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Ranking the Most Important Games of Iowa’s Big Ten Schedule

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The Hawkeyes early season slate sets them up for great success or another letdown

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Just like last year, the Big Ten Conference schedule two games for each team on the weekend of the football championship game in early December. This time, it is done only a little bit out of necessity, as the conference made the move to 20 conference games, which is incredibly exciting. Jim Delany’s thirst was kept in check this year and the conference tournament is at a normal time. Thank goodness.

I’ll once again tier the games on what I determine by importance by an exclusive formula I call, “my brain.” KenPom ratings came out so I’ll use the current year numbers despite my consternation voiced at the end of the most recent episode of The Pants Party. They’re still interesting and useful. Just be careful out there with your use of it as gospel: they’re a tool, not a toolbox. I’ve also updated the non-conference schedule with the current year numbers.

Here’s how the schedule looks chronologically.

Day, Date / Time (Central), Opponent (CY KenPom ranking), Location, TV

Fri, Nov. 30 / 7:00p, Wisconsin Badgers (20), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Mon, Dec. 3 / 5:30p, Michigan State (13), Breslin Center, FS1
Thu, Jan. 3 / 6:00p, Purdue Boilermakers (18), Mackey Arena, BTN
Sun, Jan. 6 / 2:15p or 4:30p, Nebraska Cornhuskers (38), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Wed, Jan. 9 / 8:00p, Northwestern Wildcats (58), Welsh-Ryan Arena, BTN
Sat, Jan. 12 / 1:30p, Ohio State Buckeyes (41), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Wed, Jan. 16 / 6:00p, Penn State Nittany Lions (32), Bryce Jordan Center, BTN
Sun, Jan. 20 / 12:00p, Illinois Fighting Illini (85), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Thu, Jan. 24 / 6:00p, Michigan State Spartans (13), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, FS1
Sun, Jan. 27 / 4:00p, Minnesota Golden Gophers (60), Williams Arena, FS1
Fri, Feb. 1 / 6:00p, Michigan Wolverines (24), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, FS1
Thu, Feb. 7 / 8:00p, Indiana Hoosiers (28), Assembly Hall, ESPN/ESPN2
Sun, Feb. 10 / 5:30p, Northwestern Wildcats (58), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Sat, Feb. 16 / 5:00p, Rutgers Scarlet Knights (149), Louis Brown Athletic Center, FS1
Tue, Feb. 19 / 7:00p, Maryland Terrapins (30), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Fri, Feb. 22 / 8:00p, Indiana Hoosiers (28), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, FS1
Tue, Feb. 26 / 6:00p, Ohio State Buckeyes (41), Value City Arena, BTN
Sat, Mar. 2 / 4:00p, Rutgers Scarlet Knights (149), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Thu, Mar. 7 / 6:00p, Wisconsin Badgers (20), Kohl Center, ESPN/ESPN2
Sun, Mar. 10 / 1:00p, Nebraska Cornhuskers (38), Pinnacle Bank Arena, BTN

Here’s what I see from 30,000 feet:

  • Iowa on ESPN/ESPN2 is dead this year with only two games slated for those family of networks. 12 are set for the conference’s network and the remaining six are on FS1. Moral of the story: if you want prime networks, be good.
  • The Hawkeyes only have two instances of back-to-back conference road games and one of them hardly counts as a month and five non-conference games are between them. The flip side means there are no home stands - two times they play twice in a row - and the team is constantly traveling.
  • Iowa’s home-and-homes are: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Indiana, and Rutgers. The schedule doesn’t really lean one way or the other in terms of easy or difficult. There are lots of winnable games available.
  • The stretch between February 1st and 16th has only four games and could make or break Iowa’s season. The time off could do wonders to get the team right as they head into the final stretch or get them out of rhythm if they have any. They’re four winnable games.
  • KenPom has the Big Ten as the third strongest conference at +14.77, although the difference between it and fifth place (+14.24) is negligible. He has the Hawks going 10-10 in conference, good for a tie at eighth. The Big XII is the strongest (+17.78) but Kansas is predicted to win the conference going away. Again.

Onto the tiers...

rutger

20. @ rutger
19. v. rutger

It’s not that these games aren’t important. It’s just that the Scarlet Knights are so bad that Iowa should win both games and a loss to them severely restricts Iowa’s chances of getting into the tournament. So I guess they’re super important in that way.

Road Games against the Big Ten’s Best

18. @ Purdue
17. @ Michigan State

It’ll be tough sledding for Iowa at both of these venues and represent the least likely games for Iowa to win. Purdue will be down after graduating nearly their entire starting lineup but Matt Haarms is back with a ton of weird pieces for Matt Painter to work with. Iowa catches Michigan State early on the road so there’s the chance they are not locked in quite yet.

Both would change the trajectory of Iowa’s season with a win.

Wins Which Would Matter in March

16. @ Ohio State
15. @ Penn State
14. @ Indiana
13. @ Nebraska

None of these games are expected wins but all four figure to be bubble teams. OSU and PSU lose their two playmakers - Keita Bates-Diop and Tony Carr - but have given Iowa fits in 2017-18. Nebraska brings almost everyone back from a bubble squad. Indiana has Romeo Langford. All four are winnable if Iowa is good. Iowa closes at Nebraska and the result might mean the difference between who gets a bye and who doesn’t.

How Good Is the Big Ten?

12. v. Illinois
11. v. Northwestern
10. @ Minnesota
9. @ Northwestern

These three are all rated below the Hawkeyes according to KenPom and it isn’t particularly close. If the Big Ten is good, these three will be potentially difficult games but in reality, they’re three games Iowa can, and should, win if they are good.

“Down in Front” Games

8. v. Michigan State
7. v. Michigan
6. v. Ohio State
5. v. Maryland
4. v. Indiana
3. v. Nebraska

Once again, all would be feathers in their cap should Iowa challenge for a spot in the NCAA tournament. With Maryland and Indiana in the last third of Iowa’s conference season, they could really give Iowa some momentum as they close out their schedule. These are the games Iowa wasn’t really close in last year, save the wild MSU game. Carver’s energy will go a long way in determining Iowa’s chances in these games.

The Happening

2. @ Wisconsin
1. v. Wisconsin

These two games nearly bookend Iowa’s conference season, with the road contest coming in their second to last game and the home game being Iowa’s first. It is Iowa’s most important game on the schedule and will show us what type of team they are. If Iowa is a tournament team, the road game could propel Iowa into a friendly location. Tyler Cook always comes out with fire against Ethan Happ. Here’s to two more wins against the Badgers.