Every March, SOS becomes some the three most important letters on every college basketball fan's mind. Right up there with RPI, SOS or strength of schedule is one of those inescapable buzz phrases that analysts and stat geeks use to justify why you're in or why you're out.
In Iowa State's case, the strength of schedule has been bolstered by the relative strength of the Big 12 conference, but over the last two years, the non-conference slate has been less than challenging. Fred Hoiberg has compiled a 23-5 record in his first two seasons against non-conference foes, with only the occasional road game or neutral court tussle thrown in.
This year's non-conference schedule appears to be a little more challenging, but is still a far cry from the ambitious pursuits of fellow conference rivals like Kansas and Texas. Granted, those are name schools that are invited to the illustrious pre-conference tournaments, but as The Mayor continues to grow the program, he must continue to schedule more challenging non-conference matches.
ISU's first four games are warm ups. The Cyclones host Southern, Alabama A&M, Campbell (remember them iowa fans?) and North Carolina A&T. In one sense, using these first four games as tune ups may prove beneficial once the Cyclones start playing formidable opponents, but these are basically snoozers and ISU will have no trouble breezing through this quartet.
Starting with Cincinnati on Friday, November 23rd, things get much more difficult. The Cyclones will take on the Bearcats, coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, to open up the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas. ISU will then face either UNLV or Oregon the following night. ISU then returns home to host BYU on December 1st. This key stretch could go a long way to determining if ISU will make it back to the NCAA tournament. UNLV and BYU also played in the NCAA tournament last spring and Oregon made it to the quarterfinals of the NIT. These are chances at resume building wins.
The Cyclones last six non-conference opponents are a little up and down. There's a mid-week tilt against Florida Gulf Coast on Tuesday, December 4th leading up to an in-state showdown in Iowa City on Friday, December 7th. The hawks are improved and whether it's justified or not, they're talking Big Dance around Carver-hawkeye Arena.
Here's where the schedule gets odd. After what will likely be an emotional and physical grinder in Iowa City, ISU turns around to host Nebraska-Omaha only two days later on Sunday, December 9th. ISU should easily dispatch of UNO, but don't be surprised by a lackluster, hangover effort in that one.
Then it's off to the inaugural Hy-Vee Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, that will pit ISU against Drake. The Cyclones learned a hard lesson last year, losing at Drake in an ugly battle at the Knapp Center. Drake did lose their best player in Rayvonte Rice, but the Bulldogs are no pushovers.
Following the Drake game, the Cyclones make a bizarre trip to Kansas City to take on UMKC. The thought behind playing that game in Kansas City was to open up recruiting doors in the area, but also schedule a game near a large base of Cyclone alumni. KC has always been good to the Cyclones and this trip may also be a motivational ploy by Hoiberg and staff to get another road experience under their belt before opening up conference play at Kansas on January 9th.
The last non-conference game comes against Yale on January 1st. This might be another lackluster effort, but ISU should ultimately be able to put away the Ivy League nerds with relative ease.
1. *UNLV - Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas
2. Cincinnati - Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas
3. BYU - Ames
4. iowa - Iowa City
5. *Oregon - Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas
6. Drake - Hy-Vee Big Four Classic in Des Moines
Iowa State will play either UNLV or Oregon, so there's a chance that the Runnin' Rebels may not be on the schedule, but if they are, they're easily the best team ISU will see in non-conference play. We already mentioned that Cincinnati is coming off a Sweet 16 appearance and BYU also made the tournament last season.
1. Mike Moser - UNLV
2. Sean Kilpatrick - Cincinnati
3. Brandon Davies - BYU (yeah, the guy that got kicked off the team for banging that hot chick...Mormons)
4. Devyn Marble - iowa
5. E.J. Singler - Oregon
Moser passed on the opportunity to declare for last June's NBA draft. The 6'8" slasher will be one of the nation's best and he's joined by Anthony Marshall and super-freshman Anthony Bennett. The Cyclones could luck out though as Pitt transfer and former McDonald's All-American, Khem Birch will have to sit out until December. Kilpatrick led Cincinnati in scoring at 14.3 PPG last year and is joined in the back court by senior, Cashmere Wright, forming one of the better backcourts in the Big East. Davies came back from suspension to assemble an excellent junior year, pouring in 15 points and nearly 8 rebounds a game. Marble came on late for iowa last year and could be a breakout candidate in the Big 10. Singler is the younger brother of former Duke star, Kyle Singler, and just like his brother, he possesses a smooth stroke and plays bigger than his size.
I see a 12-1 record for Iowa State in non-conference play, with the loss ultimately coming in one of the tilts in Las Vegas. I considered adding an additional loss or two at the hands of either BYU or iowa, but with the Cyclones taking on BYU in Ames I just couldn't go with the Cougars. As for iowa, they are improved and Carver-hawkeye has rarely been good to ISU, but I think ISU matches up well defensively against iowa and I'll take a 5th-year senior point guard who's played in two Final Fours over some dorky-looking freshman any day of the week.