Analyzing Iowa basketball's 11 most important games in the 2021-22 schedule

Adam Hensley
Hawk Central

After a year of college basketball where fans were unable to watch games in-person, the 2021-22 season welcomes Hawkeye faithful back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

With former Hawkeyes Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp now playing in the NBA, Iowa basketball charges ahead with a roster infused with a mix of veterans and fresh faces. Early on, it seems as though things are meshing nicely.

The Hawkeyes have a tough schedule by default as a member of the Big Ten. But in an 11-game non-conference schedule and a 20-game conference slate littered with top-25 foes, which games mean the most for the Hawkeyes?

Here's a look at the 11 most important games of the Iowa basketball season.

Nov. 29 — Iowa @ No. 25 Virginia

This will be a great early-season test for the Hawkeyes. Virginia doesn't have a ton of returning talent from last season outside Kihei Clark, but if there's any coach who can make something out of nothing, it's Tony Bennett. Who's up for a 2013 NIT rematch?

Dec. 3 — Iowa @ No. 7 Purdue

It's widely accepted that the Big Ten is the country's best basketball conference. So why not open the Big Ten slate with a juggernaut? Purdue is one of the nation's best teams with big man Trevion Williams and potential NBA Draft lottery pick Jaden Ivey. The Hawkeyes haven't won in West Lafayette since 2016. 

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Dec. 6 — No. 10 Illinois @ Iowa

Yes, Iowa gets back-to-back preseason top-10 teams to open conference play. But it's also safe to say these teams do not like each other. Just because Garza and Ayo Dosunmu are gone doesn't mean the fun has to stop. Kofi Cockburn is going to be a handful for the Hawkeyes in the paint, and the Illini backcourt tandem of Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer is rock solid. 

Dec. 9 — Iowa State @ Iowa

This game isn't going to capture the hearts of talking college heads as in years past, but this rivalry game is worth monitoring; T.J. Otzelberger is gunning for his first Cy-Hawk win as head coach of the Cyclones, and Iowa State is powered by a mix of veteran transfers and young faces. It's only up for Iowa State after last season's debacle.

Dec. 18 — Iowa vs. Utah State

There's a chance Utah State could be Iowa's best non-conference opponent when the season wraps up. It's a sneaky good matchup in the Sanford Pentagon. Utah State is led by former UMBC coach Ryan Odom, and he's got a solid foundation to work with in his first season with the Aggies.

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Jan. 6 — Iowa @ Wisconsin

This will be Jordan Bohannon's fourth game in the Kohl Center. From his family ties to the Badgers to his game-winning shot in Madison in 2017, what is there not to love about this matchup? Iowa won all three of its games against Wisconsin last season.

Feb. 3 — Iowa @ No. 17 Ohio State

Ohio State snuck past unranked Akron on a buzzer-beater to open the season, but don't take the Buckeyes lightly. Forward E.J. Liddell and Justice Sueing make up one of the Big Ten's best forward duos.

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Feb. 17 — No. 6 Michigan @ Iowa

Iowa got one shot at Michigan last season, and it did not go well. But, hey, it's a new year. This will be the first of two matchups between the Hawkeyes and Wolverines. How will Iowa counter Hunter Dickinson and Eli Brooks? Will the Hawkeye offense find its stride against KenPom's No. 2 adjusted defense in 2021-22? 

Feb. 22 — Michigan State @ Iowa

No, Michigan State doesn't boast a top-10 roster as in previous seasons, but Tom Izzo's squad is always a tough out for Iowa. The Hawkeyes enjoyed a sweep of the Spartans last season, including a 30-point rout in East Lansing. Can they keep it going this season? 

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March 3 — Iowa @ No. 6 Michigan

This or Purdue will be Iowa's toughest road test. Iowa hasn't won in Crisler Arena since March 5, 2016. Who knows where Iowa will be at this point, but, as any road game in the Big Ten, this will be an excellent resume-building opportunity for the Hawkeyes. Last year, Iowa lost by 22 in Ann Arbor.

March 6 — Iowa @ No. 10 Illinois

Again, these two teams don't like each other. And given how close the Big Ten standings have been over the past few seasons, there's a chance this final conference game could impact seeding for the incoming Big Ten Tournament. Who doesn't love chaos?

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Adam Hensley is a digital producer with the USA Today Network. You can follow him on Twitter @A_Hens83 or reach him at ahensley@gannett.com.