The 2013-14 hoops season isn't quite in the books yet (even as Iowa wheezes to the finish line), but the Big Ten has released the breakdown of conference opponents for each team on next year's schedule. There's been added intrigue for this schedule since it will be the first since the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the league. Despite those additions -- boosting the Big Ten's membership to 14 teams -- the league will still only play 18 conference games (for now, at least).
18 games is a bit unwieldy for a 14-team conference; essentially you end up playing every team once and then five teams twice. The round robin nature of conference play breaks down pretty significantly with a system like that and which opponents your team draws in those home-and-away double-play games (versus who your rivals draw in those same games) will likely become increasingly important. Put it this way: right now B1G teams play 7 of 11 (64%) opponents twice apiece during the conference season; starting next year they'll play 5 of 13 (38%) opponents twice apiece during conference play. Unfortunately, there's no good way to solve this without adding more games to the conference season, an option the Big Ten seems unwilling to consider right now.
IOWA 2014-15 BIG TEN OPPONENTS
HOME: Illinois, Maryland, Michigan State, Rutgers
AWAY: Indiana, Michigan, Penn State, Purdue
HOME & AWAY: Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin
(You can find the full breakdowns for every Big Ten team here.)
For reference's sake, here are Iowa's 2013-14 Big Ten opponents
HOME: Nebraska, Purdue
AWAY: Indiana, Penn State
HOME & AWAY: Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin
So four of Iowa's double-play opponents this year -- Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Wisconsin -- return as double-play opponents in 2014-15. Meanwhile, the oddity of the Delanybot 9000's scheduling concepts means that Iowa plays at Indiana and at Penn State (with no return trips to Iowa City) for a second straight year. Meanwhile, Iowa welcomes both newcomers to Carver-Hawkeye Arena; Iowa fans will have to wait until 2015-16 to get their first glimpse of Rutgers' cracker-box gym or the home of the Terps.
It's a bit of a fool's errand to project which teams will be good in the Big Ten next year since we don't know that much about who's coming and who's going in the league, but at this stage Iowa's schedule does seem to skew toward the tricky side of things: three of Iowa's five double-play opponents (NEB, OSU, WIS) could finish in the top of half of the Big Ten this year and Ohio State and Wisconsin are regularly among the top teams in the league.
One issue that has cropped up with conference schedules in the Big Ten since the addition of Rutgers and Maryland is the notion of how to protect rivalry games. At present, the Big Ten's plan is to do nothing extra to protect rivalry games. Those five home-and-away double-play series will rotate through all the other teams in the conference, with no opponents get any special protection
Our blog buddies at Big Ten Powerhouse have made the case for permanent, protected Big Ten rivals in order to ensure that rivalries like Indiana-Purdue and Michigan-Michigan State are played each other, home and away. I'm not entirely sure that's the most desirable solution for most of the teams in the league, though.
There are a few rivalries that are no-brainers:
But things break down pretty quickly after that. Iowa-Wisconsin has become one of the Big Ten's best rivalries in recent years -- off-court issues have stoked the fires for both fanbases and the games themselves have been amazingly close and competitive. But Minnesota would probably like to claim Wisconsin as their permanent rival, too; their rivalry may not even the recent heat that Iowa-Wisconsin has, but it is old and both schools have long-term rivalries in other sports (notably, football and hockey). Who wins that battle?
Northwestern would probably be happy to make Illinois their permanent rival, but would Illinois feel the same way? How invested are they in playing their purple pals twice a year? Who does Ohio State get? Or Nebraska? Do the newbies -- Maryland and Rutgers -- get paired together despite having virtually no hoops history together?
It would be a shame for Indiana and Purdue not to play each other home and away every year and it would be unfortunate if Michigan and Michigan State only played once in a season... but I'm not convinced that permanent rivals make sense for most of the teams in the Big Ten. Regardless, though, we're headed to bold new world of Big Ten hoops schedules, one in which we'll play some of our most familiar opponents a bit less often. But, hey, at least we get to play Rutgers now!