2021-22 Basketball Schedule
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The hoops schedule is, like, 90% of the way there. We know the non-conference opponents now. And the dates for all the non-conference games. We also know all 20 Big Ten opponents. We just don't know the dates for those games yet.
But I think we have enough information to maybe look at the schedule as a whole. We don't know if we'll have something like last year's "at Wisconsin, then at Michigan, then at Ohio State" stretch run, but we do know every opponent (well, besides our opponent in the final of the Hall Of Fame Classic). So let's get to diggin' through it.
First off, here's the non-con schedule:
October 23rd - "TBA" exhibition
October 29th - Indiana (PA) exhibition
November 9th - Jackson State
November 12th - Arkansas State
November 15th - at Marquette (Gavitt Games)
November 22nd - vs. Cincinnati in Kansas City (Hall Of Fame Classic semifinals)
November 23rd - Arkansas or K-State (Hall Of Fame Classic finals or third-place game)
November 26th - Texas - Rio Grande
November 29th - Notre Dame (B1G/ACC Challenge)
December 11th - Arizona
December 18th - St. Francis (PA)
December 22nd - vs. Missouri (Braggin' Rights - St. Louis)
December 29th - Florida A&M
Obviously, that gap between November 29th and December 11th is for the two early-season Big Ten games they added to the rotation several years ago. Knowing our luck, it will be at Michigan State and then home for Michigan. Then I'm thinking there might be a Big Ten game in there between Christmas and New Years (although putting the FAMU game on Wednesday the 29th would only really leave Monday the 27th or Friday the 31st as possible Big Ten dates). And then January, February, and March is all for the Big Ten.
Those Big Ten opponents (announced back in May):
Home & Away - Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers
Home Only - Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin
Away Only - Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska
My first thought when looking at all of that together (well, two thoughts):
- I'm very happy that the five home non-con games (which were the only games we didn't know yet as the others had already been announced) are Jackson State, Arkansas State, Texas-Rio Grande, St. Francis PA, and FAMU. Everything else is a real-deal game, so we needed some cakewalks early in the season. Those are the "Hutcherson plays 27 minutes and Melendez plays 16" games where you see what the new guys have. There's plenty of tests available with a road game at Marquette, neutral games with Cincinnati, (likely) Arkansas, & Missouri, and home games with Notre Dame & Arizona (plus two Big Ten games between Notre Dame and Arizona).
- I'm wondering if Jackson State and Arkansas State were crammed in there before Marquette because there might be some kind of "Kofi must sit out the first four games - two exhibitions, and two regular season games - for selling items on The Player's Trunk after the season" penalty coming down. Brad Underwood has said they are working with the compliance department on the issue, so something will happen.
Maybe the best way to make my "glad we scheduled some nobodies" point is to use T-Rank to look at the entire schedule. Bart Torvik has a formula that ranks all of the teams for next season. Illinois is currently 5th nationally and 1st in the Big Ten in his system (we were 4th nationally, but Memphis adding that 5-star kid who reclassified to 2021 moved them up to 4th).
So here's the full schedule (we don't know the order for the Big Ten games yet) and the T-Rank projection for each team (out of 350 Division I teams). I'll assume Arkansas for the second Kansas City opponent:
Jackson State (186)
Arkansas State (176)
at Marquette (96)
vs. Cincinnati (91)
Texas - Rio Grande (336)
Notre Dame (30)
St. Francis - PA (289)
vs. Missouri (150)
Florida A&M (267)
Michigan State (29)
Ohio State (11)
Penn State (73)
at Iowa (67)
at Maryland (25)
at Michigan (8)
at Michigan State (29)
at Northwestern (52)
at Purdue (7)
at Rutgers (61)
at Indiana (31)
at Minnesota (148)
at Nebraska (68)
These are just projections - I think Michigan State will be better than 29 and I think Wisconsin will be worse than 55 - but let's have some fun and apply these to the NET categories that the committee uses. Our NET Team Sheet last year was impeccable - we led the country in Quad 1 wins. What might this Team Sheet look like on Selection Sunday?
First off, here are the categories. Remember, it matters where you play the game. For a home win to be Quad One, it has to be a top-30 team. For a road win to be Quad One, it can be any opponent in the top-75. The full list:
Quadrant 1 (Q1): Home (1-30) Neutral (1-50) Away (1-75)
Quadrant 2 (Q2): Home (31-75) Neutral (51-100) Away (76-135)
Quadrant 3 (Q3): Home (76-160) Neutral (101-200) Away (136-240)
Quadrant 4 (Q4): Home (161-357) Neutral (201-357) Away (241-357)
Going into the tournament last year, Illinois was one of only two teams with double-digit Q1 wins. Here was the list of the most Q1 wins on Selection Sunday:
Illinois 12 Q1 wins
Oklahoma St. 10
Ohio St. 9
Illinois also had the most Quad One games. We played 17 Q1 games on the season, Oklahoma State and Ohio State played 16, and everyone else played 14 or less.
OK, let's get to 2021-22. Basing this on those projections from Bart Torvik, how many Q1 games might we have this year? Here's the breakdown. Keep in mind this is before the Big Ten Tournament. All three BTT games last year (Rutgers, Iowa, and Ohio State) added to our Q1 total.
Q1 - 16 games (home against Notre Dame, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, & Ohio State; neutral game against Arkansas; road games with Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers, Indiana, & Nebraska)
Q2 - 8 games (home games against Arizona, Iowa, Northwestern, Rutgers, Penn State, & Wisconsin; neutral game against Cincinnati; road game at Marquette)
Q3 - 2 games (no home games, neutral vs. Missouri, road game at Minnesota)
Q4 - 5 games (home games vs. Jackson State, Arkansas State, Texas-Rio Grande, St. Francis PA, and Florida A&M)
First the disclaimer, then the breakdown:
These are just preseason projections based on roster. They obviously will not hold. So many of these Big Ten teams are ranked highly here, but that will change once these teams start losing. I can guarantee you that Big Ten teams will combine to go 140-140 in regular season conference games, so once those 140 losses start piling up, some of these teams will drop. Strength of schedule can only keep you so high before the losses drag you down.
Still, there's on thing that jumps off the page here:
Last season, total Q1 games for Illinois before the BTT: 14 (9-5 in those games)
This projection, total Q1 games for Illinois before the BTT: 16
See why I don't care about those five blow-off games? Baylor had 10 Quad 1 games all of last season. They then got a 1-seed and won the whole thing. Illinois could, technically, with three BTT Quad 1 games, have 19 Q1 games next season.
(Or it might be 15. Or 22. We don't know yet - we just know that it will probably be well into double digits.)
Now, we have to acknowledge that schedules were limited to 26 or 27 games last season (reduced non-conference schedules) and this season, if you're playing in an exempt Tournament, you can schedule 31 games. So 16 might not lead the country in Q1 games next year. But when you consider that most of the "unscheduled" games last season were the Jackson State and Texas Rio Grande variety, 16 might be really close. (You know, if we actually do get to 16. Maybe Notre Dame is bad, we play K-State instead of Arkansas, Nebraska and Northwestern aren't any better and we only play 12 Q1 games.)
If we ignore NET altogether and just look at the top-35 teams in T-Rank, this probably tells the entire story about the 2021-22 schedule. Games against the top-35 teams:
at Michigan State
13 opponents in the top 10% of this preseason computer ranking - 7 at home, 5 on the road, one neutral.