The basketball non-conference schedule: A closer look

I know I have posted a lot about football lately, but I haven't totally forgotten about basketball. I can tell it is a sleeping giant. As manager of the site SBNation gives me some great metrics to view the site performance. On that dashboard, I see that you guys are hungry for basketball news. Every basketball article that Andy has posted (and he has done some fine work, I must say) gets nearly 3 times as many hits as a well thought out football article. I, like you, can't wait for November 14th, but football must come first for now.

Still, we finally know the full non-conference schedule. Last year's perfect 12-0 run through non-league foes had us in position to get a number one seed before Robbie Hummel's knee went kablooey. We had two wins over top 10 teams (West Virginia and Tennessee) that made it at least to the elite eight. Wake Forest made the tourney and won a game. Alabama was a hard-fought victory against a good team in a hostile environment. The Crimson Tide only finished 17-15, but six of those losses were in close games to teams that made the sweet 16 or better (Kentucky twice, Cornell, Purdue, Kansas State, Tennessee). It was a great schedule.

This year, we do not have that. There are a pair of tough road games and a return game at Mackey Arena against Alabama, but those three are likely our only challenging games before opening Big Ten play.

November 14 vs. Howard - The Bisons were only 7-25 last year and finished 6-10 in the MEAC. The MEAC is often one of the weakest conferences in the country. The one out of conference win was over Navy. To give even further indication of how poor their record was, the only BCS conference team they even played was Indiana in the season opener. Calvin Thompson at 12 points per game was the team's only double figures scorer. Purdue should roll in this one even if we didn't have JJ, Robbie, and E'Twaun. Howard hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 1992 and is 0-2 all-time in the event.

November 17 vs. Alcorn State - Alcorn State is probably most famous for producing Steve McNair. They are in the SWAC and were one of the worst division I programs in the country. I really hope their program can put the check from this game to good use. ESPN profiled the team two years about the struggles their program faces with little to no funding. Their school's page hasn't even been updated since losing to Ohio State last year. Sadly, losing happened often during their 2-29 season. That included an 0-24 start and had only a 1 point win over Mississippi Valley State and two point win over Prairie View A&M. Again, Purdue should win easily with only JaMarkus Holt being a serious threat for the Braves. Alcorn State last made the NCAA's in 2002, so this should be a very easy win.

November 21 vs. Oakland - The Golden Grizzlies should be our first semi-serious challenge as we open the Chicago Invitational Challenge against them. They were 26-9 a year ago, won the Summit League, and lost to Pittsburgh 89-66 in the NCAA Tournament. Keith Benson averaged a double-double as a 6'11" center. Larry Wright is also a pretty good guard, but they graduated a pair of double figures scorers. This team could be feisty, but even with four double-figures corers they were 0-6 against major conference foes, losing to Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan State, Oregon, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh.

November 23 vs. Austin Peay - The Governors are usually one of the better teams in the Ohio Valley Conference, but were only 17-15 overall and 11-7 in conference play. Anthony Campbell is the best returning player on a team that did play Murray State close in a pair of games. The school has six all-time NCAA appearances, the last coming in 2008. Purdue should win easily in this second home game of the Chicago Invitational.

November 26 vs. Southern Illinois - Matt Painter takes on his old team for the first time as we face the Salukis in the semifinals of the Chicago Invitational. This will be the first of two neutral court games in Hoffman Estates, a suburb of Chicago. Southern Illinois was only 15-15 last year, finishing ninth at 6-12 in the Missouri Valley Conference. It's not quite the same Southern Illinois team that made six straight NCAA Tournaments and a pair of sweet 16's between 2002 and 2007. Painter was in charge of the 2004 team that went 25-5 and 17-1 in the Valley before losing to Alabama by a point in round 1. Kevin Dillard and Carlton Fay return as double figures scorers, meaning this could be a tighter ballgame than expected. (ED. NOTE: Jason Maholy of the the Reporter Online was kind enough to e-mail me and say that Kevin Dillard has transferred to Dayton.)

November 27 vs. Richmond or Wright State - The Raiders and Spiders should be a good toss-up game. Wright State is one of the few teams in the Horizon League that challenged Butler, finishing 20-12 and 12-6 in league play. They were 0-3 against Butler though and got blown out in the conference title game, so my pick is the Spiders. Richmond was 26-9 and 13-3 in a good Atlantic 10 before losing to St. Mary's in round 1 of the NCAA's. They had solid non-conference wins over Missouri, Mississippi State, Florida, and took out Xavier in the conference tournament. Seniors Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper make this a dangerous team.

December 1 at Virginia Tech - Many people considered the Hokies one of the first teams out of last year's field, and their non-conference schedule was to blame. They were 10-6 in the ACC, but lost to Temple in their only good non-conference test. They knocked off a pair of Big Ten teams in Iowa and Penn State, but that's not a lot. Losing twice to last place Miami didn't help, either. Malcolm Delany scored 20 points per game and Dorenzo Hudson is a nice compliment to him in the backcourt. Jeff Allen is a good 6'7" forward too. This will be a good team, maybe top 25 caliber, but they have nothing that will be overwhelming for us.

December 4 vs. Alabama - The Crimson Tide struggled in close games last year or they would have been an NCAA team. Their last visit to Mackey Arena was a double overtime NIT win in 2001. They had eight losses to NCAA Tournament teams a year ago, and in those losses only two were by 10 points or more. Three losses by a single point came against Vanderbilt, Florida, and Auburn. JaMychal Green is a very nice player to build around. They gave us trouble last year, and could again this year.

December 7 at Valparaiso - it is common for coaches to give star recruits, especially if they come in pairs, games in their hometowns if applicable. I can only assume this is the case as we travel to face the Crusaders likely as a result of Robbie Hummel and the long departed Scott Martin. Valpo was 15-17 last year and lost to us in Mackey Arena. They played Butler to a  five point game though at home. Former Kokomo Wildkat Brandon Wood returns as their leading scorer at 17.7 per game. He dropped 39 in one game last year and had 30 at North Carolina, so he can get hot. It is safe to say this will be Valpo's biggest home game of the year, topping even Butler.

December 11 vs. North Florida - The Ospreys are new to Division I, and have struggled mightily since moving up. In 2008 they were 3-26. Last year's 13-17 record was better, as was an 8-12 Atlantic Sun record. Still, this should be an easy win. Jerron Granberry was last year's leading scorer at only 9 points per game.

December 18 vs. Indiana State - The Boilermaker Blockbuster returns to Conseco Fieldhouse as we face the mighty Sycamores of Indiana State. The Trees improved last year, finishing 17-15 and dropped a CBI game at St. Louis as part of their postseason. A 9-9 conference finish behind Dwayne Lathan and Iowa transfer Jake Kelly gave them hope for a bigger 2010-11 season. Kelly missed the second half of last season, but his return should make the Trees even better. Still, this is our event. We didn't schedule a team we expect to lose to in our showcase event.

December 21 vs. IPFW - The last game before the Big Ten season should be a tune-up at home against the Mastodons. I once again get to see a former Kokomo Wildkat in Alan Arnett, but IPFW is the only Indiana school that has yet to make the NCAA Tournament. They had a winning record for the first time since moving to Division I at 16-15 and 9-9 in the Summit League. Ben Botts is the leading returning scorer at 11 per game.

January 16 at West Virginia - I'll say this, at least we're putting our bye week to good use. Our first return visit to Morgantown against the Mountaineers will come right in the middle of Big Ten play. It comes against a Final Four squad, but they lost their best player in Da'Sean Butler. Devin Ebanks also left early for the NBA. West Virginia will probably take a step back because of that, but this will still be a very difficult road game. After our dominance in West Lafayette last year I still think this should be a win.

My Schedule grade: B-

Given that we are going to be facing one of the toughest Big Ten slates in years, if not ever, this schedule has a nice balance of easy games and moderate tests. The main strengths come from road games at Virginia tech and West Virginia. Alabama is a nice home game against a good team. Oakland was at least an NCAA team a year ago, as was Richmond. Valparaiso and Indiana State hope to challenge in their respective conferences, and at least we get the respect of playing the Crusaders on their home floor.

The bulk of our schedule strength is going to come from facing the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Illinois twice each. We'll likely be favored in all our non-conference games, so we need to run the table again.

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