Big Ten Non-Conference Schedule Analysis: Iowa HawkeyesPosted by KTrahan on October 16th, 2012
The Big Ten microsite will be analyzing the non-conference schedules for all of the Big Ten teams in the coming weeks. Today, we start with the Iowa Hawkeyes. Check out their full schedule here.
Where we left off: Iowa fans would probably rather forget about last season’s non-conference schedule, as the Hawkeyes were blown out by Clemson, Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Campbell. Yes, Campbell. This year, Iowa is a sleeper to make some noise in the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament, but the Hawkeyes must avoid last year’s struggles in the non-conference season in order to have a shot to dance in March.
Major tournaments: Iowa will go to the Cancun Challenge this year and face a relatively weak field compared to other preseason tournaments, drawing Western Kentucky in the first round and either DePaul or Wichita State in the second round. That’s not a terrible schedule — in fact, those are some of the better teams the Hawkeyes will face in the non-conference season. However, if Iowa wants to take the next step as a program, that’s a tournament it should win.
Toughest opponent: Northern Iowa will certainly be a formidable test for Iowa, especially at a neutral site in Des Moines, but Iowa State — which is coming off an NCAA Tournament berth — looks like the toughest team on the Hawkeyes’ non-conference schedule. Starters Chris Babb and Melvin Ejim return for the Cyclones, who also add Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious and Utah transfer Will Clyburn. Even without first round draft pick Royce White, Iowa State will likely be an NCAA Tournament team and could make some noise in the Big 12 race. This will be a home game for the Hawkeyes, but it will still be a tough test for Fran McCaffery’s squad, and it will be a major confidence booster if Iowa comes out with a win.
Most important game: The Iowa State game might seem like the biggest on the surface, but plenty of teams will lose to Iowa State this year and still make the NCAA Tournament. However, the game against Northern Iowa presents just as big of a challenge, as the Panthers figure to be the class of the Missouri Valley along with Creighton. UNI returns most of its team and will be led by seniors Jake Koch and Marc Sonnen, as well as sophomores Deon Mitchell and Seth Tuttle, the latter of whom was the MVC Freshman of the Year last season. This game isn’t do or die — it’s too early in the season for that — but it’s a very tough test and a game that could help Iowa gain some early national respect. A loss will set the Hawkeyes back in their national perception.
Trap game: This may not qualify as a trap game, since it’s a road game in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, but the contest against Virginia Tech has the potential as a letdown following the Cancun Classic. Iowa has struggled in the Challenge as of late, and that continued last year when the Hawkeyes were blown out at home by Clemson. Virginia Tech won’t be great this year, but it could steal a home win against an overconfident or disappointed Iowa team, depending on how the Cancun Classic goes.
Analysis: No matter what happens in the non-conference portion of the schedule, Iowa will have to take care of business during the Big Ten season, because there aren’t many chances for other marquee wins. A win against Iowa State would count as an impressive win and a pair of wins against Northern Iowa and Wichita State would be impressive RPI boosters as well. Overall, there are really no excuses for more than three losses here, but two losses is the most the Hawkeyes can have to feel like they’ve taken care of business. Most importantly, there can be no more losses to bad teams like Campbell. Overall, there isn’t a lot to gain from this schedule, but there is a lot to lose, and the Hawkeyes won’t have much margin for error.