As it stands, we know very little about what Northwestern's basketball schedule will look like in 2013-2014, its first year under Chris Collins. We know NU will visit Stanford and Butler next year as part of home-and-home series, and we know the Wildcats will play an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game — likely announced in mid-May — and a number of cupcake schools in the non-conference slate.
On Thursday, we got a little bit of insight into how NU's conference schedule might shape up, thanks to Scott Dochterman, who covers Iowa basketball for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Dochterman talked to Big Ten associate commissioner Mark Rudner, who gave a little bit of insight into the process:
“I can tell you on the men’s side, that each team’s four single-play opponents will come from the seven teams that they played home and away last year,” Rudner told The Gazette. “What we tried to do was look at match-ups, look at single plays that may have not scheduled for a period of time for whatever reasons just to try and catch up."
This isn't that groundbreaking, since the single plays of the last rotation typically come back on as double plays for the next rotation. However, it's important to have it on record and lay out the possible scenarios. Here's how it works out for NU:
Teams NU will play twice: Michigan State, Indiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin
Group from which four single plays will be selected: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue
As the quote from Rudner states, the Big Ten will try to create a schedule that ensures teams don't play some schools twice a year far too often than others. Recency will play a role, though it's logistically impossible to make it all perfect in that regard. Here's the breakdown of how often NU has met the above teams recently.
Illinois: Last went off the double-play schedule in the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 rotation
Iowa: Last went off the double-play schedule in the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 rotation (Dochterman projects NU-Iowa will be a single-play in 2013-2014)
Michigan: Last went off the double-play schedule in the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 rotation
Minnesota: Last went off the double-play schedule in the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 rotation
Ohio State: Last went off the double-play schedule in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 rotation
Penn State: Last went off the double-play schedule in the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 rotation
Purdue: Last went off the double-play schedule in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 rotation
As Dochterman noted, it's likely Iowa will come off NU's schedule since the two teams have played each other twice each of the past six years. The same goes for NU-Minnesota and NU-Michigan. Of course, there are always things that can cause plans to change, but those three are likely to appear on NU's schedule only once in 2013-2014. Considering that Ohio State and Purdue have only been on NU's double-play schedule for one rotation, it's likely they'll return again in 2013-2014. That leaves Illinois and Penn State, both of which were last on the single-play schedule in the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 rotation. If all of the pieces fit, one of those two teams will be on NU's single-play list next year.
So here's the breakdown again:
Definite double plays: Michigan State, Indiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin
Likely double plays: Ohio State, Purdue, Illinois/Penn State
Likely single plays: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois/Penn State
At first look, the schedule is a bit of a mixed bag. Of the definite double plays, Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin all have the potential to be top 25 teams, and the Spartans are likely a top 5 caliber team next year. NU will likely also get a sure-fire top 25 (and probably top 10) team in Ohio State, and a Purdue team that is considered on the rise. That's tough, but that's life in the Big Ten. Of the likely single plays, Iowa and Michigan could both be top 25 teams next year, so NU sort of dodges some bullets there. We'll have more when the full schedule is announced.
Oh, and all of this goes out the window when Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten in 2014-2015, as Dochterman wrote. If you think this is a puzzle, just wait until then.