Badgers men’s basketball: Coach Gard ponders impact of 20-game Big Ten schedule
NEW YORK — The road to a Big Ten basketball title will become even more of a grind after this season.
The conference announced Thursday that it will increase its schedule from 18 to 20 games starting with the 2018-19 season. The women’s basketball schedule will increase from 16 to 18 games in Big Ten play.
Nearly every men’s basketball coach was asked about the change at Big Ten Media Day at Madison Square Garden, and the general consensus was that two more conference games will give teams an RPI boost and could lead to an increase in NCAA tournament at-large bids.
“The 20-league schedule, I think, is a matter of just sort of what you have to do,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I think the analytics will tell you that playing 20 league games will provide a greater strength of schedule for all of us.
“Typically, the numbers tell you it gets one more team in per year, per conference. And we all want that.”
One of the criticisms of the current Big Ten schedule — teams play two games each against five opponents and one game against the remaining eight teams in the conference — is the lack of balance.
Adding two games won’t totally solve that issue, but Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said it’s a step in the right direction.
Izzo said he’s “been a big fan of the truest champion you could have, and I think that when you’re only playing 16 and an 18, sometimes the schedule determines some of the championships over the performance on the court.”
University of Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Greg Gard said he had mixed feelings about the change.
“I understand the logistics, the numbers behind it, what it potentially on paper could do for the RPI. I think it’s good for our league,” Gard said. “The question becomes what two games do you replace?”
Increasing the conference schedule by two games means the non-conference slate will go from 13 games to 11.
UW plays in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge every season and frequently will participate in the Gavitt Tipoff Games against a team from the Big East.
The Badgers also play in an exempt tournament each season. This year, they’re playing in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Missouri, along with Baylor, Creighton and UCLA.
UW will continue its series with in-state rival Marquette. But Gard said other home-and-home series, such as the one the Badgers are completing this season with a return game at Temple, likely will go by the wayside.
“Is there going to be room and flexibility for those types of contacts going forward?” Gard said. “And at what point in time does it become too much, in terms of the accumulation effect on your student-athletes because of travel and that level of game and that many of them?”
Big Ten teams will play two games in early December because the conference tournament is being played a week early so the event can be held at Madison Square Garden.
Early December games are likely to stay with the expansion to 20 games. The conference will play the remaining 18 games in January, February and March, with two bye dates once again included when the conference tournament returns to its normal date in 2018-19.
Another change to the schedule format that was welcomed by coaches was the increased frequency of games between rivals.
Three in-state rivals — Michigan/Michigan State, Indiana/Purdue and Illinois/Northwestern — will play two games against each other every year.
Meanwhile, regional rivals will play 10 games against one another in a six-year cycle. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany referred to four regional rivals in the west and four in the east, meaning the Badgers will play Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska twice nearly every season.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out,” Gard said. “I think when we go through it for two, three, four years, we’ll have a better vision of did it accomplish what the intent was without too many repercussions.”