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Big Ten Men’s Basketball - Ranking the 2023 Non-conference tournaments

Is your head coach a coward? The answer may surprise you.

Creighton v Arkansas Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Here at Off Tackle Empire, we seek to be the best Big Ten basketball blog 11 out of the 12 months of the year. That 12th month is March and winning in March or talking about basketball in March is for suckers and no I don’t want to talk about March basketball.

With that in mind, it’s well past time for another basketball article since this site has somehow become inundated with articles about college football - it’s the weirdest thing. The plan for this week was to rank each Big Ten men’s basketball non-conference schedule. Unfortunately, half of your basketball programs are slackers that didn’t turn in their homework on time and I’ve had to look elsewhere for inspiration.

Fortunately if you are looking to kill a portion of your Friday workday, the Boilerbot neural networks was able to adapt and today I will instead rank each Big Ten team’s non-conference tournament (or MTE as they are officially known) for the upcoming season. In doing so, we also seek to answer the question of which Big Ten basketball coaches are cowards.

Ed Kirk #22
Who else misses the Great Alaska Shootout?

What is a MTE?

A MTE (or multiple team event) is a weird NCAA thing that allows Division 1 basketball teams to schedule an additional two “exempt” games that don’t count against their maximum number of games. As the name implies, it involves multiple teams and these events are often neutral site tournaments at vacation destinations for fanbases willing to travel to warm locations in November and December (so most of them).

The rules are as follows:

  • Only one team per conference
  • Every team in the MTE must play the same amount of games
  • A non-Division 1 team can only participate if they are the host of the event
  • MTEs involving 2 games/team must be completed within 5 days. MTEs involving 3 games /team must be completed within 10 days.
  • Teams can either schedule a maximum of 29 games, 29 regular games + 1 MTE event with 2 games, or 28 games + 1 MTE event with 3 games

MTEs take many forms, but the traditional one is the 8 team tournament (think Maui Invitational). In recent years, 4 team tournaments and the two 4-team tournament fields disguised as one 3 game MTE have grown in popularity. The more disturbing trend is the growth of home game only MTEs which quite frankly should be banished to wherever they came from.

Enough background information. Time to start ranking your team’s non-conference tournaments for the upcoming season. Special thanks to the fine folks over at fellow SBNation site Blogging the Bracket, who made the search for information on this upcoming season’s MTEs much easier.

BoilerUp89’s Rankings

MTEs are ranked subjectively and yes I moved your team down several spots from their deserved ranking because I hate them. Teams get credit for playing games against good competition (ie: high major programs in the ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC, Pac 12, A10, MWC, American, and WCC). Games against better programs are preferred (playing Duke is not the same as playing Cal) and 3 games against quality competition are usually better than 2. Last years end of season KenPom ranking is listed after each team for reference as an extremely rough estimate of current program level although roster turnover has been considered when ranking these tournaments. Tournament sponsors not included unless the tournament has no other name because I’m not giving them free advertising.

Tier 1 - These Programs Understood the Assignment

1 Purdue Boilermakers - Maui Invitational

Format: 8 team tournament, 3 games in 3 days
Location: Lahaina, Hawaii
Rest of Field: UCLA (3), Tennessee (6), Gonzaga (8), Kansas (9), Marquette (10), Syracuse (118), Chaminade (N/A)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 23 Maui Invitational - Creighton v Arizona
Hey MNW, I’m gonna need to dip into our writers’ travel budget to cover the 2023 version of this tournament live.
Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The bracket isn’t out yet and if Purdue stumbles into playing Syracuse and Chaminade this tournament won’t be as useful to their resume as it could be otherwise. Normally I wouldn’t put a tournament that includes Chaminade in the top spot, but the rest of the field is loaded. It includes 6 other high-major programs including two other teams that will be preseason top 10 and three more that are likely to be preseason top 25. That more than makes up for the fact that Chaminade is in the field. We will know early whether Purdue has improved from whatever the hell happened in Columbus to end last season.

2 Indiana Hoosiers - Empire Classic

Format: 4 team tournament, 2 games in 2 days
Location: New York, New York
Rest of Field: Connecticut (1), Texas (5), Louisville (290)

Empire Classic: Syracuse v St. Johns
Empire Classic Trophy
Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images

This is a fantastic tournament field marred only by the inclusion of Louisville which knocks Indiana into the #2 spot as I think its pretty likely that Indiana’s second game comes against the Cardinals. UConn obviously won the NCAA tournament last season and Texas was a feisty Elite 8 team that was upset by the same Miami (FL) team that knocked out the Hoosiers. Louisville should be better than last year, but last year they only beat Chaminade by 7 points. The Hoosiers scheduling this tournament is encouraging following last year’s Hoosier Classic which featured a “neutral” site game in Indianapolis against Miami (OH) and two home games against Jackson State and Little Rock. Welcome back to semi-competitive scheduling, Indiana. College basketball fans thank you.

3 Michigan Wolverines - Battle 4 Atlantis

Format: 8 team tournament, 3 games in 3 days
Location: Paradise Island, Bahamas
Rest of Field: Memphis (20), Arkansas (22), North Carolina (43), Villanova (51), Texas Tech (63), Stanford (84), Northern Iowa (223)

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis Championship-Tennessee at Kansas
Tennessee can win things when they don’t play Purdue
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Although this fall’s Battle 4 Atlantis only includes two NCAA tournament teams from the 2023 field, Michigan gets credit for entering a field with 6 other high-major programs and a Northern Iowa squad that had been one of the more respectable mid-major programs in recent years until last season. Memphis will likely be entering a rebuild following a season with 10 seniors, but Arkansas, North Carolina, and Villanova have all hit the portal hard and Texas Tech starts over with the defensive minded Grant McCasland getting his shot in the big leagues. It will also be interesting to see if UNC’s Harrison Ingram gets the chance to face his old team Stanford.

4 Penn State Nittany Lions - ESPN Events Invitational

Format: 8 team tournament, 3 games in 4 days
Location: Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Rest of Field: Florida Atlantic (17), Iowa State (29), Texas A&M (33), Boise State (37), VCU (60), Virginia Tech (80), Butler (119)

NCAA Basketball: ESPN Events Invitational Mississippi vs Oklahoma
Last year’s champion
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

FAU is now in the American and they made the Final Four last year, so you can’t count previously being in CUSA against them. As a whole this tournament field had a stronger 2022-23 season than the Battle 4 Atlantis field. They get slotted in below them because they the Battle 4 Atlantis field is more likely to see dramatic improvements. For a program essentially starting over (again), Penn State found a nice tournament. They probably won’t be able to compete with FAU or Iowa State, but the rest of the field gives Penn State a useful measuring stick to figure out what needs to get fixed before Big Ten play begins.

5 Iowa Hawkeyes - Rady Children’s Invitational

Format: 4 team tournament, 2 games in 2 days
Location: San Diego, California
Rest of Field: Southern Cal (45), Oklahoma (54), Seton Hall (58)

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Iowa gets credit for 2 games against decent teams but the ceiling of this tournament’s value for the Hawkeyes is somewhat held back by the fact that only USC made the NCAA tournament last year and only USC is expected to this upcoming season. If the Trojans talented incoming freshman are able to gel but only do so after this tournament, Iowa may be able to pick up a true resume building victory early in San Diego at the first annual Rady Children’s Invitational.

6 Northwestern Wildcats - Hall of Fame Tip-off

Format: 4 team tournament, 2 games in 2 days
Location: Uncasville, Connecticut
Rest of Field: Mississippi State (53), Washington State (67), Rhode Island (255)

NCAA Basketball: Purdue vs Villanova
Not sure why there weren’t pictures of the 2022 champion. Guess I’ll just have to use the 2021 champion.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

If Northwestern basketball can schedule an actual tournament, so can your team! Rhode Island was truly awful last season under Archie Miller (we miss you, Archie! Please come back to the Hoosiers!) but that was always going to be a multi-year rebuild after David Cox. Most years the Atlantic 10 is still a multi-bid league so we are still going to count it as a high-major game despite the Rams’ struggles. I’d already forgotten about this, but apparently Mississippi State made the NCAA tournament this past season. Unlike most of these other tournaments, the bracket is out and Northwestern already knows their first round opponent: Rhode Island. Interesting that the Wildcats are being treated like the tournament favorites, but that might be an accurate assessment of the current strength of these programs.

7 Maryland Terrapins - Asheville Championship

Format: 4 team tournament, 2 games in 3 days
Location: Asheville, North Carolina
Rest of Field: UAB (47), Clemson (68), Davidson (140)

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Louisiana vs Tennessee
The Ragin Cajuns won this one last year
Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

UAB was incorrectly left out of last year’s tournament in favor of extra Big 10 and SEC teams, but they’ve moved up from the CUSA to the American. While we don’t know for sure that the American will still be a high-major conference after the departures of Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF, I suspect it’s still a multi-bid league most years and so the Asheville Championship gets to count 4 high-major programs amongst their field. Clemson has the perennially disappointing Brad Brownell still running things but give Maryland an old familiar face. Although Davidson took a step back in their first season without Bob McKillop in 33 years, look for them to potentially bounce back to respectability.

Tier 2 - Coward Tournaments

If your favorite program has already been ranked, congratulations. Your head coach isn’t a coward. Now though, we move onto tier 2 of our rankings. These next few tournaments still include two good games against high-major competition but they are three game MTEs and the third game is a home game against perceived “lesser” competition. That makes these tournaments, “Coward Tournaments”. Despite involving 8 teams, only 4 of those teams have the opportunity to win the big trophy as the high-major competition won’t give the little guy an honest shot.

8 The Ohio State Buckeyes - Emerald Coast Classic - Hosts Division

Format: two 4 team fields. 3 games. 2 neutral site games. 1 home game for the Hosts Division against the Visitors Division.
Location: Bracketed games at Niceville, Florida
Hosts Division: Alabama (4), Oregon (42), Santa Clara (85)
The Ohio State’s Visitor: Western Michigan (323)

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Alabama probably won’t shoot their way to another 1 seed this year and Santa Clara’s Brandin Podziemski is now off to the NBA after entertaining us during the WCC tournament last season but the Hosts division should give The Ohio State Buckeyes a reasonable challenge for a team looking to bounce back after a catastrophic Big Ten season. If this was just a 4 team tournament, it would rank in the top 5 for the Big Ten this season. However with the segregation of the mid-majors and low-majors from the main tournament field, it falls down here. That’s not all on Chris Holtmann, the tournament format sucks. But until head coaches stop being willing to participate in tournaments that give them a home game against bad competition instead of risking a neutral site loss or just participate in 2 game MTEs, they will be deemed cowards.


Is Chris Holtmann a coward?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    No, the Emerald Coast Classic Is
    (24 votes)
  • 20%
    A little bit of one
    (21 votes)
  • 56%
    Yes, but I understand why Ohio State doesn’t want to play a team from Michigan at a neutral site
    (59 votes)
104 votes total Vote Now

9 wisconsin Badgers - Fort Myers Tip-off - Beach Division

Format: two 4 team fields. 3 games. 2 neutral site games. 1 home game for the Beach Division against the Palms Division.
Location: Bracketed games at Fort Myers, Florida
Beach Division: West Virginia (19), Virginia (34), Southern Methodist (183)
wisconsin’s Palms Division opponent: TBD

NCAA Basketball: NIT Semifinals-North Texas vs Wisconsin
Is Greg Gard a coward?
Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia is a good program although if they play wisconsin, that game will set basketball back 80 years. West Virginia imploded earlier this offseason following the actions of then head coach Bob Huggins, but they should retain enough talent to be a top 100 type roster. SMU - well, maybe SMU will rise in the post Houston American landscape. Let the mid-majors and low-majors play, Greg Gard!


Is Greg Gard a coward?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Nah, he faced down Juwan with courage
    (57 votes)
  • 10%
    (12 votes)
  • 42%
    I hate the Badgers
    (51 votes)
120 votes total Vote Now

Tier 3 - One Good Game, but Why?

The next two teams have one game against high-major competition (although we are stretching that definition to its breaking point for the second one) but finish off their MTE this season with a game or two against subpar competition. These MTEs leave me wondering, why?

10 Michigan State Spartans - Acrisure Invitational

Format: 4 teams, 2 games each. 1 neutral game in Palm Springs between 2 of 4 teams, 1 home game for 3rd team against 4th team, 1 home game for headliners
Location: Arizona v. MSU at Palm Springs, California. All other games at campus sites.
Neutral Site Opponent: Arizona (11), Texas Arlington (241), Alcorn State (247)
Michigan State’s home game: Alcorn State

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Tom, you don’t need to be playing Alcorn State
Audrey Richardson / USA TODAY NETWORK

I have nothing against Texas Arlington (one of my fantasy football league members graduated from there) or Alcorn State, but there is no reason for Michigan State and Arizona to tack them onto what should just be a neutral site game in Palms Springs in order to make a MTE. Michigan State v. Arizona is a great neutral site game and I’m excited to watch it. Credit to Izzo for scheduling it. But we are ranking the MTEs here and with that in mind, this one falls short. You are better than this Izzo.


Should this be just 1 neutral site game?

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    (83 votes)
  • 17%
    Also yes but I’m a Sparty fan
    (17 votes)
100 votes total Vote Now

11 Nebraska Cornhuskers - Nebraska MTE

Format: 4 teams, 3 games, round robin. Nebraska plays all their games at home
Location: Campus sites
Rest of Field: Duquesne (129), Rider (206), Stony Brook (328)

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament First Round - Nebraska vs Minnesota
Is Fred Hoiberg a coward?
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Duquesne hasn’t exactly been the cream of the Atlantic 10 crop for the past 20+ years, but their inclusion keeps this MTE out of the basement tier. As the name of this MTE implies, this tournament was set up for Nebraska to collect three wins. The only thing worse than the fact that Nebraska basketball thinks this is an acceptable MTE, is the fact that we still have three more Big Ten teams in these rankings. Do better Fred Hoiberg, or I will start openly campaigning for the Huskers to fire you for cowardice.


Is Fred Hoiberg a coward?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    (65 votes)
  • 9%
    (10 votes)
  • 29%
    Keisei Tominaga is my favorite Big Ten player
    (32 votes)
107 votes total Vote Now

Tier 5 - This is Embarrassing

As you may have noticed, Tier 4 was skipped. That’s how bad these slates are. Only one Big Ten program needs practice beating these types of teams: my own Boilermakers. Oh, I made myself sad.

12 Illinois Fighting Illini - Fighting Illini Showcase

Format: 4 teams, 3 games, round robin. Illinois plays all their games at home
Location: Campus sites
Rest of Field: Western Illinois (267), Southern (280), Valparaiso (292)

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Illinois vs Arkansas
Brad Underwood is the type of guy to fight me in a Pizza Hut parking lot for saying this, but this is the MTE of a coward.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Sorry, but what the f- is that? Last season, the Illinois Pacifist Illini played in a 4 team tournament with UCLA, Baylor, and Virginia. This year they play in this thing. Does Brad Underwood not realize that he isn’t on the hot seat and doesn’t need to schedule wins? But wait! There is worse...


Where is Brad Underwood most likely to fight BU89?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    A Pizza Hut parking lot
    (43 votes)
  • 15%
    The Internet
    (15 votes)
  • 42%
    In the transfer portal while looking for a starting PG
    (42 votes)
100 votes total Vote Now

13 Minnesota Gophers - Minnesota/Ball State MTE

Format: 4 teams, 2 hosts have two games against the visitor squads. Hosts do not play each other
Location: Campus sites
Rest of Field: Ball State (host, 171), USC Upstate (254), Pine Bluff (322)

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament First Round - Nebraska vs Minnesota
Two games, two wins
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Wow, the Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball program has fallen. They can’t even be the sole host of their own MTE! The only other top 250 team in this field, they don’t even play. You would think that Ben Johnson would take advantage of the non-conference tournament concept so he could at least lose some games while experiencing a paid vacation somewhere like the Bahamas, but no.


When will Minnesota have a new men’s basketball head coach?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    (40 votes)
  • 50%
    (52 votes)
  • 10%
    I remain optimistic on the Ben Johnson era and will tell you why in the comments
    (11 votes)
103 votes total Vote Now

14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights - Hardwood Classic

Format: 3 teams, 2 games each, round robin
Location: Campus sites
Rest of Field: Boston (266), Wagner (313)

Syndication: Journal-Courier
Steve Pikiell running away from the competition
Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The use of the name “Hardwood Classic” to attempt to disguise this was an interesting touch. There is nothing classic about this. Pikiell is scheduling like he has to win 20 games to keep his job. Like two weeks ago, I’ll be rooting for Wagner. Hopefully this time Wagner doesn’t forfeit before they play.


What should Steve Pikiell’s punishment be for his cowardly scheduling?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    He’s already the head coach of Rutgers
    (62 votes)
  • 27%
    Another year on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble
    (35 votes)
  • 24%
    Just to be safe we should ban all NJ basketball teams from competing in NCAA Division 1
    (31 votes)
128 votes total Vote Now

So that’s the rankings. Two teams excelled in scheduling their tournaments. Five others passed. Seven are led by cowards.

I can already hear the excuses: “But our non-conference schedule is too tough already” or “With 14 teams, not every Big Ten program can schedule a real MTE.”

For the first, unless your head coach is Izzo, no it isn’t. For the second excuse, well I’ve set out to see if I can find a tournament that at least get every team up to the level of the Badgers and Buckeyes.

Finding an Actual Tournament for the bottom 5

Can every Big Ten program really have an actual MTE and not the bullshit baloney that MSU, Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota, and Rutgers scheduled?


Of the 66 P6* programs not in the Big Ten only 5 others have a home games only MTE (Missouri will probably make it 6 as they are the only P6 program without a MTE scheduled for the upcoming season at this time). The B1G meanwhile has a whopping 4/14. That’s three times higher than the average of the other P6 programs. Despite the fact that the SEC and Big 12 also have 14 teams while the ACC has 15. There are tournaments options out there, but the Big Ten did not take advantage of this fact.

*Note that I hate using P6 for college basketball, but I’m also lazy and it’s quicker to sort thru them than try and remember which programs are in the American now.

If you only want to include tournaments that have at least one other P6 program (dumb, but okay) and currently no B1G team, there are 10:

Charleston Classic, Legends Classic, Bahamas, Main Event, Arizona Tip Off - Cactus division, Sunshine Slam - Beach Division, Hall of Fame Classic, Jacksonville Classic, NIT Tip-off, Diamond Head

Could have gone to the Bahamas
Patrick Connolly/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Illinois’s new tournament: Legends Classic

Format: 4 teams, 2 games
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Current field: Auburn (32), Oklahoma State (46), Notre Dame (166), St. Bonaventure (201)

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Birmingham
Illinois could have beaten this guy
Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images

I like the A10 as much as the next guy, and sure St. Bonnies is a New York team, but I’m fairly certain the organizers of this tournament in Brooklyn would rather have Illinois than the Bonnies. Illinois gets two games against high-major competition and an opportunity to knock Bruce Pearl down a peg.

Michigan State’s new tournament: Bahamas Championship

Format: 4 teams, 2 games
Location: Nassau, Bahamas
Current field: Kansas State (21), Miami FL (24), Providence (40), Georgia (154)

Georgia hasn’t had a basketball program in years as they’ve been too busy with their football team. Let’s give them a football, shunt them to the side, and give MSU two games against solid programs. Alternatively, we could have Sparty and Arizona grab Missouri and one of Georgetown/Cincinnati to make a new 4 team tournament.

Rutgers’ new tournament: Charleston Classic

Format: 8 teams, 3 games
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Current field: Houston (2), North Texas (31), Utah (75), Dayton (79), St. Johns (82), Wake Forest (86), Towson (127), LSU (151)

Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic
Before Elon was busy ruining Twitter his basketball team played in MTEs
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

This is a nice tournament with some heft to it, but it would be manageable for Rutgers to come out of it with 2 wins. For a team that just missed the NCAA tournament in part because of their awful schedule strength, they sure could use a tournament field like this. Penn State participated in the Charleston Classic last year, finishing 3rd and that helped them secure a 10 seed while fellow 10-10 in the B1G Rutgers was on the outside looking in. I’m fairly certain the organizers of the Charleston Classic would rather have Rutgers and their fans visiting than Towson, but maybe I’m wrong. After all, we don’t have any data that shows Rutgers fans will travel to these destination MTEs during the entirety of the Steve Pikiell era.

Minnesota’s new tournament: Myrtle Beach Invitational

Format: 8 teams, 3 games each
Location: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Current field: Liberty (48), Charleston (71), Furman (92), St. Louis (96), Wichita (102), Vermont (114), Wyoming (162), Coastal Carolina (296)

Boise State v Loyola (Il) Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Okay, this isn’t all that difficult of a field, but Minnesota doesn’t appear to have a capable head coach so we are going to be generous. Still though, St. Louis, Wichita, and Wyoming all play in high major conferences and Charleston won 31 games last year. Liberty (gross) and Vermont have also been main stays at the top of the mid-major conversation for years. Minnesota won’t take the place of Coastal Carolina (I believe they are the host school) or Furman (located in Greenville, SC), but they could replace Vermont or Liberty pretty easily. We will have them replace Liberty for reasons.

Added bonus: Minnesota’s AD can talk to Charleston’s HC Pat Kelsey about the potential of increasing his salary come March.

Nebraska’s new tournament: Diamond Head Classic

Format: 8 teams, 3 games over 4 days (tournament is played on December 23, 24, and 26)
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Current field: TCU (25), Nevada (62), Temple (120), Hawaii (host, 130), Portland (157), Georgia Tech (161), Old Dominion (177), UMass (212)

Diamond Head
Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images

Hawaii is the host so Nebraska isn’t taking their spot. But I would think they could get in over Old Dominion or Portland at the very least. Not a super challenging tournament, but the potential is there for a couple of wins over potential NCAA tournament teams and who doesn’t like spending Christmas in Hawaii. Plus, this gives Cornhusker fans somewhere to go during bowl season.

Disagree with the above rankings? Sound off in the comments. And let’s work on getting MNW to fund our on-site coverage of these tournaments that aren’t on campus.