Penn State's Schedule Is Better, But Still Lacking Big Name Teams

Chad Washington@@ChadDWashingtonContributor IJuly 24, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 13:  Talor Battle #12 of the Penn State Nittany Lions drives for a shot attempt against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 13, 2008 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Illionis won 64-63. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

After its most successful season since making it to the Final Four in 1955, the Penn State basketball program is ready to build on its NIT championship by trying to earn its third NCAA tournament berth in the last 14 years.

But one problem remains for the Nittany Lions, one that perhaps costed them a chance for a NCAA bid last season. The non-conference schedule is still loaded with cupcakes and does not have a marquee matchup against a perennial contender.

Penn State added a few decent teams in the schedule with a home game against Virginia Tech and a trip to Philly to face Temple. According to the RPI rankings from last year, only one of the Lions’ non-conference foes were in the top 30, with the Owls at No. 30.

You would think head coach Ed DeChellis would have learned his lesson from last season, when PSU’s non-conference schedule was the mitigating factor putting his team on the bubble and watching it burst on Selection Sunday. For what it’s worth, the schedule is an improvement from last year, which had a large number of teams with RPI rankings of 200 or more.

But there is something missing on the schedule: a game against a big-time power or Top 25 team. The obvious pick to fill that spot would be against perennial Big East power and hated rival Pittsburgh. But the Panthers are shunning the Lions from their schedule, mainly because Pitt wants to put big names on its non-conference schedule. Maybe because it’s payback from Penn State’s refusal to play them in football.

The lack of a big-time program prevents Penn State from having that one big game that can put them on the map of college basketball. Even a game against a team that has fallen from its lofty perch, like UNLV or Arkansas or Notre Dame, would be a good matchup for an improved Penn State team that has a talented returning guard in Talor Battle.

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This schedule is an improvement from last year in that it removed all the ridiculously low RPI numbers like New Jersey Tech and Army. While it might have removed the fattening cupcakes, it still is missing some roughage, which is in the form of a Top 25 team.