The Big Ten announced the entire conference schedule Thursday, and Northwestern may have the toughest slate of any team in the conference.
The 'Cats get two games against many of the Big Ten's best, including Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan State. They will have an especially tough stretch to start the conference season. After their conference opener at Rutgers, Northwestern will face Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State.
Luckily for Northwestern, the non-conference schedule is much easier. Here's a look at the Northwestern's entire schedule:
The season is right around the corner. Which game are you looking forward to the most? #B1GCats pic.twitter.com/UjT5283nAu— NU Men's Basketball (@NUMensBball) August 22, 2014
The young Wildcat squad, which includes six freshmen, will ease it's way into the season with match-ups against Houston Baptist, Brown, North Florida and Elon. Then, it's off to Cancun where the 'Cats will play Miami of Ohio and either Virginia Tech or Northern Iowa.
For Northwestern fans, there's a lot to like about their non-conference slate. They have the soft start, a chance to win in a holiday tournament and plenty of home games. Nine of their first 13 games will be at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The easy start has it's down side too. There's no chance for a big upset. Northwestern's Big Ten/ACC challenge opponent, Georgia Tech, will probably be its toughest opponent until January, so the 'Cats could be in for a rude awakening when the conference season rolls around.
Northwestern has that extremely tough stretch in early January, and it will be followed up with another difficult run in early February. The Wildcats will travel to Nebraska and Wisconsin and then face Michigan State and Iowa at home in the middle of the conference season.
Another thing to note is Northwestern's conference home opener. For the second season in a row, Northwestern will open against Wisconsin before students return for winter quarter classes. Welsh-Ryan Arena could be fairly empty for that game and throughout mid-late December.
This will be Chris Collins' second season as head coach at Northwestern, and he has an extremely young team. There's six freshmen and just two seniors on the roster. Collins is undoubtedly still in rebuild mode, so 2014-15 will be a test.
The 'Cats have a chance to turn some heads in the non-conference season, maybe even reach double digit wins before January. But with the conference slate they've been dealt, getting into the postseason will not be easy. Victories aren't the ultimate measure of success this season though. Northwestern needs to grow and challenge themselves with their 2014-15 schedule as they continue to rebuild.