Mike Woodson delivers on promise to beef up IU's schedule. It'll be hard, and fascinating.

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BLOOMINGTON – From his earliest days as IU head coach, Mike Woodson made two scheduling promises.

First, he would not push his team too early, as Woodson grounded his methods and philosophies into his program. The calendar reflected that, the Hoosiers finishing last season with a featherweight nonconference strength of schedule.

But there was also that second promise — that once he felt confident those roots had sunk deep, Woodson was going to get IU onto the biggest stages he could find.

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“If we can get back to playing the Kentuckys and Kansases before we get to the Big Ten,” Woodson said last year, “then I’m open to that.”

As the Hoosiers’ 2022-23 schedule takes shape, Woodson is sticking to his word.

Indiana Hoosiers head coach Mike Woodson talks to Indiana Hoosiers guard Xavier Johnson (0) during the game against Louisiana-Lafayette at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.
Indiana Hoosiers head coach Mike Woodson talks to Indiana Hoosiers guard Xavier Johnson (0) during the game against Louisiana-Lafayette at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.

Already, IU is committed to a home-and-home series with defending national champion Kansas across the next two seasons. The Hoosiers will go to Lawrence on Dec. 17, with Kansas making the return trip in 2023.

Now, IU is in the process of adding Arizona — last season’s outright Pac-12 champion — to its schedule as well. While IndyStar understands details are not yet finalized, the plan is to play the Wildcats on Dec. 10 in Las Vegas, a move first reported by CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

Based on the established rotation of the event, the Hoosiers should host an ACC team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge this season, after traveling to Syracuse last winter. Provided no one is asked to play road games in consecutive years, Wake Forest, Virginia and, perhaps most notably, North Carolina, would be among IU's most prominent potential opponents.

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And, while pairings have yet to be announced, based on comments made early in the series’ seven-year run by then-IU coach Tom Crean, the Hoosiers appear likely to be included in the Gavitt Games again this season.

Started in 2015 as a Big Ten/Big East partnership meant to put quality matchups on TV early in the calendar, the Gavitt Games will enter the last of those seven years this winter. Early in its existence, Crean said publicly IU had committed to appear five times in those first seven years. The Hoosiers played in the Gavitt Games four times in the past six seasons, so unless something has changed, they should again this winter.

Given they’ve hosted three of those four times — Creighton in 2015, Marquette in 2018 and St. John’s last season — it stands to reason the Hoosiers can expect to go on the road if they’re on the schedule for 2022-23. They’ve already traveled to Seton Hall (in 2017) as well, narrowing the list of possible opponents. IU has yet to play Big East stalwarts Villanova, Georgetown or Providence in the event, and the Hoosiers haven’t played Butler either.

That last matchup was presumably ruled out in the past by the existence of the Crossroads Classic, and thus the guarantee IU and Butler would meet at least once every two years. But with the Classic disbanded (IU’s home-and-home with Kansas now fills that hole in the schedule), Gavitt Games organizers would appear free to pair the Hoosiers and Bulldogs.

However Woodson and his staff fill out the rest of their 11-game nonconference schedule, their work thus far sends two important messages.

Indiana University men's basketball head coach Mike Woodson watches his team run drills during Hoosier Hysteria at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Saturday, October 2, 2021.
Indiana University men's basketball head coach Mike Woodson watches his team run drills during Hoosier Hysteria at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Saturday, October 2, 2021.

First, the coming nonconference strength of schedule should be stronger than the one preceding it. Landing in the 300s nationally, per KenPom, last season wrapped an ankle weight around the Hoosiers’ NCAA tournament resume, one wins at home against St. John’s and on a neutral floor against Notre Dame could not ease. When IU only made the NCAA tournament as one of the last four teams in, it felt in part like an acknowledgment from the selection committee about the extent to which the Hoosiers had not challenged themselves before Big Ten play.

Potential Big East or ACC pairings will probably be announced next month, once the dust has settled on the pre-NBA draft process and rosters are set. If Trayce Jackson-Davis elects to return to school for his senior year, IU should expect top billing and tough opponents in both series.

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All that would be required for IU to face a nonconference schedule this season that included three Final Four participants and three reigning conference champions would be a trip to Villanova in the Gavitt Games and a visit from UNC in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Both matchups are entirely plausible. Adding even one would make this IU's toughest November-December slate in recent memory. The Hoosiers would need some wins to make it worthwhile, of course, but the overall strength of the schedule would stand IU in good stead in March.

There’s another advantage to games like these.

It stands to reason IU’s games against Kansas and Arizona (provided it is finalized) will receive top billing on two of the most important television dates of college basketball’s nonconference season. The second and third Saturdays in December — after college football’s regular season but before Christmas — are annually coveted for marquee college basketball games. Few will carry more appeal than Indiana’s meetings with the Jayhawks and Wildcats.

Couple that to a possible primetime visit from a top-level ACC opponent, and IU can boast about appearing in some of college basketball’s biggest nonconference games, both to current players and, crucially, recruits. When you play in a conference whose reputation with NBA front offices can fluctuate, adding key nonconference dates holds great appeal for top prospects looking for showcase opportunities in their 1-2 years in college.

Whatever his motivations, Woodson has made good on his promise. Provided the Hoosiers are back in the Gavitt Games as expected — and remembering they will still play two league games before the new year — this is crystallizing into the toughest pre-Christmas schedule IU has faced in recent years, as well as the most fascinating.

Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana basketball: Kansas, Arizona add strength to 2022 IU schedule