The Indiana men’s basketball team has started the 2021-2022 season with a 6-1 record. After a 68-62 win against Eastern Michigan, Indiana won five straight before losing on the road against Syracuse. Indiana has faced inferior competition, but has still looked shaky.
Indiana will head into Big Ten play Saturday against Nebraska and then Wisconsin before eventually finishing non-conference play.
Ken Pomeroy, who operates a college basketball analytics site, uses a statistical formula in order to calculate a ranking of the best college basketball teams. The formula factors how many points teams score offensively and allow defensively per 100 possessions. Using KenPom rankings, Indiana has not played any team inside the top 50.
Indiana follows the trend of teams in Power Five conferences who tend to schedule easier opponents to build confidence and to stack wins; however, this only hinders a team's potential.
Teams like Maryland and Illinois, who both were ranked in the preseason AP poll, had no ranked opponents in their non-conference schedule heading into the season. While Indiana, Maryland and Illinois all aim for success during March Madness this year, it is hard to have a good run in the tournament without the experience of playing nationally ranked teams.
The experience a team gains by playing tougher competition is unparalleled. Oftentimes this experience will carry a team through March. According to the NCAA, seven of the last ten national champions finished in the top 15 in strength of schedule.
Playing nationally ranked teams grants not only valuable experience but an opportunity, and the Indiana Hoosiers seized that opportunity on Dec. 10, 2011.
Indiana entered the 2011-2012 campaign unranked with coach Tom Crean in his fourth year. In the ninth game of the season, Indiana was set to face the Kentucky Wildcats, who were then ranked No. 1. Kentucky presented Tom Crean with a chance to prove himself to a national audience.
In shocking fashion, Indiana beat Kentucky at the buzzer in a 73-72 win. That win vaulted Indiana into the rankings and put the program back on the national stage.
If scheduling tougher games has proven to be a blueprint for success, why do all teams not follow suit?
The answer is simple — teams in Power Five conferences know they will face quality opponents in conference play who will prepare them for the tournament.
However, that seems to only be the mindset of men's basketball teams.
Looking at the preseason women’s college basketball rankings, six of the top ten teams scheduled four or more ranked opponents in their non-conference schedule. Compare that to the men’s side where only two of the top ten teams scheduled four or more ranked opponents in their non-conference schedule.
While a team’s non-conference schedule is often scheduled years in advance, there are ways to ensure a competitive schedule — tournaments.
Thanksgiving week offers a multitude of highly competitive college basketball tournaments, which allows teams to play competitors from all over the country. These tournaments simulate the “do or die” mentality teams have in March Madness, which gives them experience in must-win games against quality opponents.
This experience has proven to be valuable as four of the last ten national champions have either won the Battle 4 Atlantis or Maui Invitational, which are two of the more prominent non-conference tournaments. This year the Wisconsin Badgers won the Maui Invitational and the Baylor Bears won the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Bluntly put, coaches and athletic directors need to schedule a competitive non-conference.
As someone who loves college basketball, nothing makes me more excited than seeing two nationally ranked teams who are not usual foes. There is no need to bore a fan base with a non-conference schedule filled with mid-majors; a tougher schedule benefits the fans and the team.
Eric Brilliant (he/him) is a freshman studying sports journalism.