Schedules have an added emphasis in basketball that they don’t in football. For all the Playoff Committee’s talk of who teams have played, the rules are actually pretty simple. Alabama is in. Zero loss Power 5 champions are in. 1-loss Power 5 conference champions are almost always in. Undefeated non-Power 5 conference champions like UCF aren’t in.
In basketball, though, more games bring an added nuance. The strength of a team’s schedule, and how they rank in metrics like the RPI (for women’s basketball) matter significantly. A team that played a difficult schedule can get in over a team with fewer losses if their schedule was more difficult. Strength of schedule can also have a big impact on Tournament seeding, which can be the difference between an easy first round match-up, and facing a strong team like Creighton, as Iowa did last year.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at Iowa’s schedule this year. I’ll break it down into pieces and give my thoughts on each.
11/9 vs. Oral Roberts
11/13 at Western Kentucky
11/17 vs. North Carolina Central
11/23 vs. West Virginia (Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas)
11/24 vs. Florida State/Eastern Kentucky (Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas)
This first group of games is bracketed on its own due to unfortunate news. In practice on Friday, starting guard Kathleen Doyle fractured a bone in her left non-shooting hand. Doyle is expected to miss between 4 and 6 weeks, which means she will almost certainly miss all of these games. Doyle is a pre-season All Big Ten selection this year, and has a significant impact on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
The games Doyle will miss are a mixed bag. Western Kentucky made the NCAA Tournament last year, and gave Iowa a tough test in Carver Hawkeye Arena last year. They’re also Iowa’s first road test of the season. West Virginia finished 21-11 last year, and the opening games of holiday tournaments are always iffy, regardless of opponent.
Finally, Florida State is the biggest potential addition to Iowa’s schedule in terms of quality opponents. The Seminoles are receiving votes in the AP poll this year, and were a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament a season ago. The Hawkeyes aren’t assured of playing them however. Iowa will likely need to win their tournament opener against West Virginia in order to make that match-up happen.
11/29 at Notre Dame (ACC-Big Ten Challenge)
12/2 vs. Robert Morris
12/5 vs. Iowa State
12/8 vs. IUPUI
12/16 vs. Northern Iowa
12/21 at Drake
Circle November 29th on your calendars. That night, Iowa travels to South Bend to take on the preseason #1 ranked, and defending national champion, Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Iowa would love to have Doyle back for this one, and it’s probably the earliest they could expect her back. Even at full strength, though, this is a tough match-up. Notre Dame returns plenty from their title team, and they always recruit well.
The other interesting match-ups in the second half of the non-conference are our in-state rivals. Iowa State should be improved this year, and they always manage to play Iowa tough. Same thing for Northern Iowa, though the Hawkeyes should be clear favorites in that one. Finally, the road trip to Drake shouldn’t be overlooked. The Bulldogs are projected to win the Missouri Valley Conference this season, and made the NCAA Tournament last year. They also beat Iowa two years ago in Des Moines.
One final note: I love that the Iowa women play Iowa State, UNI, and Drake every year. I understand, economically, why Gary Barta doesn’t want the men’s team to travel to UNI or Drake instead of playing a cupcake at home, but there is more to consider than that. UNI and Drake always give Iowa their best. Those games are more than just a match-up with a mid-major. They force Iowa into tough match-ups that will better prepare them for the conference season. They also give Hawkeye fans in different parts of the state an opportunity to see Iowa closer to home.
12/30 at Michigan State
1/3 vs. Nebraska
1/7 vs. Wisconsin
1/10 at Purdue
1/14 at Minnesota
1/17 vs. Michigan
1/20 at Illinois
1/23 vs. Rutgers
1/27 vs. Purdue
The first half of Iowa’s Big Ten schedule should give us a good sense of whether Iowa will compete for a Big Ten title. Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Michigan are all expected to be in the top half of the Big Ten this year, and the Hawkeyes get the former two on the road and the latter two at home. To win the conference, Iowa needs to go at least 2-2 in those games, and probably 3-1, frankly. Iowa also can’t have a letdown against their other opponents.
1/31 at Michigan
2/3 at Penn State
2/7 vs. Michigan State
2/10 at Ohio State
2/14 vs. Illinois
2/17 vs. Maryland
2/21 at Indiana
2/25 at Nebraska
3/3 vs. Northwestern
The second half of the Big Ten schedule doesn’t get any easier, with big road games at Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio State. Frankly, I have no idea what to make of the Buckeyes this year. They lost most of the production off of last year’s Big Ten Championship squad, and didn’t have their typically strong year in recruiting. Instead, they chose to bring in five grad transfers in what is a transition year before they bring in a strong 2019 recruiting class. Those transfers all did well at smaller schools, but whether they can make the jump to the Big Ten, and gel together with new teammates, are separate questions.
The biggest date on the second half of the schedule is February 17th against Maryland. The Terrapins are projected to win the Big Ten this year, but Iowa is lucky here to face them at home. If both teams are still in the hunt for a conference title, this could be the game that decides things.
Overall, the Big Ten schedule isn’t as favorable to Iowa as it could’ve been. They get home and aways with three top half teams (Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska), and with Purdue, who should be solidly in the middle of the pack. Iowa also travels to Minnesota and Ohio State in their only matchups against them.
There are two positives of that schedule, though. First, they get their best opponent—Maryland—at home. Second, playing good teams twice means Iowa controls its own destiny more so than if they played bad teams. Iowa gets two opportunities to defeat these teams instead of relying on others to do so. If they take care of business in those games, they’ll put themselves in a good place to compete for a Big Ten title.
Iowa’s schedule difficulty should benefit from the switch from 16 to 18 conference games this season. The switch added two more home and aways to the conference schedule, and Iowa’s opponents in those matchups should have strong seasons. In the non-conference, Iowa has several difficult matchups that should boost the schedule difficulty, along with a couple cupcakes mixed in. Getting Florida State on the second day of the Bahamas Tournament could add even more strength to Iowa’s schedule.