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2011-2012 Non-Conference Basketball Primer

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This massive post offers some analysis of each one of the basketball team's non-conference opponents. Each team has a table displaying their record and RPI from last year, along with Ken Pomeroy ratings for both last year and this year (last year's is listed first). Each team's percent returning production from the four main statistical categories is listed as well. Let's do this. 

Game #1 - Hartford Hawks

11-20 (7-9) 277 298 / 334 29.4% 22.5% 24.6% 29.7%

Hartford is a member of the America East conference, so Coach Chambers has plenty of familiarity with them from his time at BU. The Hawks are going through a rebuilding year in the program (much like PSU), as they lost a ton of production from last year's squad. A total of eight player are gone from last season's team (5 graduated and 3 transferred). The era of Joe Zeglinski is over (the former Archbishop Ryan product and 2,000 point scorer). They return one starter in 6-1 Clayton Brothers and get 5-10 SR PG Andres Torres back from a PCL tear that sidelined him last season. Former sixth man Genesis Maciel also returns as the leading scorer and will be counted upon in the frontcourt. Outside of those three guys, however, there is no one with any experience. The Hawks will carry seven freshmen on their roster for this season, and they will be counted on to contribute right away. In John Gallagher's 2nd year as head coach, Hartford has been picked to finish 7th out of the 9-team America East. 

Game #2 - Radford Highlanders

5-24 (2-16) 333 331 / 301 56.2% 59.3% 60.7% 49.7%

The Highlanders are ushering in a new era of the program, as Mike Jones became their 7th head coach over the offseason. Jones, the former UGA and VCU assistant, will be replacing Brad Greenberg, who was forced to resign after committing NCAA violations by providing improper benefits to an ineligible player. Radford had a disastrous 2010-2011 season, as they plummeted to the bottom of the Big South just one season after a conference tourney championship and NCAA berth in 2010. Luckily for Jones, there are some experienced players still on board with four returning starters. Blake and Jareal Smith (not related) are an experienced tandem in the backcourt. Blake is a tremendous defender, posting the 4th highest steal% last season. Tolga Cerrah and Jonathan Edwards give the Highlanders some height inside at 6'9" and 6'8" respectively and are capable rebounders. However, if Mike Jones wants to make a difference right away, he might wanna figure out how this team is going to score. KenPom had them rated as the 6th worst offensive team in the nation last season. It's hard to be worse than the Highlanders were last season, but they aren't expected to be much better (picked 11th out of 11 in the Big South). 

Game #3 - Long Island Blackbirds

27-6 (16-2) 75 118 / 127 73.9% 73.9% 76.6% 87.5%

Long Island returns plenty of pieces from last year's NEC championship team, making them the clear favorite in the conference heading into this season (they received 10 of the 12 first place votes in the preseason poll). They lost two starters in David Hicks and Kyle Johnson, who were their 3rd and 4th leading scorers respectively. But Long Island still has many pieces from an 8 man rotation that averaged between 17-26 min/gm last season. Their depth presumably allowed them to play at the third fastest pace last season (74.6 possessions/gm). Juniors Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere are 6'-7" versatile studs who will likely compete with each other for NEC POY throughout the season (Boyd was named Preseason POY). Sophomore PG Jason Brickman looks to build off his solid freshman campaign, where he averaged 6.2 PPG, hit 38.5% of his threes, and dished out 5.5 assists at a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. Jim Ferry returns for his 10th year at LIU, although he was almost willing to leave his talented group behind this offseason. Ferry turned down Manhattan because they didn't offer the money he was looking for. Anyway, PSU will be on upset-alert when the Blackbirds come to State College, but only if the Blackbirds aren't favored already. 

Game #4 - vs Kentucky Wildcats

29-9 (10-6) 7 6 / 1 52.2% 55.2% 52.2% 40.9%

Not too much to say here since you could probably guess that Kentucky will be by far PSU's toughest opponent in the non-conference schedule. Kentucky returns a decent amount of production from last year's Final Four team. They were fortunate to have Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb not declare for the NBA draft, but the Wildcats still lost 3 big-time contributors in Josh Harrellson, Brandon Knight, and DeAndre Liggins. But, as usual for John Calipari, the Wildcats are bringing in 4 players that make up the consensus #1 class in the nation. All four are top-20 RSCI recruits, with 6-10 Anthony Davis labelled as the best in the country. Davis is also projected to be the #1 pick in the next NBA draft. Obviously Kentucky isn't short on talent and will be an overwhelming favorite against the young Nittany Lions. Anything less than a national championship this year will be a disappointment in Lexington. 

Game #5 - vs Old Dominion Monarchs / South Florida Bulls

27-7 (14-4) 20 48 / 60 43.9% 41.2% 40.2% 42.7%

Old Dominion has been one of the top mid-major programs. Blaine Taylor's club has had 3 straight seasons of 25+ wins and 7 straight postseason berths, including 4 NCAA appearances. However, the 2010-2011 squad had 4 very talented seniors that have graduated. They do return Kent Bazemore (the CAA Preseason POY and last year's Defensive POY) and Chris Cooper (started 24 games last season), but Coach Taylor will be counting on many reserves to make the step up this season into bigger roles. They also have 5 new players joining the team with 2 redshirt freshmen, 2 true freshmen, and a junior college transfer. The Monarchs have built a very successful program, but it's hard to see them not taking a step back this season with their losses (at least early on, when they could play PSU). However, I'd certainly still expect them to be right in the thick of things in the CAA (they were picked 4th out of 12 in the CAA). 

10-23 (3-15) 155 127 / 84 69.3% 83.5% 79.5% 62.9%

South Florida is looking to have a better year in the Big East after a tough 2010-2011 season. They return a lot from a team that lost 16 games by 10 points or less. They did lose their 3rd leading scorer in Jarrid Famous to graduation and starting PG Noopy Crater was kick off the team in the offseason. Deep reserves Shedrick Haynes and Mike Burwell also transferred out of the program. However, they do return talented big man Augustus Gilchrist for his senior campaign. Gilchrist was a beast down the stretch for USF, averaging 20 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in the last 6 games of the season. The Bulls have 5 new players eligible this season in the form of two JuCos, two freshmen, and Arizona State transfer Victor Rudd. Rudd has been getting exceptional praise from Coach Heath and is expected to start and have an impact. Point guard is easily the biggest question mark for this team heading into the year. If JuCo Blake Nash, rising soph Lavonte Dority, or true frosh Anthony Collins can be a formidable floor general, South Florida could have one of its best seasons under 5th year coach Stan Heath. They were picked 14th in the Big East preseason poll. 

Game #6 - Youngstown State Penguins

9-21 (2-16) 295 247 / 226 63.3% 66.0% 71.5% 69.1%

The Penguins had another tough year in the Horizon last season even if they did upset Butler once. Jerry Slocum is back for his 7th season at YSU. Despite over 600 career victories (mostly at the D-II and III level), he has struggled to build up the program at YSU. They've finished at the bottom of the Horizon league 4 times out of his 6 seasons, including the last two years. They lost their leading scorer from last year to graduation, while two reserves transferred. The Pens do return 4 starters who coincidentally are the only upperclassmen on the roster. Their best player, 6-7 Damian Eargle, is a UNC-Greensboro transfer who averaged 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks a game in his first year at YSU. YSU has an experienced backcourt to compliment Eargle, but it remains to be seen if they have enough firepower to make a move up in the Horizon League. The media thinks so as they were picked  7th out of 10. 

Game #7 - at St. Joseph's Hawks

11-22 (4-12) 164 183 / 121 69.4% 76.1% 72.0% 67.0%

Phil Martelli returns for his 17th season at St. Joe's in the midst of another rebuilding job. The Hawks won just 11 games for the second year in a row last season, although most of their roster was underclassmen. Starter Idris Hilliard and reserve Charoy Bentley graduated, while three reserves transferred over the course of the year. The Hawks do return leading scorer Carl "Tay" Jones, a former PSU target and HS teammate of Trey Lewis. Jones and returnee Langston Galloway form one of the top backcourt duos in the Atlantic-10. They also get back rising sophomore F C.J. Aiken, the ferocious shot-blocker and former Class AAAA POY in PA in 2010. Hofstra transfer Halil Kanacevic is eligible this season and is expected to be a boost to the Hawks' frontcourt. The future seems bright for this Hawks ball club, but they only have 10 scholarship players on the roster, three of whom are freshmen and another a former walk-on. Depth, especially if the Hawks suffer a few injuries, will be a major issue throughout the season. They were picked to finish 7th in the A-10 preseason poll. 

Game #8 - at Boston College Eagles

21-13 (9-7) 58 68 / 175 14.9% 8.6% 9.4% 9.7%

If you thought Penn State was losing a lot, you haven't seen the departures Boston College has suffered. They had 8 seniors graduate, Reggie Jackson went to the NBA, and Dallas Elmore transferred. Their returning players? Two sophomores in Danny Rubin and Gabriel Moton, and senior Peter Rehnquist who logged a grand total of 18 minutes last season. Their supposed best player is Matt Humphrey, a bench player for 2 years at Oregon until he transferred. They also added Lafayette transfer Deirunas Visockas, who is a graduate student with one year of eligibility. The rest of the roster is filled out with incoming freshmen (9 total). 2nd year coach Steve Donahue has couped some solid prospects, but not many are expected to be immediate stars. The highest rated of the bunch is 6-8 post Ryan Anderson from California. With a lack of any proven players, it's hard to see Boston College competing in the ACC this year. In fact, they were picked to finish last in the ACC by the media. This will be a winnable road game for the Nittany Lions.

Game #9 - Ole Miss Rebels

20-14 (7-9) 83 70 / 74 57.2% 46.2% 70.3% 40.2%

Ole Miss had a disappointing season last year, considering it was Chris Warren's senior season. Andy Kennedy is entering his 6th season as the Rebels coach and he has yet to reach the NCAAs. They lost Warren and former starter Zach Graham to graduation, while Nittany Lion killer Trevor Gaskins transferred. If you remember, Gaskins bombed in six treys and scored 24 points against PSU in the Rebels' 84-71 victory last season. The biggest addition to the Rebel's roster this year is troubled Memphis transfer Jelan Kendrick, but he transferred mid-season last year so he will not be eligible for this game. Kennedy also signed 5 freshmen and allowed former Ole Miss transfer Murphy Holloway to come back. Holloway started for 2 years at Mississippi before transferring to South Carolina. Supposedly his family situation is much better since the transfer, so he asked to come back (and was cleared by the NCAA to be eligible this season. Terrence Henry, Nick Williams, and Reginald Buckner are all returning starters, while sophomores Dundrecous Nelson and Demarco Cox are expected to make strides in their second season. Mississippi seems to have an athletic roster with experience and ability, but their team needs a new leader with Warren out of the picture. I don't think this will be Kennedy's first NCAA team, especially in a stronger SEC. They were picked 7th in the SEC's preseason poll (4th in the West division). 

Game #10 - Lafayette Leopards

13-19 (6-8) 220 233 / 240 66.8% 66.3% 62.0% 65.0%

Longtime head coach Fran O'Hanlon returns for his 17th season at Lafayette. He's won three conference titles and been to the NCAA tournament twice. However, O'Hanlon's program hasn't really been relevant in the past decade (only 2 winning seasons in that span). The Leopards are coming off an okay year in the Patriot league where they nearly snuck into the Big Dance but lost to Bucknell in the PL championship. They lost two starters, including their best player 6-9 C Jared Mintz, to graduation, but they do return 6 guys who played 400 or more minutes last season, including their starting PG Tony Johnson, SG Jim Mower, and PF Ryan Willen. Johnson was the PL's assist leader and was named preseason 1st team All-Patriot by the media. The Leopards also added four freshmen to the roster who will have a chance to play right away, especially C Dan Trist and PF Alan Flannigan. Lafayette was thoroughly mediocre last year and likely will be again. They were picked to finish 4th in the 8-team league this season.

Game #11 - at Duquesne Dukes

19-13 (10-6) 108 61 / 89 61.1% 57.1% 44.9% 69.0%

Duquesne was on track to earn their first NCAA berth under Ron Everhart after starting out 8-0 in conference play last year, but the Dukes lost 7 of 9 games down the stretch on their way to a CBI bid. It left a sour taste to an otherwise promising season for Duquesne, especially for seniors Bill Clark and Damian Saunders. Clark and Saunders leave behind huge shoes to fill, as Saunders was one of the best defensive players in the country and Clark was the Dukes leading scorer (16.3 PPG). However, Everhart has a rising star in PG T.J. McConnell, the nephew of PSU great Suzie McConnell-Serio. T.J. was the A-10 rookie of the year as he averaged 10.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.4 APG, and 2.8 SPG. He also shot threes at a 40% clip while posting a 2.5 A/TO ratio. The budding star will have help from SR F BJ Monteiro and SO G Mike Talley, but if the Dukes are going to build on last season, they will need help in the frontcourt. Freshman Derrick Martin is expected to help after he sat out last season as a partial qualifier. They also caught a break from the NCAA as they waived the transfer requirements for 7-1 Radford transfer Martins Abele. He will be eligible this season after sitting out the first four games of the season. If Duquesne can rebound, they could put together a decent season behind McConnell. They were picked 9th in the preseason Atlantic-10 poll. 

Game #12 - Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers

11-21 (9-9) 230 267 / 210 66.2% 66.6% 60.1% 73.8%

The Mount is on the schedule for the 3rd time in four years. PSU has had trouble with the Mountaineers the last two times they were in State College, winning by just 5 three years ago and 4 last year. Robert Burke struggled in his 1st year as head coach, but his young team fought hard in the NEC. The Mount lost 5 players from last year's squad, including two starters. They do return six guys who played in the rotation, while adding 3 freshmen and 2 transfers (who are ineligible for this season). Their best player is 5-11 PG Lamar Trice from Philadelphia. The rising senior averaged 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists last season in his first year as a starter. He scored 16 points against PSU off the bench in last year's contest. They also bring back starting sophomore guard Julian Norfleet and junior forward Raven Barber. With a good amount of talent and experience returning, the Mountaineers are expected to improve in Burke's second year at the helm. They're not going to contend with Long Island for the NEC crown, but a top half finish in the conference is anticipated (they were picked 6th out of 12).  

Game #13 - Cornell Big Red 

10-18 (6-8) 210 191 / 120 75.8% 80.9% 61.6% 78.3%

Cornell had a pretty good year considering a first year coach was taking over an inexperienced roster after the 2010 Sweet 16 team had moved on. They finished the season winning 6 of their last 9 games and lost 10 games on the year by just 5 points or less. Bill Courtney's team lost 3 seniors from last year, who were the Big Red's primary rebounders. They do return their best player in 6-0 PG Chris Wroblewski, one of the leftovers from Cornell's two championship teams. "Robo" averaged 14.2 PPG and 5.7 APG while shooting 43% from 3 last season. He will be helped by returning double-digit scorers Drew Ferry and Erick Peck. Ferry is a streaky shooter on the perimeter who hit 80 threes last season, while the 6-6 Peck does his damage inside. If Courtney can find some rebounders on this team, Cornell might be able to contend with Harvard and Princeton in the Ivy League this season.  It probably would also be wise to settle on a starting lineup and consistent rotation, instead of starting 10 guys at least 6 or more games like last season. The Big Red was picked to finish 6th in the preseason media poll, while most publications have them 5th or 4th. 
I've said before I love this schedule. Other than Kentucky, I think PSU has a chance to win every single game on here. But they're not going to, so it will be interesting to see how the team works out its kinks and find its identity. They're going to have a tough stretch to start the year with 5 games in just 9 days. I wouldn't be surprised (or all that worried) if they went 2-3 in this stretch. The four games I'm looking at are the 3 road trips (St. Joe's, BC, and Duquesne) and the home date against Ole Miss. If PSU can go 3-1 in these games, I will be encouraged about this team's chances to steal a few in the following Big Ten season. Overall, I'm saying PSU can go anywhere from 7-6 to 10-3 against this slate. 

As far as RPI impact, while I don't think it's a big deal this year given expectations, this schedule is not crippling like 2008-2009, nor is it as good as last year's. Kentucky obviously will be a major boost to the numbers, but there's a nice collection of good opponents (LIU/ODU/USF/SJU/BC/Ole Miss/Duq) and rising mid-majors (Corn, MSM) as well. The dogs of the schedule (Hart/Rad/YSU/Laf) won't drag the numbers down a great deal. If I had to guess, PSU's non-con SOS will land somewhere around 180ish. Not 333rd or whatever it was in 2008-2009.