’t going to be good enough to be on the bubble anyway.
    (70 votes)
225 votes total Vote Now

We will be back next week to hand out Cs to the offending programs.