Breaking Down the Schedule

PSU’s schedule last year kept them out of the NCAA tournament . Many people like to point out the double-OT loss on the road to Iowa. If we won that game, we would have been in. That is true. However, 10-8 in the strong conference should have been worthy of a bid last season. The putrid non-conference schedule kept us out. I guarantee if you asked anyone on the committee, that is what they would’ve said. So, let’s check out how this year’s schedule is looking. The difficulty rating is 1-10 with 10 being the toughest. Will this schedule offer us the opportunity to make the NCAAs with a good conference season?

11/13 – Pennsylvania

This is a return game from a home-and-home series signed last year. UPenn’s recent dominance of the Ivy League is now an afterthought, with the emergence of Cornell’s program. They struggled last year, finishing 10-18 (6-8 in the Ivy) with an RPI of 259. We beat them 85-73 in a game that was worse than the score indicated. They lost 4 players from their 8 man rotation last year, so they have some holes to fill. They are picked to finish 3rd in the Ivy League.

  • Difficulty Rating: 2
  • Predicted RPI range: 220-270

11/16Robert Morris

A solid addition to the schedule. Robert Morris had a phenomenal year last year, winning the NEC bid to the Tournament. They finished 24-11 (15-3 in conference) with an RPI of 109. They do lose their best player, Jeremy Chappell, but the consensus is there’s enough talent and experience returning to contend for the league title again. They have been picked to finish 3rd.

  • Difficulty Rating: 4
  • Predicted RPI range: 150-200

11/19UNC-Wilmington

In the Charleston Classic, PSU got the unfortunate draw of playing the worst team in the field. This is a must win, not only because it will be considered a bad loss, but PSU will need to play the best competition from this tournament for it to be worthwhile, both for on court experience and RPI impact. They finished 7-25 last year with an RPI of 277. 8 guys in their 10 man rotation last year return, but when those guys only win 7 games, kinda hard to expect them to win. They were picked to finish last in the CAA.

  • Difficulty Rating: 2
  • Predicted RPI range: 230-280

11/25 – Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart returns to the schedule once again, which is okay since they were not one of the reasons our non-conference slate was so weak. They finished 17-14 (12-6 in conference) with an RPI of 183. They lost two starters off from their 9 man rotation, so they have a solid nucleus returning. Their coach, Dave Bike, has been there for 31 years, and they’ve had a sub-200 RPI the last 3 seasons. They’ve been picked to finish 6th in the NEC.

  • Difficulty Rating: 3
  • Predicted RPI range: 190-240

11/30 – @ Virginia

Our annual Big Ten-ACC challenge game will be the first true road test for the Lions. It’s Tony Bennett’s first year at the helm, so they’re in a rebuilding period. There’s some decent talent returning, including sophomore phenom Sylven Landesburg. They had a rough year last year, finishing 10-18 (4-12 in the ACC) with an RPI of 114. They’ve been picked to finish 11th in the ACC.

  • Difficulty Rating: 7
  • Predicted RPI range: 70-120

12/5 – @ Temple

This the last game of a home-and-home series signed last year. Temple beat us last year in the BJC in a very ugly game. If you remember, PSU’s offense sputtered once Pringle hurt his ankle in the first half. Temple had a solid year last year, winning the A-10 tournament and going to the NCAAs. They finished 22-12 (11-5 in the A-10) with an RPI of 30. However, they lose Dionte Christmas, Sergio Olmos, and Semaj Inge (accounted for 50% of their scoring). They’ve been picked to finish 5th in the preseason poll, but other publications have them lower.

  • Difficulty Rating: 7
  • Predicted RPI range: 80-130

12/8 – UMBC

The retrievers had a mediocre season last year, finishing 14-17 (7-9 in the America East) with an RPI of 162. However, they lost two all-conference performers in Jay Greene and Darryl Proctor. They aren’t expected to compete for the conference crown and were picked 6th in the preseason poll. Looks like they would have been a much better schedule last year.

  • Difficulty Rating: 2
  • Predicted RPI range: 230-280

12/12 – Virginia Tech

The marquee home game of the non-conference slate. This is the first year of a home-and-home series so PSU will travel to Blacksburg next year. They made the NIT last year, and finished with a 19-15 record (7-9 in the ACC) with an RPI of 61. The Hokies were a lot like PSU last year by having a solid three man attack in Jeff Allen, Malcolm Delaney, and A.D. Vassallo. Vassallo has graduated, however, so VT needs to find some more scoring balance. They are picked to finish 8th in the ACC.

  • Difficulty Rating: 8
  • Predicted RPI range: 40-90

12/19 – Gardner-Webb

The Bulldogs look to be a good schedule this year as far as RPI juice. They had a mediocre year last year, finishing 13-17 but they were competitive in the Big South (9-9). Grayson Flittner returns (the hero in their big upset of UK a few seasons ago), along with 3 other returning starters. They have a large incoming class and many of them are expected to contribute. They were picked 4th in the Big South poll.

  • Difficulty Rating: 4
  • Predicted RPI range: 150-200

12/21 – American

The Patriots would have been a fantastic schedule last year, as well. Despite their great season (24-8 with RPI of 73), they lose 5 of their top 6 scorers and rebounders (including all of their starters). They’re basically a brand new team this year, and they’ll have their growing pains. They have little to no chance to win their 3rd straight Patriot League championship. Picked to finish 6th in the 8 team conference.

  • Difficulty Rating: 1
  • Predicted RPI range: 275-325

I will admit that when I first saw the non-conference schedule released, I was pleased. Now, I’m not so sure. Scheduling is a very tricky thing, especially for a program like Penn State’s at the moment. We’ve lost a lot of production from last year’s team, and there are many questions that need to be answered before Big Ten play. Here’s four criteria I believe need to be considered when constructing the non-con schedule.

  • Financial criteria – As the only other profit-generating sport in the Athletic Department, it is mandatory for PSU to have a certain number of home games to bring in revenue.
  • Opponents criteria – For a team as young as PSU’s, you don’t want to go crazy with elite teams. Ed has to consider a level of competition that will keep his team’s confidence and moral in check, but also test and prepare his team for the conference season.
  • Resume criteria – You have to do all that you can to boost your NCAA tournament resume, and this can be done easily without playing the top 25 night in and night out. You simply have to avoid playing the worst of the worst in college basketball. Last year, PSU played 6 teams that finished with RPI’s over 240. That’s entirely too many (unless you’re John Beilein, and the other half of your non-con is against the Top 25). So it’s mandatory that you scout out which mid-major teams will finish in that 100-220 range. Those teams are winning in their conference and will boost your opponents winning percentage, which is 50% of the RPI formula.
  • Time criteria – The college basketball non-conference season is a very busy time of year. It’s during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Finals week. Once you’ve finally found opponents that meet the above criteria, now you gotta work on finding dates and travel plans that will work.

Now let’s check out how this year’s schedule compares to last year’s, in terms of opponents’ RPI.

08-09 RPI RPI 09-10
William Mary 245 220-270 Pennsylvania
NJIT 343 150-200 Robert Morris
Hartford 299 225-275 UNC-Wilmington
New Hampshire 201 ? Charleston Classic
Pennsylvania 259 ? Charleston Classic
Rhode Island 68 190-240 Sacred Heart
Towson 219 70-120 Virginia
Georgia Tech 139 80-130 Temple
Temple 30 230-280 UMBC
Army 280 40-90 Virginia Tech
Mt. St. Mary’s 118 150-200 Gardner-Webb
Lafayette 308 275-325 American
Sacred Heart 183

If we break division 1 basketball into four quartiles, this is what we’re looking at:

Quartile 08-09 09-10
#1 (1-80) 2 1
#2 (81-160) 2 2
#3 (161-240) 3 4
#4 (241-340+) 6 3

*Note: I played the odds and said one of UMBC/Penn/UNC-Wilmington would finish in Q3.

I made all these graphs to make the point that I believe it is critical PSU beats UNC-Wilmington in less than 2 weeks. If PSU wins, they’ll enter themselves in the winner’s bracket of the Charleston Classic, most likely with teams like Miami FL and South Carolina, Q1 teams. If they lose, things get a little interesting. Tulane, La Salle, and South Florida are other teams in the CC that should finish in the Q2 or Q3 range. Having to face those teams instead of Miami or South Carolina wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’m not sure how the committee would feel about a team that could potentially play 0 Top 50 teams in the non-con. Our schedule would look quite a bit like last year’s.

However, PSU’s strong conference schedule could negate the lack of quality opponents in the OOC. There’s a good possibility the Big Ten has 7 or even 8 Top 50 teams, and we’ll play them all twice. PSU got the toughest Big Ten schedule this year, only playing Indiana and Iowa once (the 10th and 11th picked teams, respectively).

So overall, there’s some improvement in this schedule. The Charleston Classic is a big step up from the Philly Classic disaster, and the home-and-home series with Virginia Tech is good, as well. However, we could have done better than American and UMBC, in my opinion, and it would be nice to have a guaranteed top 50 opponent.

We’ll see how my projections and these teams turn out at the end of the season.

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