2022 Hoops Schedule
You have currently viewed 1 story this month.
IlliniBoard now offers two free stories per month, for more please subscribe.
This was a surprise. Maybe I should have been anticipating it, but because all of the basketball schedule stuff came out in November last year, I wasn't expecting anything this quickly. We don't have the schedule schedule, but we now know who we're going to play.
As I do every year when this part of the schedule comes out, I go find some ranking for the Big Ten next year and see if we get double-plays against the top teams while only playing the basement dweller's once. You might remember my article about Wisconsin in November, how I was bothered by the fact that they were 7th in the AP Poll while we were 8th. They were 7th because they had tied for a Big Ten title the year before and returned all starters. But I wanted to point out that they tied for a Big Ten title because they had single-plays against all the top teams and won a share because they got to play everyone in the basement twice.
If you don't believe me, go read it. Or just look at the result. #7 preseason Wisconsin: 10-10 in the Big Ten. #8 preseason Illinois: 16-4 in the Big Ten. If you ever needed proof that Wisconsin 1990's-Bill-Snyder-at-K-State'd their way to a share of the title in 2020, they returned all starters from that co-champ and went 10-10 in 2021.
Enough about that. Let's look at the 2022 schedule - who we play twice, who we play only at home, who we play only on the road - and see what it looks like. We'll need to rank the teams for next season, so I'm going to use the Andy Katz Power Rankings that he tweeted this week. We still don't know who pulls out of the draft and who stays in, so these are "as it stands today" rankings, and please remember that these come from Andy Katz so it's not my fault that he thinks all players in the portal will return to Maryland and they'll win the Big Ten.
Actually, I'll just let him explain his rankings:
So there's the rankings we'll use (so we'll know which games are allegedly tough games).
4. Ohio State
6. Michigan State
12. Penn State
I have some issues with those ratings - I think Northwestern will be a little better than 11th and I think Michigan State will be higher than 6th. Actually, let's not just use Katz. Let's combine these with the T-Rank projections. Here's how Bart Torvik has the 2022 Big Ten as of right now:
3. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
12. Penn State
In agreement that Kofi-less Illinois is probably 7th in the conference, I see.
So combining those two rankings, here's my 2022 Big Ten Power Rankings RSCI:
4. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
13. Penn State
OK, so let's see how our schedule shakes out. I've only glanced at it, so let's live-stream this. Remember, if you're going for easy, you want to play as many of the teams at the bottom twice and you'd like to only have single-plays against the top teams, preferably at home. Our schedule:
Home & Away - Michigan (1), Purdue (2), Maryland (3), Michigan State (5), Northwestern (9), Iowa (10), Rutgers (12)
Home Only - Ohio State (4), Wisconsin (8), Penn State (13)
Away Only - Indiana (6), Nebraska (11), Minnesota (14)
First thought: if Michigan, Purdue, and Maryland really are the three best teams in the Big Ten next year, that's a rough one right there. Last season, the three best teams in the Big Ten (the three best teams we could play since we were #2) were Michigan (1), Iowa (3), and Purdue (4). And we lucked into three single plays: Michigan on the road and Iowa + Purdue home only. Putting that another way, of the six most difficult games we could have played, we only had to play three of them. This year, using these power rankings, of the six most difficult games we could play, we play all six.
Now, using KenPom, those probably won't be our six most "difficult" games. The away game at Indiana will probably be a "tougher" game than home against Maryland. But you know what I mean. Last year, we were fortunate. This year, on that end, not so fortunate.
And again, these are just the rosters right now. if Kofi returns, we jump to #7 nationally on the T-Rank projections (and #2 in the Big Ten). So then all of these numbers are different. Same with Maryland if the players who might leave decide to leave. These aren't solid preseason rankings yet, so these aren't solid "wow, that's a tough schedule" projections yet.
But I think we do know that Michigan and Purdue are probably the top two right now (and would be part of a top-3 if Kofi returns). So having a home and home with both is rough. Worth noting if Kofi does return... those three teams would all play each other twice (Purdue and Michigan have a home-and-home as well), so IF Kofi comes back, those six games probably decide the Big Ten.
Let's look at the home and away games.
Home: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, and 13.
Away: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 14.
Two years ago our away schedule was missing three of the four worst teams in the conference. We didn't go to Indiana (finished 11th), Minnesota (12th), or Nebraska (14th). I talked about that a lot that year, stating that with a better road schedule - replace the games at Maryland and Michigan State with road games at Minnesota and Nebraska - and we win the Big Ten in 2019/20. So this away schedule with games at Northwestern (9), Iowa (10), Nebraska (11), Rutgers (12), and Minnesota (14) presents five very winnable road games. Iowa and Rutgers were tough last year, but both lose a ton next season. T-Rank has Iowa winning 13 games and Rutgers winning 9 (wow). So not having to go to Ohio State or Wisconsin and getting those five road games - that's a plus.
Perhaps I should just reduce that to a simple "we don't have to play at their place" list. That always seems to play a big role in deciding the Big Ten title (you know, like Michigan not having to go to Illinois last year). There's no road games at Ohio State, Wisconsin, or Penn State. I would like for us to play at Penn State (although that game has scared me for 15 years), but I love that we can beat Wisconsin at home and continue this winning streak. Actually, let me run those numbers.
Our last Wisconsin loss was February 18, 2019. If we beat them in our one matchup this coming winter (in Champaign), then it will be at least January of 2023 before they could stop the streak. So if I run the number of days between February 18, 2019 and, let's say,,, January 15, 2023, wow, as long as we beat them in Champaign next season, when the first Wisconsin matchup comes around in 2023 I'll be able to tweet "it has been 1,427 days since Illinois lost to Wisconsin".
Overall, I think this schedule leans closer to "difficult" than "easy". Home-and-homes with Michigan (preseason favorite), Purdue (brings everyone back), Maryland (title contender if everyone returns), and Michigan State (watch out they might hammer our best player in the face and then joke about street fights). Eight very difficult games right there. It's nice to skip road games at Ohio State and Wisconsin and I'm glad we only play Indiana once (I think they're sneaky good next year), but overall, this leans "difficult". Not as hard as 2019/20, not as easy as 2020/21, but not right in the middle either. Closer to 2020 than 2021.
Of course, we just finished the most brutal conference stretch I can ever remember - at #23, then at #2, then at #7, all in eight days - and we won them all. So maybe I should settle at "we'll play anyONE anyWHERE".
If Kofi comes back, that's probably exactly what I'll say.