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Statistical Analysis: Who Has The Toughest Schedule In Next Year’s Big Ten?

Taking a statistical look at next year’s Big Ten.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Gonzaga vs Northwestern Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Late last week, some major news came out regarding next season’s Big Ten schedules. Jon Rothstein of FanRag Sports reported the double-play matchups for next year’s Big Ten conference action, which sets the table for each team’s schedule.

As fans will recall, the Big Ten has featured “double-play” and “single-play” opponents since Penn State originally joined the conference in the 1990s. Prior to Penn State’s arrival, every Big Ten team would get one home game and one road game against every other conference foe.

However, with Penn State and the eventual additions of Maryland, Nebraska, and Rutgers, this is no longer the case. With only 18 games and 13 opponents, teams have been limited to five double-play opponents. This has created some unique scheduling quirks, including imbalanced slates for many of the Big Ten teams.

As a consequence of the imbalanced nature of the new schedules, when the double-play opponents are released each summer, it helps set the table for the upcoming season. After all, if one team has a much easier schedule than another, it could easily result in a multiple-game swing in the standings.

Of course, as mentioned, the Big Ten double-play opponents were released late last week and the immediate question is how it forecasts things for next season. Well, to set the table, here are the matchups:

2016-’17 Big Ten Double-Play Opponents:

  • Illinois: Indiana, Michigan State, Nebraska, Rutgers, Wisconsin
  • Indiana: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State
  • Iowa: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State
  • Maryland: Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, TBD
  • Michigan: Iowa, Maryland, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue
  • Michigan State: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers, Wisconsin
  • Minnesota: Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue
  • Nebraska: Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State, Rutgers, Wisconsin
  • Northwestern: Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin
  • Ohio State: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers
  • Penn State: Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State
  • Purdue: TBD, Michigan, Minnesota, Rutgers, Wisconsin
  • Rutgers: Illinois, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue
  • Wisconsin: Illinois, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue

There are a lot of things to take out of those matchups. However, it’s hard to conceptualize what it means from the information above. As such, I have taken the liberty of taking a deeper look at the impact of that schedule for next season.

While this isn’t a perfect comparison, I have produced an average rating for each Big Ten’s double-play opponents for next season. These are averaged out of last year’s KenPom ratings. Those ratings won’t be all that accurate for next season, but they do provide us with an intriguing look at next season. Please remember that the lower numbers on the chart equate to a more difficult schedule.

2016-’17 Big Ten Double-Play Opponents By KenPom Rating:

As mentioned above, last year’s KenPom ratings aren’t going to tell us everything we need to know about the upcoming season. However, they do give us a great overview of how things could fall. Teams are typically going to rise and fall from those ratings, but that movement isn’t usually that dramatic.

So, what do those ratings tell us?

To start, they tell us that Northwestern projects to have the league’s toughest schedule, at least according to double-play results. And this isn’t all that surprising considering that the Wildcats have four NCAA Tournament teams in this year’s double-plays, including the two teams that made the Big Ten Tournament final.

On the other side, it was interesting to see Ohio State projected for the league’s easiest slate of double-play games. While I think there is some potential movement on that projection (Indiana, Iowa, Penn State, and Rutgers all project to improve), that’s great news for new head coach Chris Holtmann. Perhaps he can use that easy slate to work the team into the NIT or further.

Additionally, it was also interesting to see the Spartans project for a manageable slate of double-plays this year. That’s incredibly important considering that Michigan State projects as the league’s best team and a potential one seed in March. As such, if the Spartans don’t win the Big Ten regular season title this season, it’s going to be shocking.

There will be plenty more time to break down the Big Ten, but this year’s league schedule looks compelling for fans from top to bottom. As more dates and opponents emerge, this should only add to the intrigue for fans.