INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 12: Jermaine Marshall #3 of the Penn State Nittany Lions reacts against the Michigan State Spartans during the semifinals of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 12, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Yesterday, the Big Ten announced the "single plays" for the upcoming men's basketball conference season, and Penn State may have gotten a big early break.
With Nebraska now in the fold, each team in the conference will now play seven schools twice and four schools only once in the 18-game league schedule. Previously, there were only two single plays on the slate but the addition of the Cornhuskers has forced the schedule into becoming a little more unbalanced.
Penn State appears to have received a pretty favorable draw as the young Nittany Lions' single plays will be Ohio State and Michigan State on the road, and Illinois and Minnesota at home, teams they were a combined 5-5 against in 2011.
Last season, Penn State was swept in three games against the Buckeyes, dropping a close contest in Columbus, a laugher on Senior Night at the Bryce Jordan Center and a beating in the Big Ten Tournament championship game at Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse. With Jared Sullinger returning next season, Ohio State will be a force nationally, let alone in the conference race, so you can bet coach Pat Chambers is glad his inexperienced squad will only have to face the Bucks, a team the Lions never beat in the Ed DeChellis era, once.
Penn State had a lot of success against Michigan State in 2011, rolling up a 2-1 record against the Spartans including a huge 61-48 win in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals that cemented the Lions' spot in the NCAA Tournament. That said, it's probably best Penn State will be avoiding a second meeting with Sparty in 2012 as big names including Draymond Green, Delvon Roe and Keith Appling are set to return to Tom Izzo's lineup.
Illinois will lose Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Bill Cole and Mike Davis from a squad that split with Penn State last season. The Lions beat the Fighting Illini in the the matchup in Happy Valley, site of the only 2012 meeting, so we'll see if that bodes well for Penn State against a team also replacing a lot of departed seniors.
Minnesota dropped both contests against Penn State last season and will be losing some key scorers. However, Penn State has never fared well at The Barn, meaning news a visit there next season won't be necessary is probably good for the Lions.
Those games at Michigan State and Ohio State should be pretty tough. The good news is, unlike last season, the Lions won't have to hold court at home against those two teams. They'll get to play conference cellar dwellers Indiana and Iowa twice instead meaning wins should be a little easier to come by in 2012 than they were in 2011. With a young team that's going to need all the help it can get to even sniff the postseason, that's good news.