A look at how unbalanced scheduling could shape the 2017-2018 Big Ten race

  • 08/07/2017 10:21 am in

One of the issues that comes with conference expansion is the unbalanced schedule. With the Big Ten entering its fourth season at 14 members, the conference is entering another season of a scheduling format that includes eight single plays and five home-and-home series each season.

The schedule is a major change from the previous 12-team format which included seven home-and-home pairings with just four single plays. But unless the league opts to add more games (a 20-game schedule has been the most frequently discussed scenario), the current format is here to stay. The unbalanced schedule is definitely a factor in the conference race each season.

Using the top ten teams in our post-NBA draft deadline power rankings published in May, we ranked the schedule difficulty (from most difficult to easiest) of the projected top ten of the league for next season:

1. Northwestern (projected No. 3 in standings)
Home: Illinois, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State
Away: Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Rutgers
Home/Away: Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin

Comment: If the Wildcats are going to return to the NCAA tournament, they’re going to earn it. All of Northwestern’s double plays will be tough, as will road trips to Indiana, Iowa and Purdue. This is a difficult slate.

2. Maryland (projected No. 7 in standings)
Home: Iowa, Minnesota, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Away: Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio State
Home/Away: Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue

Comment: After a favorable slate last season, the Terps have a more difficult road this season. Maryland has double plays with four teams in our projected top five. Playing Penn State twice won’t be easy, either.

3. Purdue (projected No. 4 in standings)
Home: Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State
Away: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State
Home/Away: Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Rutgers, Wisconsin

Comment: The road to a repeat in West Lafayette won’t be easy. Purdue’s road single plays are Indiana, Iowa and Michigan State and they also play four of our projected top seven twice.

4. Minnesota (projected No. 2 in standings)
Home: Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers
Away: Maryland, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue

Comment: The Gophers only play Michigan State once – and it is at home – but has double plays with four other teams projected in our top ten, including Northwestern and Purdue.

5. Indiana (projected No. 8 in standings)
Home: Maryland, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue
Away: Michigan, Nebraska, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State

Comment: Indiana has double plays with the league’s projected top two teams – Michigan State and Minnesota – but also drew two of the projected bottom four twice in Ohio State and Illinois. On the single play front, getting Purdue, Northwestern and Maryland all at home is favorable.

6. Penn State (projected No. 10 in standings)
Home: Michigan, Minnesota, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Away: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue
Home/Away: Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State

Comment: Getting two of the projected bottom four for double plays is favorable, as are home single plays with Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, Penn State also has to go to Indiana, Michigan State and Purdue.

7. Michigan (projected No. 5 in standings)
Home: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers
Away: Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin
Home/Away: Iowa, Maryland, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue

Comment: The Wolverines had the toughest Big Ten schedule in our projections last season, but things will ease up a bit in 2017-18. Michigan has double plays with Purdue and Northwestern, but avoids playing our projected top two teams twice.

8. Wisconsin (projected No. 6 in standings)
Home: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State
Away: Iowa, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers
Home/Away: Illinois, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue

Comment: The Badgers are one of the toughest teams to project entering the season, but the schedule is favorable. Double plays with Illinois and Nebraska is a plus, as is avoiding road trips to Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota.

9. Iowa (projected No. 9 in standings)
Home: Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin
Away: Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Rutgers
Home/Away: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State

Comment: Iowa has just one double play with a projected top four team (Minnesota) and its single play schedule has four of our projected top six teams at home.

10. Michigan State (projected No. 1 in standings)
Home: Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue
Away: Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State
Home/Away: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers, Wisconsin

Comment: Go ahead and install the Spartans as the definitive favorite to win the league. The Spartans don’t have a double play with any of the other four teams projected in the top five and also play Rutgers twice.

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