For the next few weeks, we'll be scrutinizing over the schedules announced by the various Summit League schools. Generally, they'll appear in alphabetical order with an array of thoughts on the teams and their opponents. The general idea behind this comes from a similar feature on RushTheCourt.net, where writer Zach Hayes kindly encouraged us to adopt some pieces of the format for use here, though you'll find plenty of Summit League flair in the words below.
Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW)
General Theme: Coach Dane Fife and the rest of the IPFW coaching staff put together an incredibly balanced schedule for the 2010-11 season. The non-conference portion is particularly righteous, with a solid mix of home and away games as well as high-majors and mid-majors. There's still the curious case of SIU-Edwardsville, a team with which the Mastodons will play a home-and-home within the same season for the second straight year. That said, the schedule is still rather spectacular if you ask us. Major props to IPFW for securing back-to-back home games against Toledo (a MAC school) and UT-Martin (of the Ohio Valley) in the fall semester.
Travel At A Glance: Travel will not be an issue for IPFW this season as most of its non-conference road games are within the Midwest. The lone outlier is a November trip to face the University of North Dakota. We're not sure why a team would willingly travel there when it's already mandated for the NDSU/SDSU trip, but perhaps Fife is just getting a leg up on the rest of the conference coaches for when UND inevitably joins up. The best part about the travel side of things comes in the first week of the season which will see the Dons make a short trip to Cincinnati for games against both of the city's teams, Xavier and Cincinnati. Seriously, this pairing is pure genius because both are solid programs which will have great RPIs by year's end and they're in the same city!
Easiest Game: Tennessee-Martin was terrrrible last season, just a year after triple-double threat Lester "Done Ruthless" Hudson left for the NBA (as an aside, Hudson will be sharing backcourt duties with John Wall this season - mid-majors represent!). If you've read anything about IPFW lately, you'll know the school is very proud of its winning record last season, a first for the program in the DI-era. If the Mastodons have indeed arrived like they want us to believe, they'll need to thoroughly dispatch the Seahawks when they come to Fort Wayne.
Toughest Game: On the road against Purdue in late December. IPFW gets the Boilermakers a month after the Golden Grizzlies and will have an even tougher time staying competitive with them. Purdue's three-headed monster of seniors will be looking to decimate their last remaining non-conference opponents in anticipation of the Big Ten schedule.
Most Likely Upset: I think IPFW has a legitimate shot to dispose of Toledo when they arrive at Memorial Coliseum. It may not seem like a typical upset, but if IPFW is able to consistently challenege MAC squads, then the program is going in the right direction. Aside from this game, I could see the Dons giving Cincinnati a run for its money in their early-season match-up.
Most Challenging Non-Conference Stretch: As we keep saying, this schedule is extremely balanced. It's difficult to pinpoint a stretch of games in the non-conference portion as particularly tough because of said balance. With that said, the duo of games in Cincinnati will be tough as Xavier returns the core of its Sweet Sixteen team and the Cinci Bearcats have Yancy Gates patrolling the paint. Following that trip with a visit to North Dakota makes this stretch even more of a challenge.
Most Challenging Conference Stretch: In a true sign of the program's progress, IPFW beat South Dakota State last season in Fort Wayne and Sioux Falls and only lost by one point in Brookings. They also beat North Dakota State on the road and at home. Combined, the Mastodons went 4-1 against the Dakota States. Impressive, to say the least. Despite this success, the toughest stretch still has to be when they travel to the Dakotas in the dead of winter for games at NDSU and SDSU. Prior to that trip, IPFW will face Oakland at home, though the Grizzlies always bring a solid cheering crew along from Rochester which cancels out any home-court advantage.
Best Individual Match-Up: The Mastodons are expecting big things from big man Trey McCorkle this season. The solid 6'10" junior is poised for a breakout year after earning some significant minutes during Summit League play in 2009-10. His best game was against Oakland in Rochester on Senior Night where he dropped 25 points along with 6 rebounds on the Grizzlies. OU won the game (and Keith Benson had 32 points in addition to fouling out), but to this day McCorkle's numbers still jump out of the box score (and I don't remember much of that performance due mostly to the fact I was caught up with the emotions of watching JJ and D-Nel for the last time at the O'Rena). For this reason, we're going with McCorkle versus the tandem of Will Hudson and Keith Benson.
Most Anticipated Home Game: IPFW fans may disagree, but that game against Toledo is looking mighty attractive. In the grand scheme of college basketball, Toledo is considered a solid, middle-tier program. Look no further than the fact they hired away Tod Kowalczyk last spring from UW-Green Bay where he had finished second and third in the Horizon League the past two seasons, respectively. Many would look at that as a lateral coaching move, but Toledo plays in the MAC and the MAC has football, which ultimately means it has more resources at its disposal. The MAC may be down in basketball recently, but it's still great when a Summit League team, especially one in the Midwest, can get a school from the conference for a home game. And it's in the fall semester, so it's a major plus for IPFW students to be able to watch some college basketball before the holidays.
Concluding Thoughts: The Mastodons will have an experienced backcourt leading them in their quest for a second-straight winning season. However, they'll also need contributions from a few JuCo transfers and incoming freshmen to help replace some of the scoring and rebounding lost with the departures of Deilvez Yearby, Nick Daniels, and Antwone Snead. What's clear with this schedule is that Coach Dane Fife has given them the balance needed to establish themselves early on in preparation for the conference season.