Miller working to finalize non-conference schedule

Finalizing next season’s non-conference schedule has been one of the toughest tasks for new Indiana coach Archie Miller.

For Miller, who has vowed to toughen up IU’s pre-conference slate during his tenure, the process of putting together a schedule comes with a unique set of challenges this year.

One of which is the Big Ten’s move to play two conference games in early December, leaving an open week later in the season between the end of the league tournament and Selection Sunday.

Then there is the taxing string of games that conference quirk creates, with early December matchups at home against Duke and on the road at Louisville sandwiched around yet-to-be-announced Big Ten opponents.

With many schools having already unveiled their schedules for next season, Miller hopes to have his done within the next couple weeks.

Getting to that point, however, has proven difficult.

“It’s been a tough balance,” Miller said. “But I think when it’s done, it will be a tough non-conference schedule for us. Will it be glamorous? Probably not. I’m not sure we could have pulled glamorous off right now. But in future schedules years down the line, it will be easier to build around.”

Aside from the Louisville series, and pre-arranged matchups at Seton Hall in the Gavitt Tipoff Games, at home against Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and on a neutral floor against Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic, Miller inherited a blank slate.

Filling in the dates between those marquee matchups has been the challenge. That’s because Miller is trying to find the balance between getting enough games scheduled in Assembly Hall and not pushing his team too hard.

Beginning with the Duke game at Assembly Hall on Nov. 29, Indiana will play a tough three-week stretch of games that will continue with conference opponents during the first week of December, followed by a trip to Louisville on Dec. 9.

Then there are final exams and a date with the Fighting Irish in Indianapolis on Dec. 16 to work around, too.

“When you look at the early stretch, we’re really going to be taxed by a three- or four-week period,” Miller said. “Not only are we going to be jamming games (in right) away, but we’re not going to be home as well. So it’s going to be very, very taxing in terms of getting through November and early December.

“It will be as many games played at a high level for us in that period of time, maybe upwards of five, to six, seven games played against top 15 or top 25 teams. So we’re going to know where we are heading into December and then we’ve got to jam some more in.”

The Big Ten’s insistence on playing the conference tournament in New York City this season is perhaps the most complicating factor at play.

The Big East Conference remains locked into a longstanding contract to stage its league tournament at Madison Square Garden. To have its tournament inside the same venue this year, the Big Ten was forced to move up the start date by a week.

So instead of crowning a conference tournament champion on Selection Sunday, the Big Ten Tournament will end a week earlier, giving teams a week of idle time before the start of the NCAA Tournament in mid-March.

The late bye also gives teams options, including the flexibility of scheduling a late non-conference game or even an exhibition to keep players sharp.

Right now, it seems that Miller would prefer to get his team rest.

“There is so much risk as you’re heading into postseason play,” Miller said. “I think the Missouri Valley has done it here for a while, and the Wichita States of the world take that week off. They sharpen themselves up and improve and try to get as fresh and healthy as you can. I don’t think that’s all bad either.

“I think as we look at it for the first time here, that week in between or whatnot, we use it as a time to regroup, refresh, and hopefully get a little better at a time of the year when you don’t get much.”

The Big Ten Tournament schedule should return to normal when the event shifts back to Chicago (2019, 2021) and Indianapolis (2020, 2022) in the coming years. Of course, other scheduling complications could arise in that time, especially with the league considering a move to 20 conference games.

In the meantime, Miller is focused on this season and signing off on a schedule that works as well as possible.

“It’s taken some time for us to build it and with some of the things we need to have happen here in terms of games played in Assembly Hall and whatnot,” Miller said. “But we’re coming down the home stretch here. Feel like we can get some things buttoned up in the next couple weeks.”