When Penn State Basketball announced its non-conference schedule a few weeks ago, it was met with mixed reviews. Some think it's too easy, some think it's too hard, some think it's just right, and some just don't care.
However, when the Nittany Lions' conference schedule was released on Thursday, any shortcomings in the non-conference schedule had were more than made up for.
Penn State will face the league's three top teams in 2009-2010, Michigan St., Purdue and Ohio St., twice each. The kicker? Home matches with both the Spartans and Buckeyes will be played over Winter Break, decidely taking away from any home court advantage Penn State might have had in these tough games.
It also features one-plays against bottom feeders Indiana and Iowa for the second year in a row. Not that that matters too much, as both the Hoosiers and Hawkeyes beat Penn State last year, but it's never good to see teams presumably closer to your own level less than you could.
Nevertheless, at least at first glance, it looks like the conference slate is going to be more of an obstacle than most fans likely bargained for. Let's take a look.
- at Indiana, December 27-Winnable game against a 4-14 Hoosier squad in 2009-2010.
- at Michigan, January 2-With Lion killers DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris gone, this will be another chance for Penn State to grab a big road win early on.
- Purdue, January 5-No, the students won't be around for this one, but remember, Penn State upset Purdue in 2008-2009 in front of a near empty Jordan Center, as an ice storm kept many locals away.
- Michigan State, January 8-Still on break, students won't have a chance to see the Spartans this year, either.
- Illinois, January 11-The Lions wrap up a brutal three game home stand against matchup nightmare Mike Tisdale and the Illini, who beat Penn State twice in 2009-2010.
- at Ohio St., January 15-Don't take the departure of Evan Turner lightly. This is going to be a really tough road test for Penn State.
- at Purdue, January 19-Penn State has made a habit of getting shellacked in West Lafayette.
- Iowa, January 26-The Hawkeyes return to the Jordan Center for the first time since a big Talor Battle fueled comeback in 2009.
- Wisconsin, January 29-Bo Ryan owns Penn State. Period.
- at Illinois, February 1-Though the Lions fell short by a point at Assembly Hall last year, they've handled the pressure of one of the toughest road venues in the league well in recent years, including an ugly 38-33 win in 2009.
- Michigan, February 6-Michigan will likely be improved from the January matchup by the time this game rolls around. Hardly a gimme at home.
- at Michigan St., February 12-Penn State played well in Lansing toward the end of last season, and upset the Spartans there on Super Bowl Sunday in 2009. Make no mistake, it's going to be really hard to win this game, but Penn State's proven it can compete.
- Northwestern, February 13-Penn State will celebrate Valentine's Day by hosting it's favorite Big Ten opponent, Northwestern. The Lions hilariously crushed the 'cats' NCAA Tournament hopes in 2010 by beating them twice, so look for it to happen again.
- Minnesota, February 17-Penn State will be looking to avenge a buzzer bearing defeat in front of it's home crowd in this game last year.
- at Wisconsin, February 20-Bo Ryan REALLY owns Penn State in Madison. Period.
- at Northwestern, February 24-Hahahahaha
- Ohio St. March 1-If Penn State is in the post-season hunt at this late juncture, this will be a critical opportunity to impress some people.
- at Minnesota, March 6-Lions will end the league schedule in 2011 where they began it in 2010.
You can look at this schedule one of two ways. If you're a glass half empty person, you're probably convinced this schedule, with its lack of lower level opponents and bad luck in maximizing home court advantage, will derail any postseason hopes Penn State has. If you look at the glass half full, this schedule presents the Lions with plenty of opportunities to drive up that RPI and pick up some resume building wins. Either way, you wouldn't be wrong. Make no mistake, it's going to be a tough slate either way.
The beginning of the conference campaign will probably be very important. Two winnable road games followed by a murderous stretch at home will tell a lot about where this team is headed early on. If the Lions win three of those five games, that'd be a big accomplishment.
As usual, the fate of the season will likely depend upon how Penn State plays against the middle of the conference. While beating Michigan State or Purdue would be great, the Lions need to take care of business against teams like Illinois and Minnesota if they're going to have any shot.
But don't take my word for it. We caught up with Katie Huber, President of Nittany Nation for her thoughts:
"The way the schedule works is out of our control, which is unfortunate when the potentially two biggest games are scheduled when students are not on campus. It is Nittany Nation's goal to get as many students back on campus as possible for Purdue and Michigan State because creating a sixth man atmosphere for those games is going to be crucial. Plus, it's a great opportunity to witness two top teams at home, especially since Penn State does well against ranked opponents in the BJC. Overall, I agree with the common opinion that our conference schedule is challenging, but I think that wins over powerhouses like Purdue and MSU can ignite the passion and drive for the rest of the season. Home games like Minnesota and Ohio State are going to be big time events at the BJC, especially at that point in the season. Nittany Nation is going to be important more than ever, so I look forward to seeing how we will capitalize on each game as a team and as a student section. "
So there you have it, folks. If Penn State is going to make anything out of this season, it's not going to come easy. The Lions are going to have to earn everything from tip off in Bloomington to the buzzer in Minneapolis.
Hopefully there will be a lot to MMMBOP about...