College basketball: Big Ten releases unprecedented conference schedule full of quirks
What’s that tagline for Madison Square Garden — the World’s Most Famous Arena?
It’d better be, for what the Big Ten is going through, so its league tournament can show up in New York in March. Conference games on Dec. 1? League play every night of the week? Some teams facing three consecutive road games? Everything having to be done by Feb. 25? Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Since the Garden is booked the normal league tournament weekend — the Big East wasn’t exactly going to step aside and say, “Sure, here are the keys to the building, enjoy” – the Big Ten must move its little party a week earlier. Between that, and adding Fox to its four-network stable, and some facility issues such as Northwestern without its home arena this season, the conference had to make some, uh, scheduling accommodations.
The slate was released last Thursday. And there's never been one quite like it. Quirks galore, some caused by 2017-18 one-time eccentricities. Some not. Here are a few...
Every team has to hurry to get ready for two conference games between Dec. 1 and 5. Michigan and Ohio State, for example, will be meeting in basketball only nine days after they play in football. The Buckeyes will have faced two of the league’s sturdiest contenders – Wisconsin and Michigan – by Dec. 4. Welcome to the Big Ten, Chris Holtmann.
The rest of the conference schedule must be shoe-horned in between Jan. 2 and Feb. 25. Fifty-five days. Only four of those 55 don’t have a Big Ten game. There are even two on Super Bowl Sunday – but none the night of the FBS national championship game. From Jan. 9-Feb. 1, the coming winter will go 24 days in a row with a Big Ten basketball game.
Indiana and Purdue, ancient in-state rivals, meet only once. With the Boilermakers in the World University Games, that means they will play Romania as often as they are scheduled to play the Hoosiers. Michigan and Michigan State see each other but once, too. Illinois and Northwestern hook up on Dec. 1, six days after their football game. They don’t play again.
Michigan’s last home game of the season is Feb. 18. The Wolverines have a stretch starting in late January when they play Purdue, Northwestern, Minnesota, Northwestern again and Wisconsin in 18 days. All will be among the top-picked teams in the conference.
In 10 days, Northwestern has to travel to Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Four times, Indiana has a two-game set with only one day in between. In the last three, the second game will be on the road. Not easy.
Because of Minneapolis hosting the Super Bowl, Minnesota isn’t at home for 13 days in late January and early February. In 23 February days, the Gophers must go to Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Purdue.
In January, Ohio State faces three Big Ten away games in seven days – Rutgers, Northwestern and Minnesota.
Six of Wisconsin’s first nine conference games are on the road. The Badgers close the season with four of their last five games at home, but it’s a Big Ten gauntlet – Michigan, Purdue, Minnesota and Michigan State. With a trip to Northwestern somewhere in there, too.
Rutgers has its Hoosier state weekend in early February, hosting Purdue and Indiana in 48 hours.
Michigan State and Purdue will likely be the top two ranked teams in the Big Ten. Illinois gets them both within three days in late February.
With the league tournament starting Feb. 28, it’s entirely possible some Big Ten teams will have more than a two-week layoff between their games in New York and the first round of the NCAA tournament. If the glass it half full, they’ll be rested. If half empty, they might be stale.
Should be quite the to-do, when the Big Ten tournament meets Madison Square Garden, Times Square and Broadway. Presumably, all this is worth it.