I know we're inside of two weeks until football, but we're trying to push the idea that Penn State is more than just a football school around here. So we wouldn't be doing the men's basketball team justice if we didn't at least acknowledge that the university released the 2009-2010 schedule this week. Here's how it looks in table form.
|Thu Nov 19||vs. UNC-Wilmington (ESPNU)||Sun Jan 24||at Wisconsin (BTN)|
|Fri Nov 20||TBD - Charleston Classic||Wed Jan 27||Illinois (BTN)|
|Sun Nov 22||TBD - Charleston Classic||Sun Jan 31||at Purdue (BTN)|
|Wed Nov 25||Sacred Heart (BTN)||Wed Feb 3||at Ohio State (BTN)|
|Mon Nov 30||at Virginia (ESPN2)||Sat Feb 6||Minnesota (BTN)|
|Sat Dec 5||at Temple||Sat Feb 13||Michigan State (ESPN)|
|Tue Dec 8||UMBC||Wed Feb 17||at Northwestern (BTN)|
|Sat Dec 12||Virginia Tech (ESPN2)||Sat Feb 20||at Michigan (BTN)|
|Sat Dec 19||Gardner-Webb (ESPNU)||Wed Feb 24||Ohio State (BTN)|
|Mon Dec 21||American||Sun Feb 28||Northwestern (BTN)|
|Tue Dec 29||at Minnesota (ESPN2)||Mar 2-4||at Michigan State (BTN or ESPN)|
|Sun Jan 3||Wisconsin (BTN)||Mar 6-7||Purdue (CBS, ESPN, or BTN)|
|Thur Jan 7||Michigan (ESPN2)||Thu Mar 11||Big Ten Tournament|
|Tue Jan 12||at Illinois (BTN)||Fri Mar 12||Big Ten Tournament|
|Sat Jan 16||at Iowa (BTN)||Sat Mar 13||Big Ten Tournament|
|Thu Jan 21||Indiana (ESPN2)||Sun Mar 14||Big Ten Tournament|
So let's pick this thing apart and try to identify the pitfalls. We already gave our blessing to the out of conference schedule, so we'll talk about the conference slate that was released this week.
The first thing I like to look at is who Penn State doesn't have to play. The conference schedule is 18 games, so every team has two teams they only play once. The past two years Penn State missed out on getting two easy wins against Northwestern. This year they miss out on playing Iowa and Indiana. Indiana should be better than they were last year, but most people agree they're probably a year away from being really good. And Penn State traditionally plays well against the Hoosiers. Iowa will be terrible this year, so overall I think Penn State is pretty unlucky in their draw for single game opponents. I would much rather see Penn State missing out on teams like Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, or Purdue. But the flip side is, better competition means more opportunities for impressive wins.
The next thing I like to look for are the conference bye weeks. An extra few days to rest, heal up, and prepare can be huge when it falls at the right time. Penn State gets lucky and drew a bye week just before Michigan State comes to town in February. The also get a nice holiday break just before the conference opener at Minnesota. Pulling off a win in The Barn would be a great way to kick off the conference schedule.
When I look up and down the schedule for a killer stretch of games, I'm encouraged to not really find one. The closest thing I see is the late January to early February stretch of at Wisconsin, Illinois, at Purdue, at Ohio State, Minnesota, and Michigan State. That's a tough stretch of teams, but three of them are at home. And this stretch is sandwiched between games against Indiana and Northwestern so that should limit the bleeding if there is any.
The last two games of the regular season look a little daunting. If Penn State is on the bubble it would be nice to have a couple better than average, but not great teams to play. Going up against Michigan State and Purdue, two teams picked to fight it out for the conference championship, is not exactly the best draw. But again, there are two ways to look at it. You can either feel sorry for yourself for getting screwed, or you can look at it as an opportunity to build some serious momentum for the Big Ten tournament and solidify a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Finally, the last thing I notice is all the television appearances. I get the Big Ten Network, so I was already going to see almost all of these games. But I'm really impressed with how many appearances Penn State will make on the ESPN channels. It wasn't too long ago the only game Penn State ever played on ESPN was the Northwestern game. And I suspect that was because ESPN was obligated to show each Big Ten team at least once, and that was a chance to knock out two stink birds with one stone.