If only we could always live with the confidence of a starved fan base picking out wins on paper in September
The wait is over.
Indiana fans now know exactly who, and when, the Hoosiers’ men’s basketball team will play during coach Mike Woodson’s first season leading his alma mater, as the Big Ten announced the conference’s complete 2021-22 men’s basketball schedule Wednesday.
Previous elements of the schedule were known, such as Indiana’s premier non-conference matchups in the Gavitt Tipoff Games, Big Ten/ACC Challenge and Crossroads Classic, as well as Indiana’s home and away opponents in the Big Ten, but now there’s a date for each game.
Here is Indiana’s complete 2021-22 regular-season men’s basketball schedule:
- Nov. 9: Eastern Michigan*
- Nov. 12: Northern Illinois*
- Nov. 17: St. John’s*
- Nov. 21: Louisiana*
- Nov. 23: Jackson State*
- Nov. 27: Marshall*
- Nov. 30: at Syracuse*
- Dec. 4: Nebraska
- Dec. 8: at Wisconsin
- Dec. 12: Merrimack*
- Dec. 18: Notre Dame* (Indianapolis)
- Dec. 22: Northern Kentucky*
- Dec. 29: UNC Asheville*
- Jan. 2: at Penn State
- Jan. 6: Ohio State
- Jan. 9: Minnesota
- Jan. 13: at Iowa
- Jan. 17: at Nebraska
- Jan. 20: Purdue
- Jan. 23: Michigan
- Jan. 26: Penn State
- Jan. 29: at Maryland
- Feb. 5: Illinois
- Feb. 8: at Northwestern
- Feb. 12: at Michigan State
- Feb. 15: Wisconsin
- Feb. 19: at Ohio State
- Feb. 24: Maryland
- Feb. 27: at Minnesota
- March 2: Rutgers
- March 5: at Purdue
The non-conference schedule *should* have at least a half-dozen easy wins
Indiana’s 2021-22 schedule features 11 non-conference games in addition to the usual 20-game conference schedule and the statistical profile of many of those opponents in the latter group is reminiscent of the program’s non-conference scheduling philosophy under former coach Tom Crean.
Using last season’s final kenpom.com rankings, Indiana will play seven non-conference opponents that finished the 2020-21 season ranked outside of the top 200 nationally: Louisiana (No. 201), Northern Kentucky (No. 206), UNC Asheville (No. 244), Jackson State (No. 265), Merrimack (No. 287), Eastern Michigan (No. 289) and Northern Illinois (No. 337).
In last season’s final NET rankings, those teams finished at No. 186, No. 217, No. 250, No. 252, No. 232, No. 317 and No. 339, respectively.
The other four opponents all finished last season ranked in the top 100 on kenpom.com: St. John’s (No. 69), Marshall (No. 92), Syracuse (No. 42) and Notre Dame (No. 85).
Remember, in the contract of Woodson’s predecessor, Archie Miller, he would receive a $125,000 bonus if Indiana didn’t schedule more than one non-conference opponent that finished the previous season ranked outside of the top 300 in the RPI. (Yes, that contract was signed in the RPI era, which now feels forever ago.) In Crean’s final season, Indiana played four non-conference opponents ranked outside of the top 300 in the RPI, so I’ll let you figure out from where that old Miller clause originated.
It’s unclear if Woodson has a similar clause in his contract, but whatever led to the non-conference slate the Hoosiers have in front of them, it’s a manageable one. Nine of the 11 games are at home and only one, Syracuse, is a true road game, which Indiana wasn’t in control of, given that it’s a Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup.
The Hoosiers have two guarantee games before hosting St. John’s in the Gavitt Tipoff Games, and they’ll host Merrmiack in between playing at Wisconsin in early December and traveling to Indianapolis to face Notre Dame in the final Crossroads Classic.
How did Indiana’s Big Ten schedule shake out?
We already knew who Indiana’s single and double-play opponents were going to be in the Big Ten and the Hoosiers arguably lucked out by playing Michigan, Illinois and Rutgers once apiece, each at home. The former two were No. 1 seeds in last season’s NCAA tournament, while the latter went 6-2 against Indiana during the Archie Miller era and finally ended its NCAA tournament drought this year.
The Hoosiers have two games against Big Ten cellar dweller Nebraska, as well as Minnesota, which finished 13th in the conference standings last season before the school fired coach Richard Pitino.
The order of Indiana’s Big Ten matchups seems manageable. The Hoosiers play back-to-back road games just twice all season and they never play three in a row. And both of those pairings involves a road game against either Northwestern or Nebraska, which were two of the three teams that finished below the Hoosiers in the Big Ten standings last season.
Indiana’s toughest stretch in conference play could involve three consecutive home games and four home games in a five-game stretch: Purdue (Jan. 20), Michigan (Jan. 23), Penn State (Jan. 26), at Maryland (Jan. 29) and Illinois (Feb. 5).
A three-game stretch with contests at Michigan State (Feb. 12), versus Wisconsin (Feb. 15) and at Ohio State (Feb. 19) could be challenging, too.
In the two seasons when there was an NCAA tournament since the Big Ten implemented a 20-game men’s basketball conference schedule, four teams from the conference have received an NCAA tournament bid after finishing below .500 in conference play, including Ohio State in 2019, which went 8-12 in the Big Ten. So the bare minimum for Indiana to make the NCAA tournament is likely winning at least nine conference games.
If Indiana can eclipse 68 percent free-throw shooting and 33-percent 3-point shooting – something it never did in Miller’s four seasons – the Hoosiers should be confident they can find nine conference wins in Woodson’s first season.
Their non-conference slate is unlikely to provide a massive boost to the team’s potential NCAA tournament resume – keep an eye on that Syracuse game not only because of, um, [waves frantically in the air], but because it’s Indiana’s only true road game during non-conference play and the Orange had the best finish of any of Indiana’s upcoming non-conference opponents in last season’s advanced metrics. Remember, a road game counts as a Quadrant 1 contest if the opponent finishes the season ranked in the top 75 in the NET, which is very achievable for a Syracuse team that returns Buddy Boeheim.
At the end of the day, Indiana’s 2021-22 schedule could allow Woodson to help exorcise the greatest demons of Crean (the loss to Syracuse in 2013) and Miller (never making the NCAA tournament, while installing an oftentimes brutish offense). The Hoosiers’ long-term goals shouldn’t be “beat the sixth-best team in the ACC and be one of the 68 teams to make the tournament,” but in Year 1 of Woodson’s tenure, that’ll do just fine.