The day the non-conference basketball schedule is released is unique compared to all other sports. We know our football schedule years in advance. Other schedules are quietly announced, but the details of our non-conference basketball schedule are always exciting. We want to know how challenging the schedule is and what to expect. There is always conference pride at stake with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and we don't want to take the wuss way out <cough> Syracuse! <cough> by only playing local schools.
Ultimately, you want a schedule with some chest hair, and that is exactly what we have. There are plenty of solid teams on this slate that will prepare us for the Big Ten schedule. It is also challenging enough that we should have a good idea of our NCAA chances well before we play a Big Ten game. These are the wins that build our profile and provide that schedule strength needed for seeding. For example, our trip to Valparaiso last season ended up being a solid road win that bordered on the top 50 for most of the year.
I am excited about this schedule because it presents multiple chances to gain quality wins that will grow as the year goes on. The Puerto Rico Tournament is full of good but not great teams that will battle for at large bids. We also play at least three teams that will be in the at large discussion even before taking the court. It is a nice place to be.
Possible NCAA Tournament teams: Butler (neutral floor), at Xavier, Miami, Puerto Rico Tournament (Colorado, Alabama, Maryland, Wichita State, Temple).
Last year some deemed our non-conference schedule weak because we didn't have wins over definite NCAA Tournament teams. Our two non-conference losses, West Virginia and Richmond, both made the NCAA Tournament, but only Oakland and Indiana State made the Dance from our non-conference wins list. Alabama, Valparaiso, and Virginia Tech were all on the fence, but fell out. The Sycamores and Golden Grizzlies were not going to be at large teams, either.
Depending on the draw for the Puerto Rico Tournament, we could have as many as six wins over teams that could make the NCAA Tournament as an at large team. Xavier is a fixture in March and a solid road game. I like having at least one true road game against a potential NCAA team in the non-conference. Miami is definitely a team that can make the tournament if they figure things out in the ACC. Butler has played in the last two national title games and even though they lose a lot, they are still going to be a damn good team. It's almost not a neutral court game since we're playing them at Conseco Fieldhouse.
If anything, I am disappointed that we postponed the West Virginia series for "balance" we were supposed to play them at Mackey this year again, with a return trip to Morgantown the following year. I don't see a problem with that. We're likely going on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge next year, and we already have a game against Notre Dame in Indy, but who cares if we have a second true road game in the non-conference? We had three this past year, so this decision puzzles me.
The familiarity with Alabama is nice after playing them the last two seasons. Maryland is always a solid team and Mark Turgeon is a coach we have seen of late when he was at Texas A&M. Wichita State is favored in the Valley and the defending NIT champ. Colroado was a bubble team this year and Temple made the NCAA Tournament and even won a game, so there is a solid experienced team for us. This is a good slate.
Must win games: Northern Illinois, High Point, Coppin State, Western Carolina, Eastern Michigan, IPFW, Puerto Rico Tournament (Iona and Western Michigan).
These are the games where I am likely selling my tickets and we should win regardless. Everybody has games like these in order to develop younger players, and that's what we need, especially for our bigs. I was disappointed that Patrick Bade, Sandi Marcius, and Travis Carroll didn't play a ton in these types of games last year because they needed the minutes.
These are the types of games that don't help your resume, but they certainly hurt it if you lose a game. Fortunately, we haven't had a loss like that since the infamous Wofford game. No offense to these teams, but I am already counting these games in the win column because we really don't have an excuse to lose any of them.