Examining Big Ten Non-Conference Strength of Schedules

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 21st, 2013

With opinions forming on various teams’ chances at winning a Big Ten title and advancing deep into March, it seemed like a good time to take a harder look at the league’s overall non-conference strength of schedule. With just over a week to go until the conference season opens up on New Year’s Eve, and some big games upcoming for B1G teams this weekend on slate (Michigan State at Texas, Notre Dame at Ohio State, Illinois at Missouri, Stanford at Michigan, and Purdue at West Virginia), now is as good a time as any. At this point, non-conference strength of schedule is relatively settled and we can begin to examine if a team’s current record is symptomatic of a particularly weak or strong slate.


Above you can see the RPI-based strength of schedule rankings for Big Ten teams from both CBSSports and ESPN. It should be noted almost every site has some differences in RPI rankings right now, but as much as we all might hate that it matters for NCAA Tournament purposes, that’s the reality we have to consider. Here are a few notes from an examination of the rankings.

  • If you’re still not sold on Wisconsin, it’s time to realize that the Badgers are a team with a legitimate chance to win the Big Ten and advance very far in the NCAA Tournament. Bo Ryan’s team has played the most challenging schedule in the conference (top 15 nationally by both sites) and still has yet to lose. These Badgers aren’t just winning, but doing so against great competition in a myriad of ways.
  • Ohio State is undefeated and has played a decent schedule according to ESPN and CBSSports (though a report this week rated the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule in the 200s, and Delaware wouldn’t have raised it that much in one game). The Buckeyes have won every game by double figures and are dominant defensively this season. It seems clear that until Michigan State is healthy, the Badgers and Buckeyes are front-runners in the Big Ten with Iowa on their heels.
  • Speaking of Iowa, the Hawkeyes’ strength of schedule is either very good or pretty good, depending on the ranking system you like better. Either way, Iowa is still top 100 according to both and has clearly played a solid schedule and has moved from “team to watch” to an elite Big Ten team. It has tested itself against strong competition, including both of its losses (to Villanova and a very challenging road game at Iowa State).
  • Illinois appears to have played a challenging schedule (and this is before playing Missouri this weekend). For a young team to come out of the gates with only two losses with a challenging schedule is a very good sign. The Illini could be a team to watch in that big group of middling Big Ten teams once the conference season begins.
  • This next group of middling teams all have similar schedules in Indiana, Minnesota, Penn State and Michigan. The Wolverines are lower than the others, but its slate has included Duke and Arizona so the Wolverines have obviously played some tough teams. For a group that could be battling for space on the bubble, they’ve prepared themselves in similar ways.
  • Maybe it is time for Purdue fans to really be worried. The Boilermakers have a similar record as the other groups that we’re putting in the middle of the Big Ten and they lack a marquee win, but it appears many of those close games came against inferior opponents. Purdue ranks last in the Big Ten in strength of schedule from both sites, and while West Virginia this weekend will help somewhat, close wins over bad teams doesn’t bode well with much better competition on the horizon.
Jonathan Batuello (61 Posts)

Jonathan Batuello is a journalist working out of Indiana and Big Ten correspondent for Rush the Court. Follow his Twitter account (@jcbatuello) for Big Ten basketball, Indiana high school sports and how to cope with losing at fantasy football.

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