Last year, Minnesota's Men's Basketball team had the 9th hardest schedule in the country. That number will be quite a bit higher this year. Yesterday, the NIT Season Tip-Off announced that it had changed formats and would feature eight teams, including Minnesota. The Gophers will play Western Kentucky at Williams Arena before heading to New York to play St. John's on November 26. If they win the latter match-up, Minnesota will play the winner of Gonzaga and Georgia. With the NIT Season Tip-Off on the books, the Gophers have now finalized their schedule for the 2014-15 season.
Andy Katz reported that the field was reduced from 16 teams to eight because the format had become to onerous to schedule. Teams wanted a guaranteed non-conference game, a situation that the previous format did not allow. Moreover, many teams approached simply did not want a fourth game. Apparently the lure of Madison Square Garden is not as strong as it once was. Consequently, the Gophers have lost another potential game to improve their non-conference strength of schedule.
Let's start with the positives. Gonzaga, Georgia, and St. John's are all good non-conference opponents. Getting two wins in New York will benefit the Gophers' resume come March. Seth Greenberg in an article behind the pay wall, even pegs Gonzaga as a potential title contender. (On an entirely selfish note, I'm looking forward to the potential Gonzaga game because I rarely get to see them on television).
Now the negatives. Outside of the NIT Tip-off, the Gophers only have one top-100 opponent, Louisville. Perhaps even more problematically for Minnesota, most of the rest of the non-conference schedule can be charitably described as hot garbage. Two opponents, Furman and UMBC, were sub 300 ranked by Ken Pomeroy last year. None of the rest of the non-conference is particularly compelling either. The ACC/BIG Challenge opponent is Wake Forest, who are undergoing another program rebuild after the firing of Jeff Bzdelik. When Southern comes to the Barn, they are highly unlikely to bring the band, who are great, but will bring the team, who are not. All of which means that in the event that the Gophers are on the bubble, their schedule will likely be a negative against their inclusion.
From a team perspective, this may not be an issue. After all, Minnesota's difficult schedule last year was not a compelling enough factor to make the tournament. Winning all the games a team is supposed to win, and getting a few road wins in conference play should be enough to make the Dance. The Gophers are a veteran team with lots of experience and a year in Pitino's system, so it is entirely plausible that a comparatively easy non-conference schedule will not be a hindrance to getting ready for Big Ten play. If this is the case, then all the worrying about scheduling will be pointless, but then again as Minnesota fans that's sort of our jam.