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Penn State Basketball: Non-Conference Opponents Preview

Here's your breakdown of PSU's 2012-2013 non-conference opponents - what they return, where they're projected, and how they'll impact PSU's 2013 RPI.

Ryan Anderson and Boston College visit State College in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge
Ryan Anderson and Boston College visit State College in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge

As an annual tradition, below is quick breakdown of PSU's non-conference opponents (except for the Puerto Rico Tourney, which will be previewed next week). The tables display each team's '11-'12 record, RPI, and the returning production percentages. Both KenPom ratings from the final edition of last year and the preseason edition of this season's are listed (last year's first).

Game #1 - St Francis (PA) Red Flash

6-23 (5-13) 312 307 / 307 71.9% 65.5% 61.3% 73.3%

The Red Flash right up the road in Loretto had an eventful offseason. After another dismal year, coach Don Friday was fired, but there was no coaching search. SFU's athletic director, Bob Krimmel, immediately hired his son Rob. With Cory Giger covering the team, the consensus decision was blown into a mini-controversy, but it certainly should raise eyebrows how quickly the decision was made. Regardless, St. Francis returns a good amount of production from last year's team, but they were already picked to finish last in the NEC again. While Chambers strived to draw interest with local fans when crafting his non-conference schedule, this is a terribly weak opponent that should've been passed over for the sake of their RPI.

*NOTE - Games #2-4 will be covered in our Puerto Rico Tip-Off preview.

Game #5 - Bucknell Bison

25-10 (12-2) 83 94 / 59 84.9% 88.8% 88.2% 81.8%

Unlike St. Francis, Bucknell is a fantastic local opponent that will greatly benefit the computer profile. The Bison return nearly everyone from last year's NIT squad that actually won the Patriot League regular season title over Lehigh. Mike Muscala is the biggest returner as the potential pro averaged 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks a game last year. The 6'11" center will give PSU's frontcourt all they can handle on Black Friday in the BJC. Dave Paulsen's club will be trying to win at least 25 games for the third year in a row. Their season-long battle with CJ McCollum and Lehigh in the Patriot League will be something to watch throughout the course of the year.

Game #6 - Boston College Eagles

9-22 (4-12) 244 259 / 134 70.5% 74.5% 79.1% 73.5%

Penn State was paired with the same opponent from the ACC in ESPN's annual conference challenge. Last year PSU went into Chestnut Hill and came away with a 62-54 win, but the Eagles were in severe rebuilding mode under 1st year coach Steve Donahue. He played seven freshmen last year and now they're sophomores, but they were still picked to finish last again in the ACC. Ryan Anderson returns after averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds in conference play. They did lose Matt Humphrey on the wing, but he was an inefficient, high-volume shot taker. His departure will open up other opportunities for guys like Patrick Heckmann and Danny Rubin. Like Penn State, the Eagles are hopeful for great improvement in year two under Donahue.

Game #7 - Pennsylvania Quakers

20-13 (11-3) 108 137 / 196 42.6% 36.3% 46.9% 28.9%

The Quakers dramatically improved in just two years under Jerome Allen, who took over the program after they won just 6 games in '09-10. While they didn't make the NCAAs last season, they won 20 games and were a Princeton loss away from dancing. Unfortunately for Penn, they did lose their senior trio in Zach Rosen, Tyler Bernardini, and Rob Belcore who accounted for most of the team's production. Six guys from last year's 10-man rotation return, but someone will have to step up and help senior Miles Cartwright if Penn is to duplicate last year's success. Picked to finish in the middle of the Ivy League, the Quakers won't likely do anything for PSU's RPI come March.

Game #8 - at La Salle Explorers

21-13 (9-7) 96 64 / 72 75.8% 70.9% 73.1% 80.7%

The Explorers are coming off their best season under 9th year head coach Dr. John Giannini. They raced out to a 17-6 record, but fizzled down the stretch in the underrated Atlantic-10. They do lose their leading score in Earl Pettis, but return a quality backcourt that Giannini calls the A-10's best. Former South Carolina transfer Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren, and Sam Mills all return after averaging double figures in '11-12. If former Ed DeChellis target Steve Zack, a 7-footer who was high school teammates with Jermaine Marshall, can have a breakout season to balance La Salle's attack, the Explorers could make noise in a stacked Atlantic-10. Playing on the road against a potential top-100 team is always a healthy addition to the RPI.

Game #9 - Army Black Knights

12-18 (5-9) 306 296 / 293 84.4% 81.3% 89.1% 93.3%

Army returns an absurd amount of production, including 10 of their top 11 scorers and rebounders. But the Black Knights didn't finish in the top half of the Patriot League, and with Bucknell and Lehigh firmly entrenched at the top, they aren't expected to have the horses to challenge those two for the conference again this season. In fact, they were picked to finish just 6th in the eight team conference despite their experience. Senior forward Ella Ellis is an all-conference talent, but it remains to be seen if his running mates will improve enough to push Army towards the top of the pack. Don't expect to look back in March and see Army having a positive influence on PSU's RPI.

Game #10 - Delaware State Hornets

15-14 (12-4) 249 250 / 205 79.2% 85.3% 82.9% 53.5%

The Hornets play in one of the worst conferences in the land (MEAC), but they're poised to have a great year and contend for the conference's automatic bid. They return the conference's highest scorer in 6-4 guard Tahj Tate, who averaged 16.1 PPG as a redshirt freshman. They also bring back a dynamic frontcourt duo of Kendall Gray (3.2 BPG) and Marques Oliver (11.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG). Casey Walker adds more firepower to their backcourt after averaging 13 PPG in his first two seasons. The Hornets play at a plodding pace under long-time head coach Greg Jackson, but it's been effective with the right personnel. They will need to find a replacement at point guard, but with the weapons around whoever steps up, the job will be much easier. With DSU poised to have another winning conference, they'll have a positive impact on the RPI.

Game #11 - New Hampshire Wildcats

13-16 (7-9) 296 291 / 283 67.2% 64.6% 63.5% 80.7%

The last guarantee game on the schedule is New Hampshire. Their coach, Bill Herrion, enters his 8th season, but has yet to lead his team to one winning year. Chambers former America East foe returns a good amount from last year's team that finished 5th in the conference last season. But they also aren't expected to have the weapons to make a move to challenge contenders Vermont, Stony Brook, and Boston U for the conference crown. 6'4" guard Chandler Rhoads is their most experienced returner and made the all-defensive team. The 11:00 AM tip-off two days before Christmas could be a trap game for the Nittany Lions, as New Hampshire doesn't garner respect on paper. Either way, they won't help the strength of schedule.

Game #12 - Duquesne Dukes

16-15 (7-9) 110 128 / 157 45.4% 42.0% 55.1% 30.2%

Duquesne begins a new era in Pittsburgh under Jim Ferry after Ron Everhart was let go at the end of last year's disappointing campaign. The Dukes were inconsistent and faded down the stretch for the second straight season. Ferry comes from Long Island U, where he took the NEC program to two straight NCAA tournaments. He'll aim to bring his up-tempo style to the Palumbo Center, but he'll have his hands full in his first year after BJ Monteiro graduated and TJ McConnell transferred to Arizona. He'll lean heavily on senior guard Sean Johnson, who averaged 13.5 PPG. The cupboard isn't completely bare, but in the rugged A-10 that now features Butler and VCU, the Dukes aren't expected to be a player in the conference race.
Overall, the schedule isn't nearly the worst this program has put together over the years, but it also doesn't maximize their potential SOS. The guarantee games were particularly risky choices in St. Francis, Army, and New Hampshire. It would be a great surprise if any of those three teams finished in March with a winning record. But there's a good mix of potential top-100 opponents in La Salle, Bucknell, and hopefully all three games in the underrated Puerto Rico Tip-Off field.

Penn State's tournament aspirations obviously depend heavily on their performance in conference play. In a league as strong as the Big Ten that should be their primary concern. A 10-8 record will likely be an automatic entry into March Madness if the conference's computer ratings are as strong as they could be. But exactly where PSU will be on the bubble with 8 or 9 Big Ten victories remains to be seen. It should be enough with a good showing in Puerto Rico, but there was more room to manipulate the RPI numbers.

Let's just hope this discussion matters come March. It will have been a successful season either way.

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