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IU basketball: Looking at how Big Ten schedule single plays will impact the conference race

Time to update those Big Ten men’s basketball preseason power rankings.

As has been the case each season since the league’s expansion precluded a true round-robin conference slate, the Big Ten’s annual schedule drop has become an important factor in analyzing who will win the regular season crown.

With 14 teams and a 20 game conference schedule, each team will once again play just seven teams both home-and-away, while the remaining six opponents will be seen only once.

Clearly, who a particular team has to play twice, and who they play just once can have a big impact on their fortunes.

In this 2020-21 Big Ten race, we see a fairly clear delineation of tiers, from the most talented teams to the least:

  • Top Tier:  Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin
  • Middle Tier:  Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, and Rutgers
  • Bottom Tier:  Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State

Clearly, more games against the top tier is bad, as is less games against the bottom tier.

Another variable to consider for the single play games is where they will be played.  For example, Indiana only plays Wisconsin once — that’s the good news, but that game is being held in Madison.

While the location of the single-plays (road vs. home) generally also plays a role, that shouldn’t be quite as significant this year with little to no fans in the stands.

Below is a summary of each Big Ten teams home-and-away opponents measured against the top and bottom tiers of the league.

There are some clear winners and losers based on this data.

Illinois, Maryland and Purdue benefitted on both ends, playing a top team twice in only one instance, while each also drew the bottom tier twice at least three times.

Illinois’ schedule might be enough to bump them up to favorite status in the overall race, with just 4 games against top tier teams while they get to see the bottom tier 8 times.

The losers of the single-play lottery appear to be Indiana, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State.  Each has to play the top tier 7 times while facing the bottom tier just a total of 4.

With a tough schedule and a depleted roster, Ohio State might be a team out of the middle group that ends up closer to the bottom due to the schedule.  Meanwhile, Maryland was a team that we could have seen falling into the bottom group — before the schedule came out.

Indiana obviously got no favors from the league with its schedule.  While the Hoosiers hope to work their way up the league standings this year and threaten the top tier, that won’t be easy.  IU plays each of Iowa, Illinois and Michigan State twice along with the trip to Wisconsin.  The Hoosiers see only Northwestern twice among bottom tier teams.

Here is a complete summary of how many times each team plays a team from the top and bottom tiers twice.

Big Ten 2020-21 Home and away opponents (Top tier / Bottom tier)

Illinois (1/4)

Indiana (3/1)

Iowa (2/2)

Maryland (1/3)

Michigan (2/3)

Michigan State (1/1)

Minnesota (2/2)

Nebraska (3/1)

Northwestern (3/1)

Ohio State (3/1)

Penn State (2/2)

Purdue (1/3)

Rutgers (2/2)

Wisconsin (2/3)

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