The non-conference schedule: aka, the games we watch while we wait for the grudge matches against league foes in January and February. This year's non-conference schedule has some intriguing opponents, though, including several opportunities for wins that could look very nice on Iowa's resume come March. Let's take a look at the teams and predict the outcomes of these non-league showdowns.
WHEN AND WHERE: Friday, November 13 (Iowa City, IA)
2014-15 RECORD: 20-15
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 248
THE SKINNY: This game is on Friday the 13th and the last time Iowa played the Runnin' Bulldogs, they put quite a scare into the Hawkeyes -- they led 38-18 at halftime, before Iowa blitzed them in the second half, 47-18. Which is to say: let's not sleep on the 'dogs. (I mean, they're runnin', so that would be a pretty uncomfortable sleep to begin with.) On the other hand, they lost four of the top five scorers from a year ago, so early growing pains are to be expected. An Iowa team led by veterans -- including Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury, who played in the last Iowa-Gardner Webb game and should remember the scare they gave the Hawks -- isn't going to let Iowa get off to an 0-1 start.
PREDICTION: IOWA 74, GARDNER WEBB 55
WHEN AND WHERE: Sunday, November 15 (Iowa City, IA)
2014-15 RECORD: 8-23
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 342
THE SKINNY: Coppin State is bad. Really, really bad. KenPom projects their defense to rank 347th in the country this year. There are 351 teams in the country. This game should be a rout and it should be an opportunity to get a good, long look at Iowa's fleet of newcomers.
PREDICTION: IOWA 88, COPPIN STATE 54
WHEN AND WHERE: Thursday, November 19 (Milwaukee, WI)
2014-15 RECORD: 13-19
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 54
THE SKINNY: Marquette was bad last year, but this game could be one of Iowa's stiffest challenges from a year ago. In addition to returning two key contributors from a year ago (SF Duane Wilson and C Luke Fischer), the Golden Eagles are also adding the 10th best recruiting class in the nation to the mix, led by 5* PF Henry Ellenson, who could be an immediate impact player. This game will be Iowa's first test of the season, as well as Iowa's first road game, and Iowa's senior leadership could be critical -- Gesell, Woodbury, Uthoff, etc. have played (and won) in tough gyms all across the country over the last few years. Let's hope veteran savvy trumps raw talent in this game. This could also be a game that pays big dividends for Iowa down the road -- a road win over Marquette could be an excellent addition to Iowa's March resume if the Golden Eagles develop to expectations in 2016.
PREDICTION: IOWA 69, MARQUETTE 65
WHEN AND WHERE: Thursday, November 26 (Orlando, FL)
2014-15 RECORD: 27-9
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 65
THE SKINNY: The Flyers provided Iowa with their first postseason win in several years the last time they met, in the first round of the 2012 NIT. Last year, Dayton advanced to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament after picking up wins in the First Four (Boise State) and the first round (Providence), before getting dropped by Oklahoma. This year, Dayton returns a few key players from that team, including the delightfully-named Scoochie Smith. The Flyers are a tough, well-coached team; they'll be a difficult opponent for Iowa in the opening round of the Advocare Invitational.
PREDICTION: IOWA 67, DAYTON 63
WHEN AND WHERE: Friday, November 27 (Orlando, FL)
2014-15 RECORD: 32-6
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 16
WHEN AND WHERE: Friday, November 27 (Orlando, FL)
2014-15 RECORD: 18-15
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 187
Iowa will play either Notre Dame or Monmouth on Day Two of the AdvoCare Invitational -- if they win, they'll likely get the Irish. Lose and they'll get the Hawks. (Awkward...) I'm calling for an Iowa-Notre Dame showdown in the AdvoCare Invitational semifinals. Notre Dame likely won't be as excellent as they were a year ago -- they'll be without the services of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, two of their best players last season -- but they should still be very good and their high-powered offense should be a strong test for Iowa's defense.
If Iowa gets by Notre Dame and makes the championship game of the AdvoCare Invitational, they could see Wichita State (15), Xavier (31), USC (55), or Alabama (77). (2015-16 KenPom rankings in parentheses.) The Shockers look like the best team in that region and I expect them to advance from their mini-bracket. If they do -- and they play Iowa -- I think the Shockers edge Iowa in a close game in the final. If Iowa loses to Notre Dame in the semi, I think they'll beat whoever the play in the consolation game (likely Xavier). Ultimately, I think Iowa goes 2-1 in Orlando.
PREDICTION: IOWA 74, NOTRE DAME 72
PREDICTION: WICHITA STATE 68, IOWA 66
WHEN AND WHERE: Wednesday, December 2 (Iowa City, IA)
2014-15 RECORD: 17-16
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 37
THE SKINNY: Iowa drew the 'Noles in this year's edition of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and while FSU looks much improved from their middling record from a year ago, Iowa should still have a good chance to make it three wins in a row in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. FSU has some Marquette vibes to them: an underachieving team that brings back some key players from a year ago and supplements them with strong recruits (in this case, Top 20 recruit Dwayne Bacon). I think veteran leadership and home court gets Iowa a W in this game.
PREDICTION: IOWA 68, FLORIDA STATE 63
UMKC (MISSOURI KANSAS CITY)
WHEN AND WHERE: Saturday, December 5 (Iowa City, IA)
2014-15 RECORD: 14-19
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 227
THE SKINNY: After a difficult stretch (games with Marquette and Florida State sandwiched around the AdvoCare Invitational), Iowa gets a breather in their next two games. The Kangaroos (!) weren't very good a season ago and there's not much reason to expect them to be much better this season. Iowa cruises.
PREDICTION: IOWA 73, UMKC 57
WHEN AND WHERE: Monday, December 7 (Iowa City, IA)
2014-15 RECORD: 8-20
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 259
THE SKINNY: The Leathernecks were even worse than UMKC a year ago, and while several of the players on that team should be back, another year older, wiser, and (probably) better, another pretty comfortable Iowa win looks like it should be on the books. Iowa should have significant advantages in talent, experience, and of course home court. That will be enough for another easy Iowa win.
PREDICTION: IOWA 75, WESTERN ILLINOIS 55
WHEN AND WHERE: Thursday, December 10 (Ames, IA)
2014-15 RECORD: 25-9
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 19
THE SKINNY: ISU returns everyone of significance from last year's 25-win team except Bryce Dejean-Jones and Dustin Hogue. Oh, and that Fred Hoiberg fella. Hoiberg's departure -- and the arrival of Steve Prohm as his replacement -- adds some uncertainty into what would otherwise be a pretty clear-cut situation for Iowa State. Still, Prohm inherits about as good a situation as you could ask for in terms of returning talent. The Cyclones also have home court. I think the worm will turn in the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry soon (it's been dominated by ISU for several years), but it doesn't feel like this will be the year for that to happen.
PREDICTION: IOWA STATE 74, IOWA 65
WHEN AND WHERE: Saturday, December 19 (Des Moines, IA)
2014-15 RECORD: 9-22
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 233
THE SKINNY: Drake was really bad a year ago (especially on defense, where they had the 333rd ranked unit in the land, per KenPom) and it's hard to see how they've improved enough this year to threaten Iowa. Reed Timmer is a nice player, but he's going to need help to upset Iowa -- and it doesn't seem like he's going to get it. Iowa prevails.
PREDICTION: IOWA 70, DRAKE 58
WHEN AND WHERE: Tuesday, December 22 (Iowa City, IA)
2014-15 RECORD: 12-18
2015-16 KENPOM RANKING: 284
THE SKINNY: On paper, Tennessee Tech looks like the second-worst team Iowa will see in non-conference action. Iowa ends the non-league portion of the schedule with a bang.
PREDICTION: IOWA 76, TENNESSEE TECH 55
If Iowa wins just the gimme home games on their non-conference slate, that would give them six wins. If they win all their non-conference games, that would give them a 12-0 mark heading into Big Ten play. So Iowa's actual non-conference record figures to be somewhere between 6-6 and 12-0; the closer they can get to the latter mark, the better positioned they'll be for another strong year. My predictions have Iowa going 10-2 in non-conference action, which would be a very solid result given this schedule.