Big Ten Non-Conference Schedule Analysis: Part IPosted by Brendan Brody on October 31st, 2013
Highlighted by the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the B1G non-conference slate is filled with intriguing match-ups that will the test each team in unique ways. Starting with Nebraska taking on “Dunk City” on opening night, and stretching deep into December, the teams from the conference will all face games ranging from a glorified scrimmage to an absolute test that will determine RPI and seeding in March, and influence the general perception of each team and the league as a whole. What follows is the first of a two-part breakdown showing what each team is up against before the league schedule tips off on New Year’s Eve. There’s no need to hypothesize when it comes to tournaments that involve different teams and who they might play; rather, let’s just look at games that are definitely going to be played.
- Biggest Test: @ Oregon (12/14). With the news of Joseph Young receiving a waiver to play this season, this will be a difficult test for the Illini on the perimeter. The combination of Young, Dominic Artis, and Damyeon Dotson will cause nightmares for a lot of teams. Luckily, Illinois is deep here as they could go to their bench with freshmen Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn, and wing Malcolm Hill to try and wear the Ducks’ perimeter players down.
- Other Challenges: @ UNLV (11/26), Georgia Tech (12/3), Missouri (12/21). Highlighted by the annual border battle with Missouri, all of these games are winnable, and going 3-0 here would go a long way toward improving the cache the Illini would have with the selection committee in March. I’m not sold on UNLV or Missouri based on what they lost, and Georgia Tech will be better with Tennessee transfer Trae Golden running the point, but if Illinois can get to these teams with their superior depth, they’ll be able to win all of these.
- Mid-Major Scare: Valparaiso (11/13). Valparaiso made the NCAA Tournament last year and has a future coaching superstar in Bryce Drew. If Illinois takes them lightly, they will get beaten even though the game is in Champaign.
- Biggest Test: @ Syracuse (12/3). I can’t wait to see Yogi Ferrell battle with Tyler Ennis in this rematch of the 1987 championship game. Indiana will have to prove that they can hit shots against the Orange’s 2-3 zone, and at this point I’m not sure if they do. They also will need big games from freshmen Troy Williams and Noah Vonleh against the depth and size Syracuse has.
- Other Challenges: Washington (11/21), Notre Dame (12/14). Along with the teams listed, the Hoosiers will get a game against either Boston College or UConn here depending on how the 2K Sports bracket breaks. Notre Dame will be difficult with Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins testing their guards. They will get another challenge from Washington if Nigel Williams-Goss can get the best of Ferrell on a neutral floor.
- Mid-Major Scare: Oakland (12/10). If the Hoosiers look past Oakland before the game with Notre Dame, they’ll slip up with elite shooter Travis Bader gunning for J.J. Redick’s NCAA three-point record. If Bader gets hot early, Oakland could seize momentum against a team composed mostly of freshmen and sophomores.
- Biggest Test: Notre Dame (12/3). Iowa likes to play at a quicker tempo, so this will be a clash of styles with newly-minted ACC member Notre Dame looking to slow things down a bit with Mike Brey’s burn offense. The game is played in Iowa City, and a win would go a long way in March.
- Other Challenges: Xavier (11/28), @ Iowa State (12/13), potential games with Tennessee, Kansas, or Villanova. Iowa State is always an underrated rivalry nationally, but with both teams potentially in the upper halves of their respective leagues, it should be close. The Battle 4 Atlantis field is not as loaded as last year with juggernauts like Duke, Louisville, and Memphis, but Iowa will get tested by the Semaj Christon-led Xavier squad, and could potentially lock horns with any combination of Tennessee, Villanova and maybe Kansas. The best case scenario would be making it all the way to the finals to face off against potential number one pick Andrew Wiggins. Christon will test Mike Gesell and I like Aaron White squaring off against Georges Niang in the Iowa State game.
- Mid-Major Scare: Drake (12/7). Another battle with a foe from the state of Iowa, this would only be a question mark if Iowa starts really well. If they come away from earlier games with some quality notches in their belts, this could be another case of a team looking past a game they should win as they look towards the clash in Ames six days later.
- Biggest Test: @ Duke (12/3). This is my personal favorite non-conference game involving a B1G team. This is the first time that these teams have both been this good and faced each other in the regular season since the Fab Five/Christian Laettner days. The game is at Duke, which gives them the advantage, but I would love to see how they plan on stopping Mitch McGary with their lack of anything remotely resembling a post player.
- Other Challenges: @ Iowa State (11/17), Puerto Rico Tip-off (11/21-22, 11/24), Arizona (12/17), Stanford (12/21). Aaron Gordon matched up against Glenn Robinson III should provide a couple of SportsCenter Top 10 type moments. The game itself will feature two teams that will probably go far in March. The game at Iowa State will be a three-point contest with the tempo at which both teams play. In Puerto Rico, Michigan could get a rematch from the NCAA Tournament against VCU, and maybe a game against Georgetown.
- Mid-Major Scare: Long Beach St. (11/21). This is not because I think they will lose, but mainly because the rest of the mid-majors Michigan plays are really bad. Long Beach is battle tested with the schedule they play each season, and with the neutral floor and other variables being in a foreign country in a tournament setting, they could get a win if they play out of their heads.
- Biggest Test: Kentucky (11/12) I said the Duke-Michigan was my personal favorite, but the college basketball world sits in eager anticipation for this battle between the #1 and #2 preseason teams. The major variable will be the amount of experience Michigan State brings with them against what could over time become the greatest recruiting class of all-time. Shots were fired between the coaches in the offseason, the floor will be littered with future NBA players, and this could be an absolute classic.
- Other Challenges: North Carolina (12/4), @ Texas (12/21). North Carolina should get P.J. Hairston back by this point in the schedule, and their retooled frontcourt will test Adreian Payne and Matt Costello on the glass. Texas is nowhere near where they used to be, but they are still a power conference team playing at home, with a big man in Cameron Ridley who will pose problems with his size.
- Mid-Major Scare: @ Oakland (12/14). I listed Oakland here again for the same reasons that I listed them as a scare for Indiana. Except this time Michigan State has to go to Oakland to play against an elite shooter who could build momentum playing in front of his home crowd.
- Biggest Test: Syracuse (11/25). The Gophers’ opening game of the Maui Invitational will be an arduous task, but Andre and Austin Hollins could make things difficult with Syracuse’s inexperienced backcourt. The Orange has the advantage everywhere else on the floor however. I’d say the best thing from this game would be the fact that Minnesota gets to be in Hawaii instead of its home state in the last week of November, because the action on the court could be bleak.
- Other Challenges: Florida State (12/3), Other games in the Maui Invitational (11/26, 11/27). Minnesota gets Florida State as their Challenge opponent, and they get them in the Barn, so this is a winnable game. They could run into either Arkansas or Cal in their second round Maui game and then see a team like Dayton or Baylor later on. All of these would provide an RPI boost if they could get a win or two.
- Mid-Major Scare: Montana (11/12). Montana has been a Tournament team in two of the last three seasons and went 19-1 in the Big Sky last year. They can more than hang with the power conference teams, and will look to do so here early on in the season.