The Iowa basketball team played Colorado on a neutral court on Friday and finishes up the non-conference schedule this Friday at home against Northern Illinois.
Both of these aren’t the sort of games we expect to see on future Iowa schedules. It just doesn’t seem as though there will be much room for challenging neutral-site games against power conference teams or games against middle-of-the-road regional opponents when the Big Ten goes to a 20-game conference schedule next season.
With all of the different scheduling obligations Iowa now has, something has to give. There are going to be very few openings in which it can line up games with teams of its choice.
NCAA Division I teams can play a total of 29 regular-season games or 27 plus a maximum of four games in a multi-team tournament. Big Ten teams almost always take the tournament option to give them a couple of extra games.
Iowa only played three games in the Cayman Islands as part of the Cayman Islands Classic this season, but a Nov. 12 home game with Alabama State was considered to be part of that tournament, which got the Hawkeyes up to the usual 31 regular-season dates.
It gets tougher in the future, though. After 20 conference games, four games in a tournament somewhere, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Gavitt Games (an annual series against Big East teams in which Iowa did not compete this season), the Hy-Vee Classic in Des Moines (which has two years remaining on its contract) and the annual home-and-home battle with Iowa State, you have three other games.
It’s doubtful you will see the Hawkeyes play teams such as Colorado and Northern Illinois. They’re more likely to use those spots for pushover opponents such as Chicago State and Southern University.
McCaffery even hinted recently that the Hawkeyes may forego playing in a tournament some years.
"There's a lot of ways to look at it," he said. "I think the 20 conference games with the challenge games, do you go to a tournament every year? Do you want to go to a tournament every year?"
McCaffery said the tournaments can take a lot out of a team, especially if you’re flying outside the country and going through customs.
"I do think it helps your team," he said. "In this case (at the Caymans), it didn't help our record. But I do think we learned a lot about who we are and gained some valuable experience. So I think you look at all that."
The Hawkeyes already are slated to play in the 2K Classic in New York City next season with Oregon, Syracuse and UConn. Those four teams each will play two games in Madison Square Garden in November and also will play two preliminary games on campus against lesser opponents as part of the tournament.
There has been speculation that Iowa could back out of the Hy-Vee Classic in the future to ease the scheduling headache, but McCaffery is on record as saying he likes the Des Moines event.
But he also spoke in very positive terms about the neutral site battle with Colorado and said things like that "always are on the table."
"I just think it’s something that we need to look at on our schedule every year because more and more emphasis is being placed on who you’re playing in your non-conference," he said.
"For us moving forward, with 20 league games and two challenge games, that changes that dynamic a little bit, especially if we opt to go to a tournament. That doesn’t leave you with much at all. But I still think these types of situations are good for our program, for our players, for our RPI."
Numbers game: One positive of the 20-game conference schedule is that it should help the Ratings Percentage Index of Iowa and other Big Ten teams. Playing teams such as Alabama State (No. 331 RPI) Chicago State (308) and Southern (271) can drag down the RPI of any team that plays them.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said recently that he prefers to not ever schedule a team with an RPI below 200, opting instead to play at least one Division II school each year. The D-II opponents generally provide even less of a challenge, but those games don’t count in calculating the RPI.
Only four Big Ten teams played a non-Division I team this season. Maryland played Catholic University, Michigan played Chaminade, Northwestern played Lewis University and Illinois took on Division III Augustana.
Injury woes: The Hawkeyes may have a somewhat shorter bench again Friday when they host Northern Illinois in their final non-conference game. Ahmad Wagner did not play last Friday against Colorado because of a sprained ankle, and Brady Ellingson probably should not have tried to play, also because of an ankle sprain.
McCaffery did not provide any update on Wagner’s prognosis following the game, and he regretted using Ellingson. After being stripped of the ball by Colorado’s McKinley Wright IV within seconds after entering the game, Ellingson was unable to scramble back and keep Wright from getting an easy layup. McCaffery immediately took him out.
"Brady was trying to go and just couldn’t," McCaffery said. "You could see that in his face trying to run back."