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Looking at Big Ten Basketball’s Strength of Schedule

How does the Hawkeye’s slate stack up?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

In my breeze through the Hawkeye’s conference schedule release, I did so without much deeper thought or contextualization. In that vein, I took a look through the rest of the conference’s matchups and tried to make use of the information to see how Iowa’s schedule compared to other conference contenders.

Conference Matchups

Strength of Schedule Methodology

While I was brainstorming ways to estimate each team’s quality, I decided to keep it simple and focus on the backbone of my spreadsheet so I could amend it as KenPom’s ratings updated throughout the system. I settled on a couple simple formulas:

I then added the two together to get a pre-KenPom estimate, seen below in the Total column.

2017-18 Big Ten Estimate

Team 2017 AdjEM (KenPom) Maximum Continuity Returning Factor 247 Rating Recruiting Factor Total
Team 2017 AdjEM (KenPom) Maximum Continuity Returning Factor 247 Rating Recruiting Factor Total
Purdue 23.12 75.22 17.39 51.75 0.22 17.62
Minnesota 16.00 87.26 13.96 38.02 -0.05 13.91
Michigan State 15.51 77.98 12.09 47.10 0.10 12.20
Northwestern 15.82 79.78 12.62 17.62 -0.48 12.14
Michigan 23.05 43.62 10.05 47.19 0.26 10.32
Indiana 14.49 66.26 9.60 51.54 0.30 9.90
Wisconsin 22.99 38.98 8.96 49.53 0.42 9.38
Iowa 10.48 85.60 8.97 45.53 0.04 9.01
Maryland 14.33 61.46 8.81 43.82 0.05 8.86
Ohio State 10.20 55.70 5.68 50.75 0.36 6.04
Penn State 7.30 78.96 5.76 26.01 -0.33 5.43
Illinois 11.31 33.64 3.80 51.09 0.56 4.36
Nebraska 5.13 54.88 2.82 38.28 -0.18 2.64
Rutgers 2.22 52.48 1.17 34.82 -0.35 0.82

Some admitted drawbacks include:

  • downplaying the loss of transcendental players
  • minimizing recruiting or a recruit’s impact
  • omitting offseason improvement

Continuing the quick-and-dirty estimate, I accounted for home court advantage by making a team 10% stronger at home and 10% weaker on the road. I then added up the estimate each team’s opponents to get an early look at each team’s path through the conference:

Pre-KenPom Conference Strength of Schedule Estimate

Team Home SOS Away SOS Total SOS
Team Home SOS Away SOS Total SOS
Michigan State 65.4 78.9 144.3
Penn State 69.0 78.3 147.3
Purdue 65.6 83.5 149.1
Illinois 71.6 82.0 153.5
Nebraska 67.9 86.8 154.7
Indiana 84.5 72.8 157.3
Iowa 91.4 66.0 157.5
Northwestern 69.0 90.4 159.4
Minnesota 70.5 90.4 160.9
Wisconsin 84.1 77.5 161.5
Ohio State 59.9 103.2 163.2
Rutgers 78.6 86.3 164.8
Michigan 78.0 88.3 166.3
Maryland 86.3 85.5 171.7

A Look At Iowa

This confirms my eye test, as the Hawks have the hardest home opponents coupled with the easiest away slate by this estimate, which makes for the 7th easiest schedule. A look at Iowa’s individual games proves to be useful, as they’re “favored” in 10 of their 18 games with my napkin math. While I think I would be disappointed if they only won 10 games, it harkens back to my comparison of them to Michigan, who was an amazing analytics team that Iowa tied in conference play.

It’s also wild to think of 10 conference wins as a disappointment. The last time Iowa won 10+ conference games in a row was 1984-1989, with two seasons of George Raveling and three of Dr. Tom Davis.

Around the League

  • Michigan State - everyone’s preseason favorite - is granted with the easiest overall schedule. It’s so easy, they have the higher rating in 15 games. Purdue, faced with a similarly docile schedule, sweeps the league under my methodology.
  • Maryland, Iowa’s closest comparison, has the most difficult schedule. I’m very curious to see how they fare, given the loss of Melo Trimble. My pet theory is losing a high-level, multi-year starter at PG is the worst place to lose someone (i.e.: Indiana post-Yogi Ferrell) so I expect they’ll need some time to adjust without him.
  • Ohio State is an interesting example of very easy home schedule combined with difficult road opponents. While it might not make it easy to be a giant killer, it could help them build wins against lower opponents and set themselves up to have a season similar to Iowa’s this year.

What do you think? Does it make you feel better or worse about the conference schedule? Or, do you just hate my estimate? Let us know in the comments and stay tuned for our coverage of their games in Europe!