Men’s Basketball: Assessing Northwestern’s 2015-2016 Big Ten Schedule

Jesse Kramer, Reporter

Men’s Basketball

The Big Ten announced conference opponents for the 2015-16 season Monday, and Northwestern may finally have something to cheer for.

The Wildcats’ slate of Big Ten foes goes as follows:

Home only: Illinois, Michigan State, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Away only: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Purdue
Home and away: Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State

With 13 other teams in the Big Ten and an 18-game schedule, the conference lineup is naturally unbalanced. NU has been unfortunate recently, receiving short straws the last three seasons.

Last season, the Wildcats had the toughest Big Ten schedule, according to Two years ago they had the second most difficult.

This season, NU’s schedule ranks second-toughest with five games remaining.

But at first glance, the Cats’ 2015-16 Big Ten slate looks more favorable. Of course, rosters around the conference can still change plenty among early departures for the NBA, transfers and spring recruiting signings.

Of the five teams NU plays twice, only two — Maryland and Ohio State — are currently in the top half of the Big Ten. Both programs should remain strong next season.

The other three — Minnesota, Nebraska and Penn State — will all be winnable games for the Cats.

Minnesota will graduate three starters after this season. Penn State will graduate leading scorer D.J. Newbill and leading rebounder Ross Travis.

Nebraska is more of a wildcard with four starters returning.

NU gets a favorable list of home-only opponents, needing to face perennial conference title contenders Wisconsin and Michigan State just one time.

The Cats also get a struggling Rutgers program and an Illinois bubble team that loses three starters visiting Welsh-Ryan Arena just once.

However, the Cats’ road-only opponents present some difficulties.

Indiana is 8-5 in the Big Ten this season with no seniors on its roster.

Michigan caught the injury bug this season, but the Wolverines were 4-2 in the Big Ten before losing star guard Caris LeVert for the season. If LeVert, a NBA prospect, returns to school for his senior year, Michigan could be one of the top teams in next year’s Big Ten.

Purdue is another young team with only one senior who has had success this season with a 9-4 conference mark.

Iowa should be NU’s easiest road-only opponent. The Hawkeyes are just 6-6 in the Big Ten, and they will lose leading scorer and rebounder Aaron White as well as key reserves Gabriel Olaseni and Josh Oglesby after this season.

All in all, next year’s 18-game conference slate appears easier than what the Cats have become used to seeing.

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