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IOWA CITY — Wednesday was schedule-release day for basketball across the Big Ten, with conference slates being announced and the 2017-18 season taking shape.
Iowa released its full men’s basketball schedule in conjunction with the Big Ten announcement, filling out a handful of dates that had yet to be officially announced. The Hawkeyes begin their regular season with a pair of exhibition games against William Jewell College and Belmont Abbey College on Oct. 27 and Nov. 2, and wrap it up at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Senior Day against Northwestern on Feb. 25.
With four weekend home games in the Big Ten schedule — three on a Saturday — and a trio of one-day gaps between games, the Hawkeyes’ schedule has some advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s break it down:
Games (home in bold): Nov. 10 vs. Chicago State, Nov. 12 vs. Alabama State, Nov. 16 vs.. Grambling State, Nov. 20 vs. Louisiana (Cayman Islands Classic), Nov. 21 vs. Wyoming/South Dakota State (Cayman Islands Classic), Nov. 22 vs. TBD (Cayman Island Classic), Nov. 28 at Virginia Tech, Dec. 7 at Iowa State, Dec. 10 vs. Southern, Dec. 16 vs. Drake (Hy-Vee Classic in Des Moines), Dec. 19 vs. Southern Utah, Dec. 22 vs. Colorado (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Dec. 29 vs. Northern Illinois
What it means: Iowa’s non-conference slate is laid out with the potential for a few high-quality matchups: Cincinnati (should the Bearcats and Hawkeyes make it to the championship of the Cayman Islands Classic), Virginia Tech (No. 9 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, finished 2016-17 ranked No. 50 in KenPom), Iowa State (it’s in Hilton, Cyclones retooling) and the neutral-site game against Colorado in Sioux Falls (finished last season ranked No. 72 in KenPom, made NIT, went 19-15 and went 9-4 to finish Pac-12 season).
What do all three of those potentially-high-quality games have in common? They’re not in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes’ home opponents in their non-conference slate do not read as a who’s who, nor do they figure to be resume-building. Of Iowa’s six home games in non-conference, the highest-ranked team at the end of last season on KenPom was Northern Illinois at No. 205. The others? Chicago State was 335th, Alabama State 342nd, Grambling State 327th, Southern was 326th and Southern Utah was 333rd out of 351 teams in Division I.
Iowa’s trip to the Cayman Islands doesn’t feature many highly-ranked teams, either. Of Iowa’s first two rounds, the best team on paper is Wyoming at 127th on KenPom — and that matchup might not even happen. Cincinnati, the other potential quality game in that tournament, was a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year and finished ranked 23rd on KenPom.
All that adds up to Iowa having a great chance to be 4-0 and solid chance at 7-0 heading into the first pair of Big Ten games in early December (a schedule quirk we’ll get into below) before wrapping up non-conference play.
BIG TEN CONFERENCE
Games (home in bold): Dec. 2 vs. Penn State, Dec. 4 at Indiana, Jan. 2 vs. Michigan, Jan 4 vs. Ohio State, Jan. 7 at Maryland, Jan. 11 at Illinois, Jan. 17 at Rutgers, Jan. 20 vs. Purdue, Jan. 23 vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 27 at Nebraska, Jan. 30 vs. Minnesota, Feb. 3 at Penn State, Feb. 6 vs. Michigan State, Feb. 10 at Ohio State, Feb. 14 at Michigan, Feb. 17 vs. Indiana, Feb. 21 at Minnesota, Feb. 25 vs. Northwestern
What it means: Thanks to the Big Ten Tournament being moved up a week (Feb. 28-March 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York City), the Big Ten was forced to schedule teams for early-December conference openers to fit the 18-game schedule in.
That means the Hawkeyes get to dip their toes into the Big Ten water against Penn State at home before going to Assembly Hall with just one day to prepare. What’s more — to dip back into non-conference for a second — the Hawkeyes then get to come back and go to Hilton Coliseum three days later. That gives Iowa three games in less than a week, with two of them at venues at which it is traditionally difficult to win.
Iowa’s conference slate is balanced in terms of the on-paper competitiveness of the schedule. The Hawkeyes avoided several of the toughest road matchups in the Big Ten. Iowa does not play at Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan State or Northwestern, places the Hawkeyes went 1-3 last year. Iowa’s four road-only opponents (Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska and Rutgers) went a combined 29-43 in Big Ten play last year, with Maryland getting 12 of those.
When Iowa gets back to conference play after closing non-con with Northern Illinois, it has what could be the toughest stretch. The Hawkeyes get Michigan and Ohio State with one day to prepare in between before 16 days away from Carver — three straight road games at Maryland, Illinois and Rutgers. That three-game road stretch is followed up with Purdue and Wisconsin — though, as mentioned, both of those are at home.
The Hawkeyes only face NCAA Tournament teams back-to-back twice in conference (Purdue and Wisconsin, then at Minnesota and home against Northwestern to end the season). They don’t face Michigan State (potentially a top-five team) until the 13th conference game, and don’t go to Ohio State or Minnesota until that last third of the season, either.
SO THIS MEANS IOWA IS A 1-SEED, RIGHT?
Not so fast.
The 2017-18 schedule broke in Iowa’s favor in a number of ways, and the non-conference slate should give the Hawkeyes a jump start on building up wins — even if they won’t be a boon for their NCAA resume. This slate for Iowa looks similar to Maryland’s last season, avoiding multiple tough venues and having what appear to be top opponents later in the season. The Terrapins won 24 games and were a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Before a minute of basketball is played, that appears in play for the Hawkeyes if things break the way they hope and if the known and potential talent on their roster translates to the court.
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