So, that's disappointing.
You may have heard that Northwestern men's basketball has released its non-conference schedule for the 2016-17 season. You may have also read Ben Goren's take that the schedule is dull as dishwater and a major flaw in Northwestern's attempts to make the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row and Josh Burton's take that Northwestern needs to schedule more respectable opponents to be a respected program. It's hard to remain confident and excited for a college basketball team when the people who make the schedule aren't confident enough to schedule games against real opponents (apologies to the Mississippi State Delta Devils).
Well, we'll just have to make the best of the situation. Barring a Leninist revolt against the athletic department, the schedule for next year is not changing any time soon. Inside NU has decided to rank the non-conference games in terms of our patented "Northwestern Watchability Tiers," which will inform our lovely readers which games to watch and which games to skip for Two Hearted Ale Night.
Tier 1: "Better than watching particles transform into sedimentary rock over thousands of years"
November 4: Home exhibition vs. University of Illinois (Springfield)
Is watching a Division II team take on a power conference basketball school better than watching earth science in action? Yes, but just barely. The hoodoos of Utah's Bryce Canyon are certainly more aesthetically pleasing than the basketball that will be played in this exhibition game. Charlie Hall getting minutes puts this exhibition game above rock formation, but below all the other contests.
Tier 2: "Better than visiting your in-laws on Christmas."
December 22: Home vs. Houston Baptist
I don't know, you might like visiting your in-laws very much, which means you should definitely do that over watching this game. Houston Baptist is not "flat-out terrible" and only lost 72-66 to NCAA Tournament darlings Stephen F. Austin. Sure, the Huskies lost by 36 in the Southland Conference Tournament, but at least they can retain a semblance of competition against good teams (every once in a while).
The reason they are so low on this list is that the Huskies played five decent (above 150 in KenPom rankings) teams in non-conference play last year and lost all five games by an average of over 19 points. Houston Baptist is bad, but they're not so spectacularly bad that it would be fun to watch for voyeuristic purposes (*cough* Rutgers). Instead, the Huskies will be relegated to the game that you receive a final score notification for while traveling for the holidays.
Tier 3: "Better than waiting in line at the DMV."
December 11: Home vs. New Orleans
TBA: Legends Classic vs. Seattle (maybe)
There's a great scene in the movie Zootopia that features a DMV staffed entirely by sloths. Watching Northwestern play one of these teams will be only slightly better than experiencing the horrors of the DMV, which may be actually populated by sloths in real-life. New Orleans and Eastern Washington are both bad and shouldn't stand a chance against Northwestern. However, that's what we said last year about Loyola-Maryland, and the Wildcats were losing that game at halftime.
Northwestern should win these games, but it might not pull away until the other teams get tired, which means you will have to endure 10-20 minutes of anger as New Orleans hangs within 5 points. In the end, the only relief will be victory, but how much benefit does that really give to anyone? These are really no-win games. If Northwestern loses, it's a disaster, and if the team wins, it's simply expected. Why does this schedule have seven of these no-win games? Arghhhhh...at least you don't have to write game stories for them. And by the way, Northwestern could definitely lose. Wisconsin, a Sweet 16 team, lost to Western Illinois (241st on KenPom) at home last year.
Tier 4: "Better than watching the latest Adam Sandler movie"
November 11: Home vs. Mississippi Valley State/ITTA BENE LET'S GOOOOOOO
November 25: Home vs. Bryant
December 14: Home vs. Chicago State
Adam Sandler appeared via video to help raise money at Northwestern's Dance Marathon once. He seems like a nice person, but his movies in recent years are good entertainment for anyone under the age of 14 and more trash than Chicago State's finances for adults. Watching Northwestern play the worst teams in Division I basketball will always be more entertaining than Pixels.
Every single one of these teams were in the bottom eleven teams in the country by KenPom last year. Yes, Northwestern has scheduled THREE HOME GAMES against teams that were a combined 20-78 last season.
Let that sink in for a second.
To be fair, the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils showed some promise in conference play last year and should be better this season. The Delta Devils are the only team that has made the NCAA Tournament out of this group (five appearances!). Meanwhile, there were doubts that Chicago State would even have a team this season due to the school's financial difficulties. Bryant is just bad.
These games are fun because you get to root for the other team (maybe just to cover the spread, but still). If you are remotely "fan trash-talking" Chicago State Cougars, you are being a terrible person. These people are just trying to get a college education and play some DI basketball on the side. Without games like this, they wouldn't be able to go to college.
Thus, as mentioned earlier, these games are entertaining in a voyeuristic sort of way. Much like Rutgers' basketball ineptitude was interesting simply for "the horror, the horror" (to quote Apocalpyse Now), these games should work in a similar fashion.
Also, Chicago State lost 82-79 to Illinois last year. It was a one-possession game for much of the second half. With Northwestern sports, you just never know.
Tier 5: "Better than watching an Atlanta Braves vs. Cincinnati Reds game"
December 20: Home vs. IUPUI
TBD: Legends Classic vs. Louisiana-Monroe
The Braves and the Reds are the two worst teams in baseball. The Braves are currently selling a $39 "monthly pass" that allows you into any Braves game that month for an average of $2.60 per seat. I assure you, this is a professional sports team. The Reds are not as bad, but they are on pace to have the worst bullpen in the history of baseball, so that's fun.
Going to baseball games (especially for nothing) is a fun experience, but having to watch the Braves and Reds is a major negative. You may be better off staying at home, saving money on food and watching Northwestern play IUPUI or Louisiana-Monroe. Both teams are a major step up from the teams in the lower tiers of these rankings and could give Northwestern a good game.
Considering IUPUI wasn't far off DePaul in terms of KenPom rankings and Louisiana-Monroe was well ahead last year, Northwestern could face stiff resistance. Louisiana-Monroe is losing its entire starting lineup and will definitely regress and IUPUI is probably mediocre at best, but considering Northwestern historically has trouble putting away lower quality teams; these games are at least worth watching the second half.
Tier 6: "Better than watching The Bachelorette"
November 28: Home vs. Wake Forest
December 3: Home vs. DePaul
I assume most readers of Inside NU are not fans of this particular television show, which means that watching Northwestern play DePaul or Wake Forest would be an infinitely more enjoyable experience than creepy, televised social experiments. DePaul should really be in the tier below in terms of team quality, but the Chicago rivalry matchup makes it a more intriguing game than Louisiana-Monroe.
Wake Forest will be Northwestern's B1G/ACC Challenge game. Wake Forest is not a terrible team, but they were by far the worst team in the ACC that actually won a conference game this season (poor Boston College). Under Danny Manning, Wake Forest has been in the 120-130s range on KenPom for the last four seasons, so there's little reason to expect the Demon Deacons to be much better in 2016-17.
Tier 7: "Better than watching Netflix reruns for the twelfth time."
TBD: Legends Classic vs. Colorado
TBD: Legends Classic vs. Texas
Northwestern will face one of these two opponents next season. Both teams made the NCAA Tournament last season and lost in the first round. Shaka Smart's Texas squad famously lost on a buzzer beater from Paul Jesperson, which I have embedded below because it is still awesome.
Texas and Colorado should be good tests for Northwestern next year. Colorado is losing senior center Josh Scott but the rest of the starters are presumably returning for another season. Texas's young team surprised many last season by defeating Oklahoma and West Virginia, but those wins obscured a fairly lackluster 4-6 record down the stretch last year. There's a chance Texas could be really good in 2016-17, and an early season matchup against Texas before the team has solidified should be interesting.
Tier 8: "Better than your typical Big Ten conference game."
November 16: At Butler
TBD: Legends Classic vs. Notre Dame
Hinkle Fieldhouse is probably my favorite sporting venue I've visited in the past year. With the wooden beams, lack of any space between fans and the court and the chants of "GO DAWGS", playing and being at Butler is a unique college basketball experience. Northwestern's last matchup at Butler did not go very well, but with Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham gone, Butler will be in a state of transition in 2016-17. Will they still make the tournament somehow? Probably, but Northwestern will definitely have an advantage in experienced contributors. And how often do you get to say that?!
Butler's home-court advantage and talent will be difficult to stop for Northwestern, but the game will probably be exciting, especially if you can make the trip out to Hinkle yourself.
And as for the third possible Legends Classic matchup, here are three reasons you should watch.
1. It's Notre Dame.
2. Coach K Disciple vs. Coach K Disciple Epic Death Match
3. Northwestern has a good chance of winning (or at least covering).
If you can watch 5 of the 13 Northwestern non-conference games this year, that's probably good enough. However, the staff at Inside NU will be watching the entire season to keep you updated on the latest Delta Devil scoops and Houston Baptist hot takes. I hope we survive intact.