Luka Garza Northwestern

Iowa Hawkeyes center Luka Garza (55) goes to the hoop against Northwestern Wildcats forward Pete Nance (22) Tuesday, December 29, 2020 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)

IOWA CITY, Ia. - Iowa men’s basketball Coach Fran McCaffery doesn’t like to look ahead. The next game is always the most important one. The only one. Flush the previous game, and don’t sneak a peak at what lies ahead.

It’s probably good that McCaffery doesn’t look too far down the road, or break down the remaining schedules of the top contenders for the Big Ten regular-season title.

Granted, that list of top contenders is a long one. Nearly everyone is included.

The Hawkeyes are No. 5 in the Associated Press poll and seventh in the NCAA’s NET rankings heading into Thursday’s 6 p.m. game at Maryland.

Eleven Big Ten teams are in the Top 50 of those NET rankings, released Monday for the first time this season. A 12th team, Indiana, is 51st. Michigan State, one of the two teams below 100 (119th), is tied for 23rd in this week’s AP poll.

Iowa and Michigan State are two of seven league teams in that AP Top 25. Wisconsin is 8th, Michigan 10th, Illinois 12th, Rutgers 15th and Minnesota 16th. Northwestern and Ohio State were ranked as recently as last week, and Indiana is receiving votes.

With the possible exception of Nebraska, 186th in the NET rankings, there are no breathers out there. Maryland is 1-4 in league play. But that win came at Wisconsin.

Even though McCaffery doesn’t like to look ahead, we have. And the Maize and Blue of Michigan, currently on top of the standings at 4-0 heading into play this week, has the most advantageous schedule the rest of the way.

Six of Michigan’s nine remaining games against teams currently in the AP Top 25 are at home. Michigan only plays Iowa, Illinois and Rutgers once, and all three of those games are in Ann Arbor (Illinois Feb. 11, Rutgers Feb. 18, Iowa March 4).

Michigan’s one-plays on the road are last-place Nebraska (an 80-69 victory), Purdue and Ohio State.

Illinois (4-1) has six games remaining against AP Top 25 foes, and four of them are on the road: Michigan State, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Its one-plays are against Purdue, Maryland and Iowa at home and Rutgers, Michigan State and Michigan on the road.

Iowa (3-1) has eight games remaining against AP Top 25 teams, four at home (Minnesota, Michigan State, Rutgers and Wisconsin) and four on the road (Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Michigan). The Hawkeyes have won eight straight games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Top 25 foes, the longest streak in the AP poll era (1948-49).

Iowa plays the only winless teams in Big Ten play just once, hosting both Penn State and Nebraska. And they don’t get Illinois or Michigan at home, only on the road. Their other one-play at home was Purdue (a 70-55 win). Their other one-play road foe is Maryland on Thursday.

Wisconsin (3-1) has seven games against AP Top 25 foes left to play. That includes its last three regular-season home games against Michigan, Iowa and Illinois as well as road games at Michigan, Rutgers and Illinois.

The Badgers’ one-plays are Minnesota (a 71-59 victory), Indiana and Ohio State at home and Michigan State (a 85-76 victory), Rutgers and Purdue on the road.

Rutgers (3-2) has seven AP Top 25 games left, starting Tuesday at Michigan State. The Scarlet Knights also have Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota on the road and Wisconsin, Michigan State and the Gophers at home.

Rutgers’ one-plays are Illinois (a 91-88 victory), Purdue (a 81-76 victory) and Wisconsin at home and Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska on the road.

After Michigan, Minnesota (3-2) has the second-friendliest schedule left. Just six games are left against the AP Top 25 - Michigan, Illinois and Rutgers at home and Michigan, Iowa and Rutgers on the road.

The Gophers’ one-plays are Michigan State (a 81-56 victory), Ohio State (a 77-60 victory) and Northwestern at home and Wisconsin, Indiana and Penn State on the road.

Michigan State lost its first three league games before winning at Nebraska last week, 84-77. But it’s too early to flush the perennially-contending Spartans from the mix.

Four of Michigan State’s seven remaining games against the AP Top 25 are at home, starting with Rutgers Tuesday. The Spartans also have Illinois, Iowa and Michigan at home and still play at Iowa, Rutgers and Michigan.

Michigan State’s one-plays are Wisconsin (a 85-76 loss), Illinois and Penn State at home and Northwestern (a 79-65 loss), Minnesota (a 81-56 loss) and Maryland on the road.