The hits are going to come early and often for these Iowa Hawkeyes as they have a relatively strong non-conference schedule with the mix of the 2k Classic, in-state rivalries, and typical contingent of cupcakes who traipse through Carver-Hawkeye as fall turns into winter. I’ll go through a tier system for what I believe are the most difficult games but here’s how the schedule shakes out chronologically (NOTE: Now updated with preseason KenPom ranking):
Day Date / Time (Central), Opponent (CY KenPom ranking), Location, TV
Thu, Nov. 8 / 7:05p, UMKC Kangaroos (262), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN Plus
Sun, Nov. 11 / 2:05p, Green Bay Phoenix (257), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN Plus
Thu, Nov. 15 / 8:15p, Oregon Ducks (27), Madison Square Garden, ESPN2
Fri, Nov. 16 / 3:30p or 5:45p, Syracuse Orange (8) or Connecticut Huskies (102), Madison Square Garden, ESPN2
Wed, Nov. 21 / 7:30p, Alabama State Hornets (321), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Tue, Nov. 27 / 8:00p, Pittsburgh Panthers (139), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, ESPNU
Fri, Nov. 30 / 7:00p, Wisconsin Badgers (20), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Mon, Dec. 3 / 5:30p, Michigan State Spartans (13), Breslin Center, FS1
Thu, Dec. 6 / 7:00p, Iowa State Cyclones (25), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, FS1
Sat, Dec. 15 / 6:00p, Northern Iowa Panthers (123), Wells Fargo Arena, BTN
Tue, Dec. 18 / 8:00p, Western Carolina Catamounts (322), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Sat, Dec. 22 / 12:00p, Savannah State Tigers (345), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN Plus
Sat, Dec. 29 / 7:00p, Bryant Bulldogs (317), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, ESPNU
A couple summary-level items:
- BTN Plus is unfortunately a requirement to watch Iowa games and the difference between the first and last games on the site mean you are likely to spend ~$20 if you hope to be a completionist.
- The Hawks will play three “neutral site” games between the 2k Classic and Hy-Vee Classic. The second of the tournament is likely to be a little less neutral as both Syracuse and UConn are within driving distance of The Big Apple.
- Though last year’s KenPom rankings from Iowa’s opponents leave some amount to be desired, there’s reason to believe wins against as many as 5 opponents could mean something come #THISISMARCH-time.
Onto the tiers...
Tier III - Mandatory(?) Cupcakes
10. Alabama State
9. Savannah State
8. Western Carolina
All four of these teams were in the 300s according to KenPom and are on the schedule because of their cost of being there. It’s more or less it is a requirement for Iowa to host these guys, as they offer wins (hopefully, big) for a cheap price, and are unlikely to give the Hawks any semblance of competition. If they do, it’s gonna be a bad sign.
These games should be blowouts for 30+ minutes and anything worse is either a sign of things to come - last year’s game against Grambling comes to mind - or anchor around a potential tournament resume a la Iowa’s loss to Omaha in the 2016-17 schedule.
T-6. Green Bay
Much of the same applies here as with the above games but as teams in the WAC (I guess Kansas City is west of something) and Horizon leagues, there’s a little higher ceiling on what these wins might mean. If either one of these guys has a chance at making the tournament, though, it’d be Green Bay who could rise from the ashes of their 13-20 season.
These games are also mandated by the 2k Classic so no getting around these guys.
Tier II - Annual Engagements
5. Northern Iowa
The Hy-Vee Classic is dying after this year - Iowa killed it by being the first to pull out - so I expect this game to be as meaningful as it’s ever been. Iowa pasted the Panthers during their last meeting and return two starters from that game: Spencer Haldeman and Juwan McCloud. While both saw their minutes dwindle as the season progressed, Haldeman more by choice and McCloud because of injury, they and the Iowans on the Panther roster will want to go out of the series a winner.
Iowa will need to be ready.
Am I disrespecting UNI by ranking these panthers as the more important game? Please discuss in the comments. For as bad as Iowa was last year, and the Lickliter years, even they notched multiple conference wins; Pittsburgh had zero. It was honestly impressive to see Kevin Stallings take a proud program like Pitt and run it into the ground in 2 years.
Duke bagman Jeff Capel is the head coach now and has a record of pulling recruits. Before his time on the Blue Devils staff, he kept Blake Griffin home and finished 30-6. Is there a Blake Griffin on this roster? Unclear. But they pulled the 35th-best recruiting class despite having like a month of being able to recruit into the moribund program. At the very least, this ACC/Big Ten Challenge offers one of these squads to show the tide has changed since last year.
3. Iowa State
Donovan Jackson, Jeff Beverly, and Hans Brase all depart Ames but will retain about 70% of their minutes from last year. They return the ELECTRIC Lindell Wigginton whose athleticism exceeds his advanced stats and Cameron Lard as a potent pick-and-roll combination. The Key Recruit is Talen Horton-Tucker who resembles De’onte Burton in the best ways, which feels weird to say. Unfortunately for ISU fans, it’s been a weird fall for them. Horton-Tucker has often been in a boot while freshmen George Conditt and Tyrese Haliburton are both battling mononucleosis. If Prohm has his full arsenal available, he can force Iowa’s hand with guard-heavy lineups surrounding Lard or Solomon Young if he recovers from injury.
Tier I - 2k Classic
2. Syracuse or Connecticut
If it were Syracuse alone, it would probably the the most difficult game on the schedule and if it were Connecticut, it might fall to 3 or 4 so this feels about right. Syracuse is a tourney team from a year ago who advanced to the Elite 8 on the gift of a tourney berth plus everyone’s incompetence at attacking a 2-3 zone because college kids get too bored with it. One of the rare exceptions where I cheered for Duke.
The Orange return Tyus Battle, Frank Howard, and Oshae Brissett, who all played an inhumane amount of minutes last year because Jim Boeheim doesn’t trust a college kid further than he can throw ‘em. If Iowa can get them in foul trouble, they’ll probably have a chance but the zone is stupid and will probably eat Iowa alive in this hypothetical game.
Dan Hurley is now in charge of Connecticut after a 7 year stint at Rhode Island, the last of which ended in the tournament also at the hands of Duke.
Two words: Bol Bol.
It’s wild because the 7’2” freshman is not the only 5-star recruit on the roster. Louis King of Jersey City, NJ is the #20 recruit in the nation, according to 247. They have 3 more rated in the top-100. One good thing is Iowa is getting them early before they have a chance to develop chemistry. Dana Altman has also constructed a roster which would make Fran drool with all the length. 6 guys are taller than 6’9”.
That said, Oregon is so talented, we are likely to know what type of team Iowa could be with their result in the opening round of this tournament.