Non-conference scheduling always plays a key role when March comes around in terms of NCAA Tournament bids and seeding. There are 10 Big Ten teams capable of making the Big Dance, but in order for all of those teams to actually have a shot they will need to play and win some tough games before the start of conference play.
Here is a breakdown of all 14 Big Ten schools’ non-conference schedules.
Note: All rankings are in the following format — AP Ranking/The Catch and Shoot Ranking. If both rankings are the same, only one number will be given.
After opening weekend games against Northern Kentucky and Chattanooga, Wisconsin has very few “gimmes.” (Even Chattanooga is one of the SoCon’s best teams.) The Badgers then host Horizon League favorite Green Bay and Mountain West contender Boise State before heading to the Battle 4 Atlantis.
In that tournament, they will meet either No. 7/15 Florida or Georgetown in the second round. In their third game, they will face one of No. 6 North Carolina, No. 19/14 Oklahoma, UCLA or Butler. This tournament field is loaded.
The fun doesn’t stop there, though. Wisconsin will face No. 4 Duke, Marquette and California in December. They will also play at Milwaukee, which is coming off a NCAA Tournament berth.
2. Michigan State
Tom Izzo has never been afraid to challenge his team’s in non-conference play, but this year’s schedule is especially brutal. The Spartans six of their first eight games on the road, including matchups with Duke and Notre Dame in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. There’s a good chance they will also face No. 5 Kansas in the Orlando Classic final.
The Spartans will still be able to pad their record with five easy home games to finish things off. They host Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Oakland, Eastern Michigan, Texas Southern and The Citadel.
Michigan heads to Brooklyn for the third straight season for the Legends Classic. There the Wolverines will face an Oregon team that lost a ton from last season and then either No. 15/17 VCU or No. 12/8 Villanova. Their ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup is at home against No. 23/NR Syracuse, another team that lost a lot of its production from last season.
A tough mid-December stretch includes games against No. 2/3 Arizona and No. 22/21 SMU.
The Wolverines have their share of cupcakes, but they did not shy away from peppering some challenges into their slate.
4. Ohio State
Ohio State doesn’t have many challenges on its non-conference slate, but two of its games are arguably the toughest any Big Ten team will play prior to conference competition. The Buckeyes will play at No. 8/11 Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and then face North Carolina in Chicago for the CBS Sports Classic.
The Buckeyes also have a November home game against Marquette.
Iowa will get a pair of quality games on a neutral site at the 2K Classic in New York. The Hawkeyes will face No. 10/13 Texas and then a worse but still tough team in either Syracuse or California.
December begins with a bang as the Hawkeyes travel to North Carolina for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Later that month, they also play rivalry games against No. 14/12 Iowa State and Iowa.
Illinois has only one true road game in non-conference play, and it’s the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game at Miami (Fla.). But the Illini have four games against Power-5 conference teams on neutral sites.
They will face either Baylor or Memphis in their second Las Vegas Invitational game, Villanova at the Jimmy V Classic, Oregon at the United Center in Chicago and finally Missouri at their annual Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis.
If Illinois can go 3-1 in those four games, it will be in great shape entering Big Ten play.
Indiana won’t leave the comfort of Bloomington until Dec. 9, when it travels to Madison Square Garden to face Louisville in its toughest non-conference game. The Hoosiers return to New York for another tough neutral site game against Georgetown right before the start of Big Ten play.
Coach Tom Crean also has a pair of quality opponents coming to Assembly Hall early in the season. SMU will visit Nov. 20 and then Pittsburgh will come in December for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
These four games make Indiana’s schedule more difficult than in recent years, but Crean also scheduled eight cupcakes to help out the overall record.
Nebraska will have to win away from home if it is going to get some quality non-conference wins. The Cornhuskers play a tricky game at Rhode Island in November, and they are on the road against Florida State for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Cornhuskers will spend Christmas in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, where they could face No. 11/9 Wichita State and NR/No. 25 Colorado.
Nebraska’s only notable home games are against Creighton and Cincinnati.
Minnesota gets its toughest non-conference game out of the way early. The Golden Gophers will take on Louisville, with coach Richard Pitino taking on his father Rick, in Puerto Rico. Minnesota will hit the road again a few weeks later for the NIT Season Tip-Off, where it faces St. John’s and then either No. 13/10 Gonzaga or Georgia.
The rest of the Golden Gophers’ schedule isn’t too exciting. They play at Wake Forest in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and their toughest home game is against Western Kentucky.
If things go as expected at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, Maryland will meet Iowa State Nov. 25 in what would be the Terrapins best chance for a quality non-conference win. But even if that doesn’t pan out or if Maryland were to lose that game, the Terps will have a few more chances before entering Big Ten play for the first time.
Maryland hosts No. 9/7 Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and then plays at Oklahoma State later in December.
If Purdue is going to make any waves in non-conference play, it will have to make them at the Maui Invitational. The Boilermakers draw NR/No. 23 Kansas State in the first round and will face either Arizona or Missouri in the second. In their third and final game, potential opponents are No. 16/19 San Diego State, Pittsburgh and BYU, one of the nation’s top mid-majors.
Outside of Maui, the Boilermakers biggest game is a Crossroads Classic matchup against Notre Dame.
Rutgers did not shy away from scheduling a few toughies even though it is going to get rocked once Big Ten play begins. The Scarlet Knights’ season begins against Atlantic 10 contender George Washington, and they could face Virginia in the championship of the Barclays Classic.
In December, the Scarlet Knights play at Clemson and Seton Hall, and on a neutral site against MAAC contender Manhattan.
13. Penn State
Penn State has no opponents that jump off the page, but there are a few tricky teams in there. In December the Nittany Lions face George Washington and a Virginia Tech team that should make improvements under new head coach Buzz Williams. The Nittany Lions will also play three games at the Charleston Classic, and potential opponents include South Carolina and Miami (Fla.).
The toughest team on Northwestern’s schedule is Northern Iowa, and it’s not even guaranteed that the Wildcats will face the Panthers in the second round of the Cancun Challenge.
With a young team, coach Chris Collins wants an easy schedule to help build confidence. The Wildcats should have a pretty record heading into Big Ten play, with their only real challenges being against Georgia Tech and Butler (and possibly Northern Iowa).