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Overreaction Monday: What can Iowa do about non-conference scheduling in the future?

Going into the season, Iowa’s out-of-conference scheduling looked as strong as ever, but the NCAA’s preferred ordering tool rates it just as low as past seasons

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

To be honest, things are pretty good in Hawkeyeland. Both basketball teams are overperforming. The luster of a 10-win football season hasn’t worn off. The wrestlers are looking as strong as they have in recent history.

So there’s not a whole lot to complain about, especially after a two-game stretch which locked the Iowa Hawkeyes into the tournament and sealed another .500+ Big Ten record for Fran McCaffery, his seventh in eight seasons. Things are so good, Iowa’s playing with house money against Michigan State tomorrow night for sole possession of second place. A win at Breslin Center - it’d be their fourth in my lifetime - would represent Iowa’s seventh locked-in tiebreaker ahead of the conference tournament.

Which is why this feels as good as any time to reexamine how we got here, specifically, how the opponents Iowa had some effort in planning have performed so far this season.

Team Sheet via

A recurring pet peeve of mine has been how weak Iowa’s nonconference schedule has looked in the eyes of the NET. As of this writing, it’s 218th with just three Quadrant 1 opponents - San Diego State Aztecs (5), Texas Tech Red Raiders (16), and Syracuse Orange (66). KenPom, however, has the slate ranked a much more modest 84th.

In a wild bit of statistical “wait what?” Iowa’s non-conference schedule LAST YEAR, ranks higher relative to the rest of the D1 basketball, at 174. KenPom called it 329th. ($)

Team Sheet via

There’s one Q1 game (at home), two Q2 (neutral), and then a lot of flotsam.

I know they rankings do not compare year-to-year, but it’s difficult for me to understand how last year’s schedule is considered more difficult relative to the broader D-1 than this season.

While there are concerns about the black box algorithm which determines teams’ schedule strengths, one area which is clear is Iowa’s best opponents haven’t lived up to their preseason expectations.

data via

SDSU and Oral Roberts are the two huge risers among opponents and DePaul was also better than Iowa might have expected at the time of the game’s announcement. However, the rest of Iowa’s Power 5-like competition has seen a dip in their preseason KenPom ranking. Iowa State, Syracuse, and Cincinnati have been particularly disappointing, as they are now bridging the gap between Q1 & Q2 in an unexpected way.

Things may change, as ISU, Cuse, and Cincy could solidify their status as Q1 wins. But Iowa’s underwhelming non-conference strength of schedule may come back to bite them.

While nothing may change this year, what does this ultimately mean for Iowa basketball going forward? It’s been long documented that Iowa now has up to 27 games prescheduled - 20 conference games, four tournament games, Iowa State, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, & Gavitt Games - so they can only go out and sign up for 4 other ones. This season, Iowa opted for Edwardsville, Oral Roberts, Cincy, and Kennesaw State.

So what can Iowa do?

Schedule more Cincinnati-like games

As it stands, the neutral site game against equivalent competition is probably the high point in one-off scheduling for Iowa basketball. The other event which sticks out was the Hawkeye/Colorado game in Sioux Falls from the 2017-18 season, though both teams were well below where they are now.

Any opportunity to face a pseudo-regional opponent of similar stature - Missouri, Kansas State, Oklahoma all come to mind - in a neutral site would offer a new experience for the fans and team alike.

The one concern may be when Iowa is scheduled for more out-of-conference games on the road than usual, which may have financial implications we are not privy to and force Iowa to schedule a home game against any opponent.

Develop a home-and-“home” agreement

The opponent who sticks out the most in this respect is, obviously, Northern Iowa. Yet their track record does not necessarily warrant going into Cedar Falls every other year. They’ve finished in the top 50 of KenPom’s rankings just twice in Ben Jacobson’s tenure of 13 seasons.

One template, though, is Michigan State’s agreement with Oakland Grizzlies. The Spartans have hosted the Grizzlies in even-numbered seasons while they’ve played a neutral site game in odd-numbered seasons.

It would give Iowa an opponent inside of that 300 threshold which is often looked down upon while adding some in-state verve. The issue, of course, is UNI is unlikely to pull the trigger on such a deal.

It could work with Drake, too.

Pull a page out of UNI’s book

Team Sheets via

Is there anything which sticks out in UNI’s non-conference schedule which makes it look more daunting than Iowa’s? 5 & 17 on a neutral court seems stronger than 15 on a neutral court and 18 at home, to say nothing of Iowa’s other Q1/Q2 games.

Their three weakest Division 1 games (270, 284, & 338) are stronger than Iowa’s (322, 337, 352), though.

And that’s the key. They have two non-Division 1 games, which do not count in the NET. As a result, it changes the denominator of non-conference games (from 12 to 10), which grants the stronger games a higher weight and has their SOS over 100 spots higher than Iowa.

So maybe Iowa should schedule American Rivers Conference foes to goose their non-conference numbers?

Of any of the above options, I would expect Iowa to continue seeking out Cincinnati-like opponents. It provides the best combination of variety and stable competition. By choosing a different team every season or two, there’s a better chance of picking a team in line with Iowa’s capabilities.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the fact that Iowa’s presumed strong schedule will be viewed as such by the Selection Committee.