23-24 Hoops Schedule
Let's cleanse the palate with a little basketball talk. The schedule was (finally) released yesterday, and even though we already knew the Big Ten home and away opponents, now we know the order of the games. An order that ends with at Wisconsin, home for Purdue, at Iowa.
The first place I always start is the preseason T-Rank (from Bart Torvik) for each opponent. So let me come up with a clever sub-head and then we'll start talking about it.
The Preseason T-Rank For Each Opponent
First off, we are currently #28 in the T-Rank projections for 2023-24. We have the exact same preseason score as UCLA (.8713), and yesterday when I checked, UCLA was 28 and we were 29. But today, we're 28. Go team.
Here's the full schedule. Two equally-difficult exhibition games against Ottawa University (NAIA) and Kansas (uh, not NAIA), and then...
Eastern Illinois (#304)
Western Illinois (#341)
at Rutgers (#57)
Florida Atlantic in NYC (#21)
at Tennessee (#6)
Missouri in STL (#61)
Fairleigh Dickinson (#301)
at Purdue (#1)
Michigan State (#8)
at Michigan (#63)
at Northwestern (#35)
at Ohio State (#40)
at Michigan State (#8)
at Maryland (#38)
at Penn State (#150)
at Wisconsin (#31)
at Iowa (#45)
Perfectly normal, right? Michigan preseason #63, Florida Atlantic preseason #21. Lose to Penn State three times last season, but they lose everyone and they're #150 preseason. Soundly beat Wisconsin twice, sending them to the NIT, but they return a lot and they're preseason #31.
My gut reaction looking through those numbers: we still have a lot to learn about who is good/who is bad in the Big Ten this season. Maybe more than most seasons.
Degree Of Difficulty
If we do that thing I've done before where we divide that ranking by 1.5 for road games and multiply by 1.5 for home opponents while leaving neutral games the same (poor math but close enough), using those T-Rank projections once again, here's our toughest 10 games:
at Purdue (0.67)
at Tennessee (4)
at Michigan State (5.33)
Michigan State (12)
at Wisconsin (20.66)
Florida Atlantic in NYC (21)
at Northwestern (23.33)
at Maryland (25.33)
If you balk at the home/road thing and your immediate reaction is "how can you say that home for Marquette is easier than at Maryland or at Northwestern?", might I remind you that in our final 13 games last season, we were 6-0 at the State Farm Center and 0-7 when not at the State Farm Center (0-5 on the road, 0-2 neutral). Given our recent experiences at Northwestern and Maryland, my brain (or maybe my heart) wants to say that those games are twice as difficult as playing a ranked Marquette team in Champaign.
My other reaction when looking at that long list above is that the home Big Ten schedule, if Torvik has this right, will be Purdue and Michigan State and then everyone else. Here's the T-Rank for each home opponent:
Michigan State (8)
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Again, these are just preseason projections. I'm sure there will be some separation between all those teams in the middle there -- Maryland and Indiana move up, Northwestern and Nebraska move down (or whatever) -- but from this September view as the #28 team in those rankings, we should win the eight home games at the bottom of that list. And then Purdue and MSU are everything.
Our final road win last season was in January. So obviously the focus is on road games this year. And that always makes me look close at the dates for the games. The first thing that jumps out: a few road trips where we might not come back to Champaign?
Saturday, December 2nd we play at Rutgers. Then on Tuesday, December 5th we play 38 miles away in Madison Square Garden. Would we fly home Saturday night and then fly back to NYC on Monday? I doubt it.
And then that makes me look at the Tennessee game. For me, I know my road trip will be to go to Piscataway, then stay in New Jersey until Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, slowly make my way to Knoxville for the Tennessee game that Saturday. I'll be gone from December 1st to December 10th. Will the team do the same?
I doubt they'll be gone that long (especially the week before finals). But I do think they'll stay out there after the Rutgers game and not fly back until after the FAU game. Then it's two days in Champaign before flying to Knoxville. At Rutgers (always a tough place to play), then play a team that was in the Final Four last year in NYC, then play (what will likely be) a top-10 team on the road in Knoxville. Brutal 8-day stretch.
But that won't be the only east coast road trip I'll be taking. On Saturday, February 17th we play at Maryland and then on Wednesday, February 21st we play at Penn State. I don't think I'm going to drive (or fly, or choo-choo) to DC, then back to Champaign, then to State College, and then back again. The team might, but I won't.
Still, will they? Fly back to Champaign Sunday and then fly to State College on Tuesday? I guess they might. Heck, with the private flights, they'll probably fly back to Champaign Saturday night. I really need to stand near the runway at Willard one of these days and stick my thumb out.
Enough about me. We have a season with two difficult road trips out east. The other road trips are whatever, but those two, especially December, are noteworthy.
Gently Down The Stream
So far, only three games have something listed in the "TV" column: the Kansas exhibition will be on BTN, the Marquette game will be on FS1, and the Jimmy V Classic game in NYC will be on ESPN (likely our only appearance on ESPN this season). My assumption (and this is just my assumption) is that the conference as a whole isn't quite ready to drop the whole "you're gonna have to subscribe to B1G+ and Peacock" thing on everyone.
I've been talking about the Peacock thing ever since the media deal was announced in August of 2022:
Probably the part that Illini fans will care about the most:— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) August 18, 2022
Starting in 2024, 47 Big Ten basketball games (32 conference, 15 non-conference) will be on Peacock. https://t.co/jLgp94VNvY
But here we are, one month to the day before our first exhibition game, and we still don't know which games will be streaming-only. I'm guessing that announcement (from the conference) won't be very loud. Fans have just now gotten used to some non-conference basketball games being B1G+ streaming-only and now 47 basketball games (that's three or four per team) will only be available on Peacock.
Wait, is it really three or four per team? I think my math is bad. There will be 15 non-conference games and 32 conference games on Peacock. I simply divided 47 by 14 and got 3.35 so I said "three or four per team". But each one of those 32 conference games will have two Big Ten teams, not one. So the math should be 64 + 15 = 79. And then 79 / 14 = 5.64. So that's five or six games for each team that will be streaming-only on Peacock.
Look, I understand that this is the brave new world. The reason NBC paid so much money for Big Ten football and basketball was, partly, to drive Peacock subscribers. You might not subscribe now but when, say, Illinois-Iowa is on Peacock, you're gonna plunk down the money. They know you're gonna plunk down the money. That's why they made this deal.
I'm just saying that the full reality of "if I don't have Peacock then I won't be able to watch six basketball games?" (and the Purdue football game) has set in yet with Illini fans. If we hit double-digits this year (four games only on B1G+ and six games only on Peacock), I think we'll hear a bit of an outcry. Not saying it wasn't the right move for the conference, just... an outcry.
I did some quick Googling (and trusted the first result in every case so maybe some of this is faulty) but here's the streaming subscription numbers I found:
Netflix - 240 million subscribers
Max (HBO Max & Discovery+) - 96 million
Hulu - 80 million
Prime Video - 75 million
Paramount+ - 61 million
Disney+ - 46 million
Apple TV+ - 25 million
Peacock - 24 million
So yeah, there are going to be a lot of fans saying "wait, I don't think I have Peacock" for the Purdue football game in 10 days. And then, this winter, possibly even an outcry.
I mean, there's a sports bar in, like, Winnebago that is going to have a few Illini fans show up on September 30th and they're going to say "can you put the Illini game on?" and the bartender is going to flip around and not be able to find the game. And then someone will Google it and ask the bartender if they have Peacock, and the bartender won't know, so the bartender will text the owner and the owner will simply respond "what's Peacock?" and those fans won't be able to watch the game. There's going to be a steep learning curve here.
Eventually, sure, linear cable dies and every sports bar learns that they need to be subscribed to all of the above in order to give people the game. RIP to the cable model, 1980 to around 2025. But for now, there's gonna be a whole lot of "what do you mean you can't put Illinois-Purdue football on one of the TV's?"
And, this winter, maybe even Illinois-Indiana basketball.