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2015-16 College Basketball Non-Conference Schedules: The Big Ten

This year’s crop of Big Ten non-conference schedules include a pair of typically tough slates, two likely national contenders punching a bit below their weight, and a whole lot of programming for BTN in November and December. The 2015-16 season sees the introduction of a second challenge series for the conference, the Gavitt Tip-Off Games, scheduled against the Big East to honor the memory of former Providence athletic director and Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Teams appear in schedule rank order within the conference. The number in parentheses is the team's four-year pythagorean win percentage ranking out of 351 Division I teams. (Explanation is in the intro to this series.)

Future opponents in bracketed tournaments included in the average opponent four-year ranking are projected by me and bolded. Games scheduled against non-Division I opponents outside of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational (Chaminade) and Great Alaska Shootout (Alaska Anchorage) are assigned a value of 400 when averaged, except for the hosts, who are assigned a 351 value. More info here.

* = game scheduled as part of an exempt tournament

Road games scheduled by Big Ten squads (not including the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and Gavitt Tip-Off Games): 9

Road games against non-Power 6 opponents: 8 (Michigan State at Northeastern, Michigan State vs. Oakland (Auburn Hills), Michigan at SMU, Ohio State at Connecticut, Penn State at George Washington, Penn State vs. Drexel at the Palestra, Penn State vs. Duquesne at Consol Energy Center, Rutgers at George Washington)

Wisconsin Badgers (2)

2K Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project: Georgetown (19), Duke (3)/VCU (17)
@Oklahoma (20), @Syracuse (21), Marquette (61), Temple (77), Green Bay (79), Milwaukee (206), Siena (251)*, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (261), Western Illinois (283), North Dakota (291), Prairie View A&M (323)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 145.77
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 38th
Big Ten rank: 1st

If this turns out to be Bo Ryan's final season at the helm in Madison, he's set up a schedule that should put the Badgers in position to be a high NCAA seed once again. A home date against the worst opponent on the slate, Prairie View A&M, sandwiches two contests in New York against Georgetown and either Duke and VCU and difficult trips to Oklahoma and Syracuse. You'll be hard pressed to find a more difficult four-games-in-five stretch on a schedule, except maybe for Long Beach State's.

Michigan State Spartans (10)

Directv Wooden Legacy: Boston College (122), Boise State (55)/UC Irvine (109), Arizona (1)/Providence (39)/Evansville (135)/Santa Clara (159)
Kansas (5) (Chicago), Louisville (7), Florida (14), Eastern Michigan (151), @Northeastern (154), Oakland (174) (Auburn Hills), FAU (276), UMES (305), UAPB (326), Binghamton (346)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 148.92
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 44th
Big Ten rank: 2nd

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis is on the cutting edge of college basketball and athletics scheduling, which means Tom Izzo's team typically does something unexpected at least once a year. This time, it's a road game at Northeastern's historic Matthews Arena, part of a 24-hour series in Boston that will see the Spartans men's and women's basketball and men's ice hockey squad face the Huskies in that historic barn. It's a rare power conference at mid-major road game that should benefit both the Spartans and a Northeastern squad that pushed Notre Dame in the Round of 64 last March.

Otherwise, Sparty will likely face Boise State and Arizona in Orange County on Thanksgiving weekend, and they'll definitely host Louisville and Florida and encounter Kansas at the Champions Classic in Chicago. Don't overlook the quasi-road trip to Oakland either, as the Golden Grizzlies always challenge MSU in Auburn Hills—the Spartans won 2011 and 2013 games there by a total of five points.

Michigan Wolverines (26)

Battle 4 Atlantis: Connecticut (32), Syracuse (21)/Charlotte (146), Gonzaga (6)/Texas (29)/Texas A&M (85)/Washington(94)
Xavier (33), @North Carolina State (36), @SMU (65), Youngstown State (220), Bryant (230), Elon (235)*, Delaware State (292), Northern Kentucky (297), Houston Baptist (332), Northern Michigan

Average opponent four-year ranking: 149.92
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 47th
Big Ten rank: 3rd

Despite the presence of Division II Northern Michigan (alma mater of MSU's Tom Izzo, oddly enough) and a half-dozen typical Division I bottom-feeders, this is a schedule that should get John Beilein's squad back on the road to the NCAAs. The Battle 4 Atlantis is obviously the highlight, though the quarterfinal against Connecticut might play an oversized role in determining the Wolverines' final schedule strength. Landing Xavier in the first set of Gavitt Tip-Off games was a coup, while the road trip to North Carolina State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is another attractive matchup.

Iowa Hawkeyes (23)

Advocare Invitational: Dayton (42), Notre Dame (27)/Monmouth (258), Wichita State (9)/Xavier (33)/Alabama (64)/USC (145)
@Iowa State (15), @Marquette (61), Florida State (74), Drake (199) (Des Moines), Gardner-Webb (223), Tennessee Tech (267), Western Illinois (283), UMKC (301), Coppin State (321)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 153.83
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 51st
Big Ten rank: 4th

Much like Michigan, the quarterfinal of the Hawkeyes' exempt event—a 4 vs. 5-type game against the Dayton—might weigh heavily on their non-conference strength of schedule and possible March placement. There's a huge difference between games against Notre Dame and likely either Wichita State and Xavier than ones against Monmouth and Alabama or USC, especially for a schedule that already includes a lot of chaff.

That being said, at least Iowa State should continue to count as a high-quality opponent and Florida State and Marquette are nice conference challenge draws, since both should be considerably improved over the past two seasons.

Penn State Nittany Lions (101)

Las Vegas Classic: Colorado (67), SMU (65)/Kent State (127)
@George Washington (76), @Boston College (122), Bucknell (130), Eastern Michigan (151), Canisius (160)*, DePaul (164), Drexel (168) (Palestra), Duquesne (185) (Consol), Radford (257), ULM (265)*, VMI (285)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 158.23
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 55th
Big Ten rank: 5th

The Nittany Lions will be hitting the road more than any other Big Ten team. But given the mediocrity of the opposition, Penn State cannot count on their travels helping them earn a bid. With SMU's postseason ban, George Washington is the most likely NCAA contender among this whole group.

Illinois Fighting Illini (53)

Emerald Coast Classic: UAB (132), Iowa State (15)/Virginia Tech (170)
Notre Dame (27), @Providence (39), Missouri (96) (St. Louis), North Dakota State (105)^, Yale (123), North Florida (202)^, Chattanooga (243)*^, Western Carolina (245), South Dakota (247), UIC (264) (United Center), Chicago State (325)*^

Average opponent four-year ranking: 158.69
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 56th
Big Ten rank: 6th

Illinois will play its early season home games down the road in Springfield (those are the games indicated by a ^), while renovations to Assembly Hall wrap up. So, it will be interesting to see if the slight change to routine does anything to a Fighting Illini team that needs all the wins it can get after failing to make the NCAAs in 2015.

On that front, the conference challenge season offers up two of the three best opponents John Groce's team will likely see—Notre Dame and Providence, while the Illini will have to defeat UAB—who will be playing somewhat close to home in the Emerald Coast Classic—to get Iowa State in that event's final.

This is another slate that could lead to Selection Sunday disappointment if Illinois trudges through another mediocre Big Ten campaign.

Ohio State Buckeyes (11)

Virginia (4), Kentucky (8) (Brooklyn), @Connecticut (32), Memphis (45) (Miami), Louisiana Tech (69)*, Mercer (134), UT Arlington (182)*, Air Force (187), Mount St. Mary's (211), Northern Illinois (237), VMI (285), South Carolina State (349), Grambling State (351)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 161.08
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 59th (tie)
Big Ten rank: 7th (tie)

Virginia's Big Ten/ACC Challenge visit to Columbus and trips to the Northeast to face Kentucky and Connecticut anchor a Buckeyes schedule that otherwise features a whole bunch of winnable home games and a Hoophall Invitational showcase game in Miami against a Memphis team that is coming off its first non-NCAA campaign in five years. It's not a boom-or-bust scenario, but if Thad Matta's team can't beat the Cavaliers or Wildcats, a mid-bracket position might await the Buckeyes.

Purdue Boilermakers (60)

Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Old Dominion (133), Florida (14)/Saint Joseph's (92)
@Pittsburgh (34), Butler (46) (Indianapolis), New Mexico (57), Vanderbilt (66), Vermont (97)*, Lehigh (175), Youngstown State (220), Incarnate Word (293), IUPUI (313), Howard (317), N.C. A&T (329)*

Average opponent four-year ranking: 161.08
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 59th (tie)
Big Ten rank: 7th (tie)

The Boilermakers' schedule features a lot of name brands with question marks and a half-dozen home cupcakes. If Florida, Pittsburgh, and New Mexico rebound from poor 2014-15 seasons, Old Dominion and Butler play at a similar level to last season, and Vanderbilt improves as much as forecast, this is a sneaky excellent schedule. If not, well, the Committee might hold those collective failures against Purdue come March.

Maryland Terrapins (40)

Cancun Challenge: Illinois State (83), Rhode Island (107)/TCU (139)
@North Carolina (13), Georgetown (19), Connecticut (32) (New York), Princeton (108) (Baltimore), Cleveland State (114)*, Rider (179)*, Mount St. Mary's (211), Marshall (231), St. Francis (Pa.) (299), UMES (305)
Bowie State

Average opponent four-year ranking: 161.62
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 62nd
Big Ten rank: 9th

The Terrapins will enter the 2015-16 season as a serious contender to cut the nets down in Houston, though the schedule is more of one of a team looking to just get in the field. That's how fortunes have changed for Mark Turgeon in the past 12 months. Once again, the Big Ten's two conference challenges provide a slate's highlights—reunions with former ACC rival North Carolina and neighbors Georgetown—while Atlantic 10 favorite Rhode Island is the Terps' likely opponent in their second game in Cancun and UConn is a tricky Jimmy V Classic opponent.

Otherwise, there are a whole lot of should-be automatic wins at the Comcast Center, including a visit from Division II Bowie State. Why?

Indiana Hoosiers (30)

Maui Jim Maui Invitational: Wake Forest (126), Vanderbilt (66)/St. John's (58), Kansas (5)/UCLA (25)/UNLV (68)/Chaminade
@Duke (3), Notre Dame (27) (Indianapolis), Creighton (31), Morehead State (184), IPFW (188), Eastern Illinois (282), McNeese State (302), Austin Peay (311)*, Alcorn State (344), Kennesaw State (347)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 170.46
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 74th
Big Ten rank: 10th

The Hoosiers' schedule is eerily reminiscent of Maryland's, but it should end up being a lot stronger, thanks to a strong Maui Jim Maui Invitational field, which should see Indiana add games against Vanderbilt and either Kansas and UCLA to a Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup with the defending National Champs at Cameron Indoor and a Crossroads Classic tussle with Notre Dame.

The eight scheduled home games, highlighted by a Gavitt Tip-Off Game against a Creighton team that finished below .500 last year, should result in eight wins. They just might not count for much.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (44)

Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Temple (77), Butler (46)/Missouri State (200), Utah (54)/Miami (38)/Mississippi State (193)/Texas Tech (147)
Oklahoma State (24) (Sioux Falls), Clemson (78), South Dakota State (100), Milwaukee (206), South Dakota (247), ULM (265), Omaha (269), UMKC (301), Chicago State (325)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 190.42
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 93rd
Big Ten rank: 11th

Oh look, it's yet another Big Ten schedule with a whole lot of winnable home games and a lot riding on an exempt event. Making matters worse for the Golden Gophers is a weak draw in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge—Clemson. Making matters worse for their fans, their most attractive non-Puerto Rico Tip-Off game—against Oklahoma State—will take place in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

This slate screams "NIT bid" at the top of its lungs and refuses to quiet down.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (104)

Barclays Center Classic: Cincinnati (22), George Washington (76)/Tennessee (50)
@Villanova (12), @Creighton (31), Miami (38), Rhode Island (107), Delaware State (292), Samford (306), Southeastern Louisiana (312)*, Prairie View A&M (323), UAPB (326)*, Mississippi Valley State (348), Abilene Christian (350)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 193.62
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 96th
Big Ten rank: 12th

While the Cornhuskers' slate features five surefire quality win chances, with the Conference Showcase Fairy again smiling on a team that might not really deserve it. Matchups with Villanova in the Gavitt Tip-Off Games and Miami in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge are a bit more than a team that finished 12th last season would have normally expected.

Tim Miles' team might need to take advantage of a few of those five showcase contests, as the remaining eight games will likely not move the needle much. Nebraska scheduled the SWAC three times and the Southland twice. That's not ideal.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (163)

Men Who Speak Up Main Event: Creighton (31), Clemson (78)/UMass (87)
@St. John's (58), @George Washington (76), Seton Hall (91), Wake Forest (126), Monmouth (258), Central Connecticut (314), Howard (317)*, Fairleigh Dickinson (328), UMass Lowell (340), Central Arkansas (342)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 212.92
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 108th
Big Ten rank: 13th

Yet Nebraska's schedule is still better than Rutgers' slate, which somehow features a single game against a team that looks like an NCAA contender, a GW squad whose school consider starting a football program with the number of Big Ten teams it might play this season.

Reunions with former Big East rivals St. John's and Seton Hall are the real highlights here. It's just a shame that none of the three New York metro squads is likely to be a national factor this year.

Northwestern Wildcats (117)

CBE Hall of Fame Classic: North Carolina (13), Kansas State (43)/Missouri (96)
Columbia (157)*, DePaul (164), @Virginia Tech (170), Fairfield (244)*, Loyola-MD (250), Sacred Heart (279), SIU Edwardsville (296), Chicago State (325), New Orleans (333), UMass Lowell (340), Mississippi Valley State (348)

Average opponent four-year ranking: 231.92
Schedule rank among at-large contenders: 114th
Big Ten rank: 14th

The Wildcats are famously the only power conference team that's never made the NCAA Tournament. Even if Northwestern stuns North Carolina in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic semifinals on the Monday before Thanksgiving, this non-conference schedule might not boost their case enough to end the drought. Kansas State and Missouri, the Cats' second night opposition, will each probably struggle to contend this season and there isn't a single other likely at-large hope among the 11 other opponents Chris Collins's squad will face in November and December.

An NIT bid would be a nice building block for the Wildcats, however.

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