With the Olympics over and football season around the corner, this basketball-mad fan feels the lack of meaningful games acutely. Thankfully, though, enough of college basketball’s non-conferences schedules have been announced to pour over them like a prospector sifting through gold.
We’ve already unveiled the Big Ten conference play and my colleagues have done a sterling job analyzing the non-conference schedules we know fully. For the rest, we have some, but not all of the details. Future announcements may shake up this list some.
All rankings have been pulled from ESPN’s Way Too Early Top 25.
Let’s do this!
1.) Michigan State
Full disclosure: I’m a Spartans fanatic, so I may be seeing this through rose-tinted glasses. I’m sure they’ll fill out the non-con with mid-/low-tier mid major teams. But this is a rumble to start the year. #12 Arizona at Pearl Harbor, #3 Kentucky in New York, the Battle 4 Atlantis which could pit them against #13 Louisville in the final. And just when they need a post-holiday nap, they travel to Duke to take on the #1 Blue Devils for the ACC/Big-Ten Challenge. This will be the test of a lifetime for Tom Izzo’s highly touted recruiting class.
The Hoosiers will similarly be flying all over the country. The other Big Ten school in the Armed Forces Classic will match-up against #4 Kansas and their freshman star Josh Jackson at Pearl Harbor. They’ll host #6 North Carolina, who pummeled them out of last year’s tournament. And they’ll start a three-year series against Louisville at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Thomas Bryant and Co. better come to play.
This ranking is more about potential match-ups but the schedule could be a beast. The Badgers will host #25 Syracuse in the Challenge. They’ll travel to #20 Creighton for the Gavitt Games. They get Oklahoma and Marquette, both down after losing lottery picks. The Maui Invitational could get real fun, as both #7 Oregon and #6 UNC loom in the semi-finals and finals. We’ll have a good sense early-on if Greg Gard’s highly touted team is ready to compete nationally.
4.) Ohio State
A bounce-back year would be just the ticket for Thad Matta, after an inconsistent and disappointing 2015-2016 season. They’ll test themselves early with a trip to Virginia for the Challenge, #24 Connecticut at home before a visit to Las Vegas, where they’ll try to stay focused on a date with #17 UCLA, who looks to make noise with a top 10 recruiting class.
Poor Cornhuskers. Their schedule does them absolutely no favors to rebound from a dilapidated 16-18 season. In the Wooden Legacy, they’ll get Archie Miller’s high major Dayton Flyers, followed (if they win) by UCLA. They travel to Clemson and Kansas (yikes), and take on Creighton at home.
Circle your calendars for November 14th, as the Boilermakers look to take down defending national champion, Villanova. Josh Hart is back for Jay Wright’s #2 Wildcats, attempting the first repeat since the mid-2000s. But Purdue got some guys named Caleb Swanigan and Vince Edwards returning too and they’re looking to move past their stinging double OT loss to Arkansas Little Rock. Louisville for the Challenge, and neutral visits with Arizona State and Notre Dame round out a thrilling non-conference schedule.
Credit to John Beilein’s program: they’re going out and playing major conference opponents. Unfortunately for them, with the exception of UCLA, nobody knows if the rebuilding projects at Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech will bear any fruit. They’ll take Madison Square Garden for Marquette and then either Pittsburgh or SMU as part of the 2K Classic. Depending on how the year shakes down, some of those schools could be ranked down the stretch. For now, only one-ranked opponent leaves a little to be desired.
8.) Penn State
Like Nebraska, the Nittany Lions figure to round out the Big Ten’s basement. And they too must grapple with a blue blood, taking on Duke for the Hall of Fame tipoff classic, followed by either #22 Cincinnati or #21 Rhode Island, both up-and-coming programs looking for big years.
As we’ve noted, it’s a make or break year for Illinois basketball. While the schedule looks intriguing, #15 West Virginia in New York followed by either #23 Florida State or Temple, NC State at home and BYU in Chicago wouldn’t be challenging for a top Big Ten program. Is Illinois that program anymore? This year we find out.
There’s only one ranked team on Iowa’s schedule but it’s a good one, #5 Virginia in the Emerald Coast Classic. A visit to Notre Dame and the annual match-up with Iowa State could prove fortuitous for all involved. This schedule is a nice litmus test for a team that showed brilliance but faded down the stretch last year.
Is this “The Year”? The schedule features no ranked teams, but they will get tested by Butler, Texas and then maybe Notre Dame in the Legends Classic, and then Dayton at the United Center. Talking about Northwestern’s NCAA drought is like talking about fight club. My lips are sealed.
It feels unfair to rag on Minnesota and Rutgers, the two biggest rebuilding efforts in the Big Ten. As of this writing, their schedules feel just incomplete. Minnesota takes on St. John’s and Arkansas but doesn’t play in the Challenge; Rutgers travels to Miami and hosts Seton Hall, both schools dealing with the loss of solid players from good seasons. Besides, they more than make up for it by playing the two most difficult Big Ten schedules.
I’m sorry, but this is soft for a program that considers itself elite. A visit to Georgetown would be interesting if this were the 80s or even two years ago. Pittsburgh will be a middle of the road ACC team, Oklahoma State will land near the bottom of the Big 12. And Richmond on a neutral floor excites no one. Maryland needs to do more to improve seeding and the chances of making the Final Four. They have the talent. But when are they going to be tested?