Scheduling is one of the most important facets of college basketball and every conference has their own scheduling rules and format. The Big Ten schedule consists of 18 games against conference opponents. Teams face eight opponents twice and four opponents once. These single-plays selections are incredibly important because they can significantly alter the conference schedule difficultly for each team. For instance, if Penn State was scheduled against probable conference powers like MSU, OSU, Michigan, and Indiana as single plays, most would believe they would have an easier schedule since they would only have to face these "difficult" teams once and would get slated against "easier" competition for more conference games.
Of course, the Big Ten works to avoid these types of events from happening and traditionally, they're usually pretty effective at alternating home and away single-plays and also working to create a fair schedule for every team in the conference. No schedule will ever be perfectly even across the board, but over the course of 18 games, the conference does a solid job. Unfortunately, this move for "fairness" also results in the lost of some of the conference's best rivalry and marquee games.
Unlike the Big Ten's current football schedule model, there are no protected rivalries in Big Ten basketball. This isn't always a problem, but it does mean that there are years when a team only gets to play its biggest rival once. What's even worse to fans is that if their teams happens to be the road team that year, they are forced to endure a season without a home game against their chief rival. There doesn't seem to be a desire to move towards basketball divisions, which means that this problem could get even worse when Maryland and Rutgers join the conference and Big Ten teams will only play six conference opponents twice each year.
Change will likely come eventually to this model, but the fact is that it hasn't come yet. The conference rotated the single-plays this off-season, which will make the conference schedules look different than they have in recent years. With that in mind, let's take a look at the five worst single-plays of next season:
5. MSU vs. Wisconsin
This is certainly not the biggest rivalry in the Big Ten and the Spartans have seemed to have Wisconsin's number in recent years (5-0 over the last 2 years), but the games are almost always hard fought and important in the conference standings. Both teams have finished in the top four of the conference standings in the last two years and both teams have made at least one trip to the conference tournament final as well. Coaches Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan always make sure their teams stay in the race with tough and physical defense. Add in that both teams play great at home and have outstanding home crowds and it's easy to see why fans will miss seeing this match up twice next year.
4. Illinois vs. Minnesota
The Illini and Golden Gophers played three times last season and though neither team ended up being as great as their fans hoped, the series was competitive and the last two games were very exciting. In fact, the Big Ten Tournament game between Illinois and Minnesota could make a strong case for conference game of the year. Brandon Paul sank a basket at the buzzer to give the Illini the win. There's been a lot of roster turnover this off-season and the Gophers fired Tubby Smith, but it would have been pretty exciting to see two of these games on the schedule for next year.
3. Indiana vs. Ohio St.
Both match-ups between the Hoosiers and Buckeyes received a tremendous amount of hype last season and rightfully so. Both teams went on the road and recorded impressive victories over one another. It was definitely an unusual thing to see two top ten teams split a series, but have neither team win at home. Both games ended up being very important in the conference race as Indiana helped get back on track with their win and the Buckeyes began a ride that would take them to the Elite 8. A final note is that Indiana decided to cut down the nets in Assembly Hall after losing to the Buckeyes in a bizarre moment. There are a ton of story-lines for this match-up, but unfortunately, we only get to enjoy this game once next season.
2. Indiana vs. Purdue
This will probably surprise a lot of people, but Indiana vs. Purdue only slides in at second on this list. Not because it isn't a great rivalry, but mainly because of the competitiveness of the match-ups. This game will always receive attention, but the Hoosiers have firmly grasped control over the last two years and frankly, the games really haven't even been close. Regardless, both teams and fan-bases are rabid basketball fans and despise one another. There were some rumors that these two teams might attempt to schedule one another for a non-conference game, but it's not likely to work out due to the impending addition of Maryland and Rutgers next year (which will again change the conference schedules). College basketball fans across the country will miss seeing one of the sport's best rivalries, even if it has been a bit down the last couple of years.
1. Michigan vs. Ohio St.
This could easily be my bias showing through, but I truly believe this is the worst single-play in the Big Ten for next season. On a yearly basis, it would probably be Indiana vs. Purdue, but the Wolverines and Buckeyes have been on a roll. Both teams have made the NCAA Tournament for the past three seasons, each team has won the Big Ten at least once, and each team has made it to the Final Four. Plus, the game's have been incredibly exciting. Michigan went into Columbus with a 16-0 record for the first game last year and the Buckeyes snapped Michigan's undefeated dreams off a late missed 3 pointer by Trey Burke. In the second meeting, the game went to overtime before it was decided in the final seconds off a late Aaron Craft turnover. Both teams had two All-Big Ten players last year and each have one of the best coaches in the nation. This series has legitimately been some of the best against the best in some of the most thrilling game-play of the season. Both teams set-up nicely for next season and regulating this rivalry to just one game next year is a shame.