Like it or not, the Big Ten is going to look a lot different at this point next year. We’ve known for some time now that USC and UCLA planned to join the conference by 2024, but news broke this week that we’re also getting Oregon and Washington as part of the dissolution of the Pac 12.
The move appears to have been driven primarily by the prospect of better TV deals from football viewership without much consideration for the practical effects it will have on Big Ten athletics.
There are still too many moving pieces at this point to know exactly how it’ll play out - especially since the conference could very well continue expanding - but here’s a stab at predicting what the biggest changes facing Big Ten men’s basketball will be:
In the 2018-19 season, the Big Ten became the first major conference in which every team played a 20-game conference schedule. Proponents of this idea would say that it gives each team a more competitive resume when Selection Sunday rolls around, but it’s also resulted in an awkward slate of early December conference games before the entirety of the non-conference schedule is up.
Keeping a 20-game schedule in place with four teams on the west coast while the rest of the conference is split between the Eastern and Central time zones will likely be a logistical nightmare. Given the Big Ten’s history of scheduling, this does not inspire confidence.
Looking back to last year’s schedule, Indiana played three games against other teams within the same time zone that started at 9 P.M. or later. Often the tip would be pushed back about 15 minutes or so before being broadcast on some secondary channel while the game before it wrapped up.
I would expect the conference to try to mitigate some of this with more weekend games, but Indiana already played about half of its conference games on weekends last year, so there aren’t likely to be a ton of openings. At some point, we are destined to see something like a Rutgers at Washington game tip at 10:30 Eastern on a weeknight.
Needless to say, this is stupid. Those of us who have to cover it will complain about staying up late to watch and then write about it, but imagine what this will be like for the athletes who then have to catch a plane home and attend class the following day.
Maybe the fact that there are now four west coast teams could make it easier for the games that require cross-country travel to land on weekends, but it’s unlikely that we completely escape a few late nights and ridiculous trips every year.
Going by KenPom ranking alone, Oregon and Washington would have finished 10th and 13th in the conference, respectively. Oregon was the only of the two teams to have played anyone currently in the Big Ten, and it went 1-1 against the conference, beating Michigan State in November before losing to Wisconsin in the NIT.
As of now, Oregon looks to be the bigger get of the two most recently added teams. In his 13 seasons with the Ducks, Dana Altman has made the NCAA tournament seven times, reached the Final Four, and won the Pac 12 four times.
Though it’s slowed down a bit of late, Altman has also been an elite recruiter at Oregon, bringing in four top-15 classes and two top-5 classes nationally in his time with the Ducks. Since 2017, he’s sent seven players to the NBA, including guys like Payton Pritchard, Chris Duarte, and Dillon Brooks.
It probably helps to have literal Nike founder Phil Knight as an alum and booster.
Washington hasn’t enjoyed the same recruiting success under Mike Hopkins, but has become something of a transfer destination for seasoned players like Paul Mulcahy and Keion Brooks who needed a change of scenery.
Hopkins has been in charge of the Huskies since the 2017-18 season after a stint as an assistant coach under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. His best season so far was in 2018-19, when he took Washington to the NCAA tournament and won the Pac-12 regular season title.
Things have been a bit rough for Hopkins since, as Washington has only finished in the KenPom top 100 once since that season. He’s not yet had success with his own players and is unlikely to pose a threat to the existing Big Ten basketball hierarchy.
Neither Washington nor Oregon have much basketball history, with just three Final Four appearances between the two of them. More than half of Oregon’s Sweet Sixteen appearances have been in the Altman era, while Washington hasn’t been since 2010.
In the absence of a rich basketball tradition, my hope would have been that the conference added teams that could help change the conference’s playing style, which over-emphasizes slow, physical play and hasn’t produced a national champion in two decades.
According to the numbers, Oregon and Washington are not likely to be those teams. At least not on a regular basis.
Of the two, Washington is the faster team, appearing in the top 100 for Adjusted Tempo every year since 2019. The problem is that they haven’t been very successful at it; as mentioned above, 2019 was Hopkins’ best year at Washington. It was also his slowest, by far.
Oregon is a little more encouraging because they tend to take a lot of threes, usually getting about 30% of its offense from behind the arc during the Altman tenure. For reference, only four teams in the Big Ten got over 30% of its offense from deep last season.
Even some of Altman’s slowest teams, like his 2017 Final Four team (234th in Adjusted Tempo), would be dramatically faster than the modern Big Ten. In 2023, the Big Ten had five teams finish over 300th in adjusted tempo, a feat Altman has only accomplished twice in 12 seasons.
Hopefully this faster, more modern playing style will force the Purdues and Wisconsins of the world to bring the conference into the 21st Century and maybe produce a National Champion.
Otherwise, this could be a lot of jet lag for nothing.