One thing immediately stood out when the Big Ten revealed the home-and-homes and single-plays for the 2021-22 men’s basketball season.
Iowa gets Illinois twice in the regular season next year.
One of the conference’s grittier rivalries gets a double matchup next season, part of what looks like a somewhat favorable conference schedule for the Hawkeyes.
The Hawkeyes played the Illini just once in the regular season in 2020-21, losing 80-75 in Champaign on Jan. 29. The two teams met again in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, with Illinois taking an 82-71 win.
There was disappointment when last year’s schedule came out and the two teams were slated to play only once. Both were top-five preseason teams, and after the chippiness of the two games between the teams in the 2019-20 season, the highly-anticipated faceoff between the two teams didn’t disappoint.
They matched that in the conference tournament.
Some thoughts on the schedule:
The home-and-homes — Besides the Illini (24-7 overall, 16-4 Big Ten in 2020-21), the Hawkeyes get home-and-away games with Maryland (17-14, 9-11), Michigan (23-5, 14-3), Minnesota (14-15, 6-14), Nebraska (7-20, 3-16), Penn State (11-14, 7-12) and Purdue (18-10, 13-6).
Iowa went 5-4 against those teams last season. The Hawkeyes lost twice to Illinois and once to Michigan and Minnesota, while defeating Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State and Purdue.
Getting four games against Nebraska and Penn State is important, because both teams figure to be at the bottom of the conference standings as well. Minnesota, too, will be rebuilding.
Home only — The Hawkeyes get Indiana (12-15, 7-12), Michigan State (15-13, 9-11) and Northwestern (9-15, 6-13) as single-play home games.
The Hoosiers were the biggest thorn to Iowa in conference play, sweeping the season series with an 81-69 win in Iowa City and a 67-65 win in Bloomington.
Iowa swept the Spartans, winning 84-78 in Iowa City before handing out an 88-58 defeat in East Lansing on Feb. 13. The Hawkeyes also swept Northwestern.
Not having to go to Assembly Hall or the Breslin Center makes for a somewhat easier road schedule for the Hawkeyes.
Road only — Iowa plays at Ohio State (21-10, 12-8), Rutgers (16-12, 10-10) and Wisconsin (18-13, 10-10).
The Hawkeyes split with Ohio State, with each team winning on the other’s court. The 89-85 loss to the Buckeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena came in a stretch in which the Hawkeyes lost four of five games, while Iowa’s 73-57 win at Ohio State was an impressive bounce-back after a 22-point loss at Michigan three days earlier.
Iowa swept Rutgers — the 77-75 road win on January 2 set an early tone in conference play, while a 79-66 home win broke the Hawkeyes out of that late January-early February funk.
The Hawkeyes won three games from Wisconsin, sweeping the regular-season series before defeating the Badgers in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. Playing at Madison means Jordan Bohannon will get another chance to play in the Kohl Center, where he has had some of the bigger games of his career.
The breakdown — It’s a solid schedule for the Hawkeyes, who avoid a couple of road traps in conference play while getting quality home opponents. They’ll still have to go to Michigan and Purdue, places where they have struggled over the years. Maryland can also be a difficult place, especially with a full house since fans are expected to return this season. A road trip to Ohio State can always be problematic as well.
But there’s two games with the Illini, which just adds to the spice.