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Examining Iowa’s Non-Conference Schedule

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It’ll be the most difficult the Hawkeyes have had under McCaffery

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round- Iowa Hawkeyes vs Cincinnati Bearcats Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes figure to play their most difficult non-conference schedule under Fran McCaffery. As it stands, KenPom has four of Iowa’s 11 opponents as Tier A teams and it could get to a fifth depending on whether Iowa faces Creighton or San Diego State in the second game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational (or CTLVI for short).

The other best schedules I can find are in the 2016-17 range when Iowa played three A teams and that may be the case when the dust has settled on the 2019-20 season. But as it stands now, it’s tricky!

KenPom recently released his ratings and has Iowa 41st...squarely on the bubble. So the Hawks can ill afford to go oh-fer in the marquee matchups if they’re looking to get into the tourney. (they’re looking to get into the tourney)

Anyways, I’ll follow the script of last year’s schedule format by addressing Iowa’s season in two parts and ranking them by importance but first, here’s what it looks like with a couple summary level items.

The Opponents

Fri, Nov. 8 / 8:00 PM, SIU-Edwardsville Cougars (326), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Mon, Nov. 11 / 7:00 PM, DePaul Blue Demons (77), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, FS1
Fri, Nov. 15 / 7:00 PM, Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (194), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN Plus
Thu, Nov. 21 / 6:00 PM, North Florida Ospreys (184), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Sun, Nov. 24 / 4:00 PM, Cal Poly Mustangs (331), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Thu, Nov. 28 / 7:00 PM, Texas Tech Red Raiders (15), Orleans Arena, FS1
Fri, Nov. 29 / 7:00 PM or 9:30 PM, Creighton Bluejays (36) or San Diego State Aztecs (97), Orleans Arena, FS1
Tue, Dec. 3 / 6:00 PM or 6:30 PM, Syracuse Orange (51), Carrier Dome, ESPN/ESPN2
Fri, Dec. 6 / 5:30 PM, Michigan Wolverines (21), Crisler Center, FS1
Mon, Dec. 9 / 7:00 PM, Minnesota Golden Gophers (81), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, BTN
Thu, Dec. 12 / 7:00 PM, Iowa State Cyclones (47), Hilton Coliseum, ESPN2
Sat, Dec. 21 / 8:00 PM, Cincinnati Bearcats (27), United Center, BTN
Sun, Dec. 29 / 3:00 PM, Kennesaw State Owls (318), Carver-Hawkeye Arena, ESPNU

  • Iowa only has a single game via an Internet-only avenue. Sorry to those Oral Roberts fans who would have to purchase a month of it to watch a single game. Otherwise the games are on the standard slate but lean towards BTN/FS1 with five and four games on the respective networks.
  • This is a sad reminder that the Hy-Vee Classic is no more and the Hawkeyes’ third neutral site game in its stead is against Cincinnati in Chicago. There are also the two tournament games in Las Vegas.
  • Last year’s slate had just two preseason KenPom top 100 teams. Iowa is at six right now. If this team is similarly undefeated in non-conference games, book your tickets to Atlanta. (For what it’s worth, KenPom has Iowa 7-3 against known opponents)

The Prerequisites

T-11: SIU-Edwardsville, Cal Poly, Kennesaw State

In a perfect world, Iowa would never play a team in sub-300. But one of these is required by the CTLVI - Cal Poly - and the other two are required by Gary Barta. An apologist’s view of the Barta games are that they are essentially tune-ups to the season at large and the conference season.

This setup is fine, especially compared to last year. Iowa had four such opponents in 2018 and three of them were late December snooze-fests.

T-8: Oral Roberts, North Florida

In a perfect world, Iowa plays rids their schedule of the sub-300 teams and plays schools in this range (151-200). North Florida was put on by the guys in the desert. Both of these schools have been tournament teams (North Florida was most recent in 2015) so there’s a higher ceiling on what a win might mean against them.

Matthew Driscoll, North Florida’s head coach, also called Iowa out in 2014 in an all-time great opponent press conference: “Your guys have to get a little bit thicker skin and understand I’m going to miss some shots but I can’t let it affect the next one.” Hopefully he doesn’t feel compelled to do that again! (because Iowa is good and doesn’t lack confidence)

The Longshots

6. Texas Tech

Tech has been in the Elite 8 each of the last two years with a runner up finish in 2019. A win here would be amazing but unlikely. Beating the Red Raiders would set the bar for the Hawkeye season.

5. Syracuse

They’re a name brand program with a name brand coach. Beating Syracuse will almost always matter. But it’s a haul, and the sightlines are gonna be weird in the Carrier Dome, so a loss is borderline expected.

4. Iowa State

It’s been, uh, 16 years since Iowa has won in Ames, and that was in the NIT. ISU basketball has owned the Hawkeyes this decade-plus (7-3 in last 10), so that’s a bit of a monkey on Fran’s back. Like TTU, a loss to the Cyclones is more or less expected even though they’re slightly below Iowa in the preseason KenPom ratings, but a win would carry even more weight in March on account of it being on the road.

3. Cincinnati

I struggled with whether to put Cincy here or in the top tier for important Hawkeye games. After all, we literally know this game isn’t a longshot after the Iowa win in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa will have nine days to prepare for them, though it comes right after finals. There should be some sense of who the Hawkeyes are at this point in the season and it should be the Joe & Luka Show. Both guys were Iowa’s leading scorers in the tournament game.

The Gotta-Haves

2. DePaul

Iowa can’t lose to the Blue Demons, another potential bubble team, at home. But they’re the second game of the season and Iowa might not have their rotations sorted out, especially in the backcourt.

But DePaul was a sub-200 defense last year so Iowa should be able to scorer on them.

1. Creighton/San Diego State

There is nothing less sad then being the only team to leave a four-team tournament with a loss. Since I’m projecting a Texas Tech win, coming away from Vegas with a win against whomever the Hawkeyes face is as important as anything to the makeup of this team.

The game is positioned to be the second of seven straight against top-100 teams so righting the ship quickly will indicate what type of season we can expect.