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12) Iowa Hawkeyes
The Iowa Hawkeyes have the easiest non-conference schedule in the Big Ten, as they do not play one team in the top 25. The hardest games the Hawkeyes play in the off-season are Virginia Tech, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa. The rest of their non-conferences schedule includes easy games such as South Dakota and Coppin State. The Iowa Hawkeyes could win their non-conference games and still not be that great this season. They need to be dominant early this season if they expect to do anything during Big Ten play.
Nebraska’s biggest contests are against #16 Creighton and Oregon. They also play a few other tough games against Wake Forest and USC. The rest of their non-conference schedule is fairly easy. Some of their other games this season include Nebraska-Omaha, Jacksonville State, and Nicholls State. Nebraska will likely lose their big contests. When you schedule such easy teams, your non-conference schedule isn’t going to be rated very highly. However, this is a building year for Nebraska so having such an easy can isn’t really a bad thing.
10) Penn State
Penn state also has a relatively easy schedule compared to the rest of the Big Ten. Their toughest contest is the Puerto Rico Tip off. In this tournament, they play North Carolina State, who is preseason ranked #6. Other than that, their schedule is relatively easy and includes games against St. Francis, Bucknell, and New Hampshire. The Nittany Lions need to play well in their non-conference games because they are predicted to struggle in the Big Ten. If they do not play well early on, it could be a long season for the Nittany Lions.
Purdue’s Marquee non-conference games this season include Villanova in New York City for the 2K Sports Classic, and Notre Dame. They also play a couple of big game matchups against Clemson, Xavier, and West Virginia. These teams are not necessarily expected to be great this year but they have been good in the past and could potentially surprise people. This schedule is in the middle of the pack when it comes to difficulty but it is the start of a shift between easy schedules and more difficult ones in the Big Ten.
Northwestern’s schedule isn’t very difficult but it isn’t by any means easy. They have to go up against Baylor, who made to the elite eight last season, and Butler who made it to the finals in 2011. They also play against Maryland, who is fairly decent, and Stanford who could both cause some problems. If Northwestern has a strong offseason and manages to win against these teams, they will be on the rise and could create a disturbance in the Big Ten predictions. A factor that helps the Northwestern Wildcats is that besides the Baylor game, which will be their biggest test, their other big non-conference games will be at home.
The Michigan Wolverines will play in the NIT Season Tip-Off this year, which is a few games against mid-majors, then a combination of games against Virginia, Kansas State, and/or Pittsburgh. Also, just like Penn State, they play #6 North Carolina State. This game is part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and will be a great game as the teams are ranked 5 and 6. They also will play Arkansas and West Virginia, who are good teams, but not great. Considering the fact that Michigan is preseason ranked fifth in the nation, I would have liked to see them play a much tougher non-conference schedule. They need to show their fans that they are serious contenders and play well this season.
Indiana will play in the Legends Classic where they will hope to beat Georgia in the first round. If they beat Georgia, they will play either UCLA or Georgetown, both of which are quality opponents. To me, their biggest test will be against #11 North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. However, they do play them at home so that will benefit the Hoosiers. If they beat North Carolina, I could see #1 Indiana going undefeated before New Years. They are the number one team in the nation and while their schedule is difficult, it is manageable.
John Groce begins his time at Illinois with a fairly difficult non-conference schedule. His team will play USC first in the Maui Invitational and if they advance, they could possibly play Texas, North Carolina, Butler, and Marquette. All of which are very good teams. The Illini are also scheduled to play Gonzaga and Missouri in December. It will be interesting to see how good they do in non-conference play because if they will a lot of these games, it will be unexpected and shocking to me.
4) Michigan State
Michigan State’s schedule is difficult, as is expected. Head coach Tom Izzo often schedules a difficult non-conference so his team is prepared when they enter Big Ten play. They open the college basketball season this year at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany as they take on Connecticut. They then have four days before they play Kansas in Georgia for the Champions Classic. While this may not be the Connecticut team we are used to seeing, it will not be easy playing on such a big stage. Then to play Kansas so soon after will be a definite challenge. Later in the season, they also play Miami and Texas. Luckily for the Spartans, both of these games are at home.
Wisconsin has a challenging schedule this year because of how many good teams they play. Wisconsin will play Florida, Marquette, Virginia, and Cal during their non-conference play. They will also play Creighton in the Las Vegas Invitational. If they defeat Creighton, they could potentially play Arizona State. These games are not going to be easy for the Badgers and they could go either way. I think these games are really good for the Wisconsin. Wisconsin is sitting right on the edge of being considered an elite team in the Big Ten this season. I have them ranked at fifth in the Big Ten to start the season. Playing well in non-conference play could give them the credit they rightfully deserve.
I was actually really shocked when I saw how difficult Minnesota’s non-conference schedule was this year. They are playing in a tournament called the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas and the lineup for this tournament is great. They will play Duke first and if they advance, the teams they could be playing include: Missouri, Stanford, VCU, Memphis, Northern Iowa, and Louisville. In addition to playing in this tournament, they play at Florida State and USC. The Battle for Atlantis and their game at Florida State are just separated by a few days as well. It will be tough for Minnesota but I give them credit for challenging themselves.
1) Ohio State
Finally, the team with the most difficult non-conference schedule in the Big Ten Conference is The Ohio State Buckeyes. They play Duke and Kansas, as well as Marquette on an aircraft carrier, to continue the Carrier Classic. It is the most difficult schedule in the Big Ten and they are one of the few teams that have the ability to be this successful with that schedule. Any team can be beaten when it comes to college basketball, as there are always a number of upsets. However, it is important to schedule difficult games in the beginning of the season so that you are ready in the end of the season. I am a firm believer of scheduling challenging non-conference games. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.