Thursday evening the Big Ten Conference released its league schedule for the upcoming season, with two games on December 29 kicking off what should be a highly competitive race. Reigning regular season and tournament champion Wisconsin will be one of four teams playing on that first day, with Bo Ryan’s team welcoming Purdue to Madison.
The Boilermakers, who reached the NCAA tournament last season, have the tools needed to contend in the Big Ten race under head coach Matt Painter with seniors A.J. Hammons and Rapheal Davis leading the way. Also playing on that day are Michigan State and Iowa, two other teams that harbor ambitions of contending in the Big Ten.
There will be five games December 30, with early favorite Maryland hosting Penn State in one of those contests. Also of note on the 30th is Ohio State hosting Minnesota, with the Buckeyes having one of the top recruiting classes in the country, and a Michigan team expected to be much-improved visiting Illinois with the Fighting Illini needing to bounce back from a disappointing 2014-15 campaign that ended in the NIT.
It can be argued that Rutgers, which will in all likelihood be starting a freshman at the point (Corey Sanders) this season, has the toughest three-game stretch to open conference play. Eddie Jordan’s Scarlet Knights host Indiana December 30, with that matchup being followed by games at Wisconsin (January 2) and Maryland (January 6).
The Boilermakers could also have a claim, as their game at Wisconsin is followed by matchups with Iowa (January 2) and a Michigan (January 7) squad that’s healthy after being hit hard by injuries in 2014-15. The difference is that Purdue will get the Hawkeyes and Wolverines in West Lafayette.
Conference play will conclude March 6, with the Big Ten tournament scheduled to begin three days later in Indianapolis.