The hype for Iowa men's basketball's 2020-21 season has been building, well, ever since the 2019-20 season stopped all too suddenly -- and definitely since Luka Garza announced that he was returning to Iowa for his senior season. The hype has only grown as preseason rankings and preseason honors have been handed out in recent weeks. But one thing's been missing: a schedule. For the most part, we haven't had a clue who Iowa was going to be playing this winter, nor when or where those games would take place. This despite the fact that the 2020-21 college basketball season is scheduled to tip off, uh, next week.
Well, here's some good news, friends: we finally have a schedule.
This schedule is still incomplete and somewhat light on details; non-conferences games with Western Illinois and Iowa State still need to be officially added to the schedule and for the most part start times and TV information are still TBD. But at least we know most of Iowa's non-conference schedule, as well as the layout for their league slate.
Iowa opens up play next week with a pair of home games against North Carolina Central and Southern University. Both games are part of the multi-team event (think: the old Hawkeye Challenge) that Iowa is hosting at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in lieu of going to a neutral site tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday. Iowa also has a non-league game with Northern Illinois sandwiched between the two crown jewels of its non-conference slate: a home game against #16 North Carolina as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and a neutral site game (in Sioux Falls, SD) against #1 Gonzaga on 12/19. Iowa's non-conference schedules haven't always had a lot of sizzle, but thanks to those two games, one against a historic blue blood and one against a modern blue blood, this year's slate has plenty of heat.
The Big Ten portion of play opens up before Christmas with Iowa hosting Purdue. That's followed by -- and this is not a misprint -- a Christmas Day game against Minnesota in Minneapolis. Whoa. 2020 is a weird one, folks. Iowa wraps up 2020 with a home game against Northwestern, before ringing in the new year with road trips to Rutgers and Maryland. After that a road trip to Northwestern is sandwiched between four home games: Minnesota, Michigan State, Indiana, and Nebraska. That's followed by Iowa's one and only game against Illinois (ugh), on the road in Champaign.
February opens with a home game against Ohio State, followed by a road trip to Indiana, and then a home game with Rutgers. That's followed by the toughest part of Iowa's schedule, a stretch of four road games in five contests, starting with trips to Michigan State and Wisconsin, followed by a home game with Penn State, and then road games at Ohio State and Michigan. That stretch could make or break Iowa's Big Ten title aspirations. And if Iowa does make it through that fortnight with their Big Ten championship hopes still intact, a potential title-decider with Wisconsin looms as the regular season finale.
Here's the home/away and single/double-play breakdown for Iowa in the Big Ten:
HOME: Purdue, Nebraska, Penn State
AWAY: Illinois*, Michigan, Maryland
BOTH: Indiana, Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan State, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Northwestern
*We'll have more to say about this later, but yeah: it really sucks that Iowa and Illinois are only scheduled to play once this regular season. That rivalry rekindled in a big way last season and both teams are set to contend for the Big Ten title this year; tweaking the schedule they played each other twice in the regular season would have been very welcome. Alas. Thanks a lot, Delanybot 9000.
The maxim "schedule subject to change" applies every year, but perhaps never as much as it might this year. We've seen how COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with the college football schedule over the last two and a half months; it would be beyond naive to think that it won't throw plenty of monkeywrenches into the college basketball schedule as well. In fact, given that there are three times as many D1 college basketball teams as there are college football teams, the potential for COVID-related scheduling issues seems significantly higher.
Honestly, the thing that surprises me the most about this schedule is just how normal it looks. The non-conference side of things is a few games lighter than normal -- assuming the Iowa State and Western Illinois games get added as planned, Iowa will have seven non-conference games; they've tended to play around 11-12 non-league games in recent years -- and Iowa will play a maximum of 27 games in the regular season, but overall this is a pretty standard-looking schedule, especially in terms of Big Ten play. I am genuinely a bit surprised that there weren't more concessions made to COVID-19, or more creativity in the arrangement of games.
It would have made sense to try and limit travel at times if possible and try to consolidate games (and teams) in limited areas; for instance, something like having Nebraska and Iowa travel to play Indiana and Purdue at the start of a weekend and then switch opponents for the second game of the weekend. But none of that is present on this schedule; games against Indiana and Purdue (or Michigan and Michigan State, or even Wisconsin and Minnesota) aren't bundled together in any fashion. It seems like the Big Ten is just going to play a normal-ass Big Ten schedule, complete with 14 teams traveling hither and yon across the upper midwest and part of the East Coast. That strikes me as extremely optimistic and while I very much hope they're right and this schedule can be pulled off as currently designed, playing a normal-ass Big Ten schedule in a year that is anything but is going to be quite a challenge.
Here's the full schedule with opponents, dates, and start time and TV info (if available).
|11/25/20||North Carolina Central||Iowa City, IA||3 PM||BTN|
|11/27/20||Southern University||Iowa City, IA||4 PM||BTN|
|12/8/20||#16 North Carolina (B1G-ACC Challenge)||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|12/13/20||Northern Illinois||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|12/19/20||#1 Gonzaga||Sioux Falls, SD||11 AM||CBS|
|12/22/20||Purdue||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|12/29/20||Northwestern||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|1/2/21||#24 Rutgers||Piscataway, NJ||--||--|
|1/7/21||Maryland||College Park, MD||--||--|
|1/10/21||Minnesota||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|1/14/21||#13 Michigan State||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|1/21/21||Indiana||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|1/24/21||Nebraska||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|1/29/21||#8 Illinois||Champaign, IL||--||--|
|2/4/21||#23 Ohio State||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|2/10/21||#24 Rutgers||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|2/13/21||#13 Michigan State||East Lansing, MI||--||--|
|2/18/21||#7 Wisconsin||Madison, WI||--||--|
|2/21/21||Penn State||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
|2/28/21||#23 Ohio State||Columbus, OH||--||--|
|3/4/21||#25 Michigan||Ann Arbor, MI||--||--|
|3/7/21||#7 Wisconsin||Iowa City, IA||--||--|
One final note: just as in football, the Big Ten won't be allowing fans at games (at least to start the season). Fans can purchase a cutout for all winter sports here; 20% of the proceeds will go to UI Dance Marathon, while the remaining money will go to the UI student-athletes' scholarship fund.
Schedule thoughts? Let's hear 'em.