Much was made of Iowa's comically easy non-conference schedule last season, and while it certainly did the Hawkeyes no favors as they tried in vain to make the NCAA Tournament, it's also worth noting that the Big Ten slate was also a major problem for Iowa's tourney hopes.
Yes, the Big Ten was by far the best conference in basketball last season, and it proved so over the course of the postseason in both the NCAA Tourney and the NIT. But Iowa's conference strength of schedule was dead last in the Big Ten, according to Ken Pomeroy ($$), thanks to a season-ending diet heavy on Nebraska and Penn State. Iowa missed a game with four tourney teams from the Big Ten last season, including three of the top five teams in the conference standings.
That will not be the case in 2013-14.
The Big Ten Network released a list of the Big Ten's "single plays"—which is to say the teams each Big Ten school will only face in conference play once—and suffice it to say Iowa's winter is going to be pretty rough.
Iowa gets home games with Purdue and Nebraska but no road dates, and the Hawkeyes will miss Penn State and Indiana at home in 2013-14.
It's enough that BTN labels Iowa's slate the "worst draw," saying this about the Hawkeyes' road ahead:
A popular sleeper team, the Hawkeyes will have their work cut out for themselves, with a pair of games vs. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Clearly, RPI won't be an issue for Iowa in 2013-14.
That's definitely true. Between the three tough games in the Bahamas in the non-conference, the tilt with Notre Dame and the annual Iowa State slugfest, Iowa's going to be loading its schedule with opportunities for quality wins in the non-conference and even quality losses; it's far better for the RPI to get demolished by the top team than to beat a bottom-feeder by 60 points, which, yeah, great system guys.
Seeing the Big Ten schedule come into picture, however, it's also worth reiterating that Iowa still needs to put together a record that'll impress the tournament committee come March, because sure wins are not going to be easy to come by all year long. The Big Ten's elite class is a bit down after last season, but it's fair to predict improvement from most of the middle of the pack, so we're looking at another absolute grind for even the best teams in the conference.
The upside, however, is that this surfeit of quality is going to boost the Big Ten's schedule strength and thus conference power ratings, and we're probably looking at another season with the Big Ten being the top conference in all the land. So if Iowa can even recreate its 9-9 record from last season—and it's fair to argue that the team's goals should be higher, what with just about everybody coming back and strong depth at each position—then the concurrent schedule ranking should be enough to safely secure an NCAA bid well before the Big Ten Tourney even gets underway.
But man, what a bear of a schedule it'll be en route. If Iowa gets back to 21 wins by the end of the regular season it's fair to call that a triumph.