We can’t say confidently what’s in store for Iowa’s 2016-17 basketball season. Four starters are gone, and 10 of the 13 scholarship players are freshmen and sophomores.
But with Thursday’s revelation of the 13-game nonconference schedule, we can at least start forming opinions about the road ahead for these inexperienced Hawkeyes.
The Big Ten Conference last week announced each member team’s opponents (without dates). That means we can now we can assess 30 of the 31 foes Iowa will face.
The base goal will be to get to a fourth straight NCAA Tournament, something that hasn’t happened at Iowa since the 1980s.
Is it possible? With this schedule, sure.
Some RPI-building tests
The nonconference toughies we knew before Thursday — Seton Hall in the Gavitt Games, Virginia (then maybe Providence) in the Emerald Coast Classic, Notre Dame in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Iowa State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Combine those matchups with the Big Ten lineup of opponents, and Iowa has 10 regular-season games against teams that finished last season with an RPI of 25 or better.
So save the eye-rolling at round-out-the-schedule opponents such as Savannah State (286 RPI out of 351 teams last year), Texas-Rio Grande Valley (335), Stetson (300) and Delaware State (345). The overall strength of schedule will provide a solid enough base to construct an NCAA-qualifying resume.
Iowa’s previous two teams were road warriors, conquering venues such as the Dean Smith Center, Assembly Hall, Mackey Arena and the Breslin Center. Expecting a series of signature road wins from this Iowa team probably isn’t as realistic, at least not until we see more.
Given the inexperience and unknowns, 6-7 would be an optimistic prediction for the 13 games scheduled outside of Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Let’s (for now) grade Iowa’s win chances at below 35 percent against Virginia (neutral), Notre Dame, Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin.
Let’s call four others maybes, in the 35- to 60-percent probability range: Providence/Memphis (neutral), Northern Iowa (neutral), Illinois (tough environment) and Northwestern (always tricky).
Iowa’s best shots at road triumphs will arrive during Big Ten play at Rutgers, Minnesota and Nebraska (which this week learned its best player, Andrew White, would transfer). By the time those games come around, the Hawkeyes won’t be quite as young, either, and chemistry will have had a chance to develop.
Home is where it’s at
Let’s hedge toward optimism but not go too crazy and give Iowa a 5-8 record away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. That seems fair. It also means something like 15-3 at home, plus maybe a win at the Big Ten tournament, will be required to make a strong NCAA case at 21-12.
With that kind of record, the RPI should be there for Iowa — even if the Big Ten is slightly down from a year ago, as is expected.
There are probably 11 home games in which the Hawkeyes will be moderate or heavy favorites: Kennesaw State, Savannah State, Texas-Rio Grande Valley, Nebraska-Omaha, Stetson, North Dakota, Delaware State, Illinois, Nebraska, Rutgers and Penn State.
To get to 15-3 at home, that’ll mean going mistake-free in the aforementioned 11 and swiping another four out of these seven: Seton Hall, Iowa State, Purdue, Maryland, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State.
Home-court energy can carry a young team. Iowa will need every bit of it on the journey ahead.
Chronologically speaking, the schedule plays out nicely for what this Iowa team will face.
The opening two games (Kennesaw State, Savannah State) are extremely winnable.
They’ll theoretically allow Peter Jok to assert himself as a team leader without having to play 36 minutes a game (which is the plan once the tough games come around). They’ll allow the point-guard minutes to sort themselves out between Christian Williams and Jordan Bohannon. They’ll allow youngsters such as Isaiah Moss and Tyler Cook to get acclimated to the D-I game. And they’ll also give forward Dale Jones a little more cushion for knee-surgery recovery.
Then comes the rugged stretch that’ll reveal this team's strengths and deficiencies — from Nov. 17 against Seton Hall to Dec. 17 against Northern Iowa in the Big Four Classic in Des Moines — before a few more pre-Christmas games against Jeff Horner-coached North Dakota and Delaware State to establish some pre-Big Ten footing.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.
IOWA BASKETBALL’S 2016-17 NONCONFERENCE SCHEDULE
(Each possible regular-season opponent includes final 2015-16 NCAA RPI and KenPom.com ratings; Iowa’s were 26, 23.)
Nov. 4 (exhibition) — vs. Regis University (Division II)
Nov. 11 — vs. Kennesaw State (259 RPI, 249 KenPom)
Nov. 13 — vs. Savannah State (286, 325), Emerald Coast Classic
Nov. 17 — vs. Seton Hall (23, 22), Gavitt Games
Nov. 20 — vs. Texas-Rio Grande Valley (335, 347), Emerald Coast Classic
Nov. 25 — vs. Virginia (3, 3), Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Fla.
Nov. 26 — vs. Memphis (140, 72) or Providence (32, 44), Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Fla.
Nov. 29 — at Notre Dame (24, 35), Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Dec. 3 — vs. Nebraska-Omaha (149, 148)
Dec. 5 — vs. Stetson (300, 263)
Dec. 8 — vs. Iowa State (20, 16)
Dec. 17 — vs. Northern Iowa (66, 66), Big Four Classic in Des Moines
Dec. 20 — vs. North Dakota (221, 192)
Dec. 22 — vs. Delaware State (345, 348)
BIG TEN OPPONENTS (DATES TBA)
Home games — Illinois (151, 132), Maryland (13, 25), Nebraska (164, 98), Purdue (17, 14), Rutgers (293, 291), Indiana (19, 15), Michigan (58, 58), Ohio State (78, 80), Penn State (121, 146).
Road games — Illinois (151, 132), Maryland (13, 25), Nebraska (164, 98), Purdue (17, 14), Rutgers (293, 291), Michigan State (12, 5), Minnesota (264, 223), Northwestern (117, 78), Wisconsin (36, 33).