Big Ten releases its 2012-13 conference schedule

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Conference schedule announcements mean one thing: we’re getting closer to the beginning of the college basketball season.

The Big Ten released its conference schedule this morning, with action tipping off with a pair of games on New Year’s Eve.

One of those two games features Indiana, the prohibitive favorite to win the conference, who will open their campaign at Iowa. In the other contest on that day Michigan State visits Minnesota.

Four more teams begin league play on January 2, with Illinois visiting Purdue and Nebraska taking on Ohio State in Columbus.

The final four teams to open league play get going the following night, as Michigan takes on Northwestern in Evanston and Penn State visits Wisconsin.

Two likely challengers to Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State, will face each other twice: January 13 in Columbus and February 5 in Ann Arbor.

Of the teams expected by many to finish in the top half of the Big Ten standings Michigan State may have the toughest schedule, as the Spartans have home-and-home meetings with Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

“I feel like I say it every year, but the Big Ten keeps getting better and better. This season, I’m especially impressed with the strength at the top of the conference,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said in a statement released by the school.

“In recent years, the depth of the overall conference has been strong, and this year is no exception. But when you consider that as many as four teams have appeared in various Top 10 rankings and half the conference is ranked in the Top 25, it’s sure to make for an outstanding winter of Big Ten basketball.

“Add the fact that we’ll play all the ranked teams twice in conference play, and that more than two-thirds of all our games are against teams that played in the 2012 postseason, and it’s sure to be a season with a lot of tests, and very few chances to relax.”

Indiana gets Wisconsin just once (January 15 in Bloomington) while Michigan will have single meetings with both Minnesota (January 17 in Minneapolis) and Wisconsin (February 9 in Madison).

The Big Ten regular season ends with four games on March 10, most notably Indiana’s trip to Ann Arbor. Also on the final weekend of the regular season are Minnesota/Purdue (March 9) and Illinois/Ohio State (March 10).

The Big Ten tournament will be played March 14-17 at the United Center in Chicago.

Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan shared the regular season title with 13-5 conference records last season, and the Spartans beat the Buckeyes to claim the Big Ten tournament crown.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.