As the excitement for next Thursday's massively anticipated football opener against #2 TCU reaches its apex, the Big Ten portion of the Men's Basketball team was released yesterday to little fanfare. Understandably, any basketball news will get lost in the beginning of football season, especially when your basketball team is expected to take a step back while introducing a multitude of freshman and trying to integrate two raw big men into major contributors. Gopher nation is rightfully preoccupied with the beginning of football season, especially with such an intriguing match-up to start the season.
However, the basketball conference schedule was released all the same. I'll provide a few thoughts below and give you the full conference schedule as well.
- It really could have been a lot worse. With home-and-aways with the likes of Rutgers, Northwestern, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, the Gophers won't have to face what are some of the projected power houses for 2015-2016 more than once. Of the four teams they face twice, only Michigan and possibly Indiana would appear to be a threat to break the top 4 in the conference standings in the upcoming season.
- Along the same lines, we only face Wisconsin, Maryland, and Michigan State once with all three match-ups taking place at the Barn. While Wisconsin lost a lot of talent to NBA and graduation, they still return a quality core and it's safe to assume they will finish top 4 in the conference with Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes leading the charge. Maryland is a preseason Final Four favorite with talent oozing at every spot in the starting lineup. The fact we only have to play these teams once each and they are at home take a bit of the possible schedule burden off of the young Gophers.
- The four teams we play only once as away games are Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, and Iowa. Of these four squads, only the Buckeyes are truly head and shoulders above the Gophers from a talent perspective heading into the season. Iowa has lost a lot to graduation. Penn State is Penn State. And Nebrasketball lost Petteway to the NBA. Chalk up another break for Pitino and crew.
- Unlike most years, there doesn't appear to be any grueling portions of the schedule or an extraordinarily easy string of games either. It's interesting to note that there are rarely any back-to-back home or away games. There is only one incident of back-to-back home games and and one incident of back-to-back away games. This could make things a little simpler (and possibly easier) for a squad that is young and learning the grind of the Big Ten.
Honestly, this is about as fortuitous a schedule as you'll get in the Big Ten. It's really too bad that it's happening during a year with such massive roster turnover and breaking in new players. If Pitino's first year squad had this schedule (or maybe some of Tubby's healthiest teams), it could have easily vaulted the Gophers into the conference's top echelon.
Making predictions at this point, especially considering the massive quantity of unknowns related to the 2015-2016 Minnesota squad would be foolish. But since they pay me the big bucks here at The Daily Gopher to make the hard predictions, I'll predict that the Gophers go a "surprising" 7-11 in conference play with one road win and one home upset over a ranked team. With this one game improvement from last year's conference record, Pitino will get another raise and extension which will pay him $5.5 million more per year annually and goes until 2035 with an option for a statue outside Williams Arena if another NIT title is brought back to campus.
What do you think about the conference schedule?