Back in mid-September, Penn State released their full 2023-2024 basketball schedule, which Colin also touched upon briefly. This post will not offer predictions on where the wins and losses are likely to come from, we’re saving that for the upcoming roundtable post from all of us hoops writers. Rather, this post will take a brief look at the schedule itself and break down which game(s) you’ll want to pay the most attention to. For the purpose of simplicity, we decided to split this by non-conference and conference games.
The Mike Rhoades era tips off in earnest this upcoming Monday, November 6th, when the Nittany Lions play host to Delaware State. However, the most anticipated matchup of the non-conference slate will come against Texas A&M will be the first of three games PSU will play down in Florida as part of the ESPN Events Invitational at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex on Thanksgiving Day in a much-anticipated rematch from last season’s NCAA Tournament first round game, when the Lions lit up the Aggies. Virtually everyone who contributed to the win over A&M (players and coaches) have since moved on from the program, so expect an uphill battle against them.
Should the Lions prevail against the Aggies though, there is a pretty good chance they would be facing last year’s Final Four participant Florida Atlantic, who will be favored in their first game of the tournament against Butler. A few weeks later in mid-December, comes a much-anticipated showdown in New York’s famed Madison Square Garden against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are also with a first-year head coach in former NBA player Damon Stoudamire and while projected to finish near the bottom of the ACC conference, will still provide a nice break from playing the usual November/December cupcakes.
Big Ten Conference
Once again, Penn State opens Big Ten play with a pair of tough December games, as they face Maryland on the road before coming back home to host an improved Ohio State squad. Just like last year, getting a split between these two conference games early on could pay dividends down the road.
January features brutal road trips to East Lansing to take on Michigan State and West Lafayette to take on Purdue in the early half of the month, but the Lions have golden opportunities for wins with Michigan being this season’s “home” opponent at the Palestra in Philly and Northwestern coming to Happy Valley. A road rematch with Ohio State and a road game at Rutgers, a team that has really had PSU’s number lately, loom large in the latter half of the month.
February features a pair of games against Indiana, with the Lions traveling to Bloomington at the beginning of the month, before hosting the Hoosiers towards the end of the month as part of “Coaches vs. Cancer” Day. The “Return to Rec” game also makes its triumphant return in February, when PSU plays host to Illinois in what should resemble the environment B1G opponents used to face prior to the Bryce Jordan Center being built. A home rematch with Michigan State on Valentine’s Day could be ripe for some upset love in the air if the team is clicking on all cylinders by this point in the season.
There will only be two March regular season games this year, when the Lions travel to Minnesota on March 2nd and host Maryland in a rematch on March 10th for Senior Day. Unfortunately, someone else will have to step up in Cam Wynter’s role of providing last-second heroics to beat the Terps,
The non-conference slate features mostly winnable opponents with a challenging early-season tournament peppered in, along with another neutral site game against a power conference opponent. If the Nittany Lions want to turn some heads and get some early notice from the Joe Lunardis and Ken Pomeroys of the college basketball world, beating Texas A&M (24th in KenPom rankings) for the second time this calendar year would go a long way towards doing so.
The Big Ten slate will be a challenge once again, with both Michigan State and Purdue harboring national title hopes, along with other solid programs in Maryland, Indiana, and Illinois (just to name a few). If Rhoades’ “havoc” system is able to be properly executed and the almost entirely transfer portal-assembled roster is able to gel together by the time PSU gets into the heart of conference play, there will be ample opportunities at some upset wins that could have the Nittany Lions going for a wild ride on the NCAA Tournament bubble once again.