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Grading Big Ten Men’s Basketball Non-conference Schedules: How many programs got Fs?

It’s been a rough week for Minnesota fans

Maryland v Minnesota Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

We are less than 6 weeks away from the start of college basketball season! Basketball practices began across the country yesterday. That means we are way behind on our basketball preview content for the upcoming season.

Today we begin the process of grading each Big Ten men’s basketball non-conference schedule as last week the final stragglers finally completed turned in their homework.

Your first thought might be why should I care about the basketball non-conference schedules?

This is where I remind you that while every team (except Indiana) can theoretically win the Big Ten tournament and gain the auto bid to the NCAA tournament, most Big Ten programs make the tournament via at large bid selections. The likelihood of an at large bid depends on each team’s resume and the strength of each resume is determined by who you beat. You can’t have any good non-conference wins if you didn’t play any good non-conference teams.

Rutgers was left out of the field just last year in part due to a weak non-conference resume. We are a long way removed from the old RPI system when teams could essentially schedule a NCAA tournament bid, but that doesn’t mean the schedule strength doesn’t matter.

Today’s two programs don’t need to worry about at large bids as neither are likely to be in position for one come March, but both programs’ schedules will be reflected in the conference computer numbers. So their failures in scheduling don’t just affect them. They also slightly reduce the chances your favorite team makes the NCAA tournament as a loss to them becomes that much worse.

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. You wouldn’t think I would need to say this, but scheduling all 11 games is required to not get a F.

Minnesota Golden Gophers - F

Minnesota delayed the release of their non-conference schedule until September 17th and didn’t release a cool schedule graphic until the conference schedule was set two days later, so you will just have to ignore the Big Ten games on the above graphic. I can’t help wonder if that was intentional to put less attention on their non-conference schedule...

Gaze in wonder at the 8th Wonder of the World - the worst Power 6 non-conference schedule I’ve seen in a long time! Out of the Gophers 11 non-conference games, a whopping 10 are at home in the Barn. The single game away from Minneapolis takes place at the Chase Center against San Francisco. I actually like the San Francisco game, just not as the second best opponent. The Dons have been solid the past two years but will probably take a step back after the graduation of Khalil Shabazz.

There are 7 games against programs that finished sub 250 in last season’s Kenpom rankings: Bethune Cookman (349), UTSA (278), USC Upstate (254), Pine Bluff (322), New Orleans (332), IUPUI (360), and Maine (277). Only one top 100 program from last year graces the schedule in Missouri. To put those numbers into context, there were 363 Division 1 teams last year and there are - at least until next year - 80 teams in the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac 12 and SEC.

You also have to appreciate the lengths that Minnesota went to avoid playing any regional opponents. There are 24 non-Big Ten programs in the 7 states closest to Minneapolis but there are no games against teams from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Nebraska. The Gophers clearly want to avoid losing to any programs that are located within driving distance.

It didn’t have to be this bad. The Gophers had a spot lined up in the MTE known as the Main Event in Las Vegas before backing out this spring to host USC Upstate and Pine Bluff instead. That would have given Minnesota two games against Washington, San Diego State, or Xavier and brought this schedule up to semi-respectability for the scuffling Gophers program.

This non-conference schedule may be the most cowardly decision by the Minnesota athletics department since PJ Fleck decided to punt against Northwestern from the Wildcats 37 on 4th and 3. Like last year, any conference win by Minnesota will infect the rest of the conference’s computer numbers. The Gophers have let down themselves, their fans, and the rest of the Big Ten in putting together this schedule.

Games I’m excited to see: San Francisco, Ball State

Penn State Nittany Lions F

I was all set to give Penn State a C. They have a first year head coach and the roster is completely turned over following the short two year stint of Micah Shrewsberry. That should get them a pass as the circumstances are against them.

However, I invite you to read through Penn State’s November and December games and count the number of non-conference competitions they have scheduled.

Penn State only has 10 non-conference games scheduled! They literally decided they did not want to play as many games as they are allowed to. Considering that first year head coach Mike Rhoades needs all the reps he can get to prepare his roster for this season and the future, this is inexcusable. It’s further proof that Penn State’s athletic department does not care about men’s basketball. Imagine Indiana not scheduling 3 non-conference football games.

The actual games are pretty weak as well. Outside of their MTE in Orlando - the third game of which will be one of Boise State, Iowa State, and Virginia Tech -, Penn State scheduled 7 buy games against low majors.

The redeeming quality is that at least they scheduled locally. Six of their opponents are from Pennsylvania or a state neighboring Pennsylvania and the seventh is only two states away.

Hopefully Penn State gets finds a way to matchup with VCU in their third game in Orlando. Seeing Mike Rhoades and Ace Baldwin face their former team would at least be entertaining.

Games I’m excited to see: Butler (neither is winning their first MTE game), hopefully VCU

Comments from other writers

MaximumSam: Actually, I can imagine Indiana forgetting to schedule enough football games. That might be for the best for everyone.


Should Minnesota or Penn State be kicked out of the conference for their schedules?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    (124 votes)
  • 40%
    Why is basketball content being posted?
    (86 votes)
210 votes total Vote Now


Which schedule is worse?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    (165 votes)
  • 27%
    Penn State
    (63 votes)
228 votes total Vote Now

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