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Penn State Basketball: Nittany Lions Can Start Resume Build Thursday Night

by on November 15, 2018 11:50 AM

Of all the good that came out of Penn State basketball's win over West Virginia, a lone negative remained. The game didn't count.

To be sure it was meaningful and helpful for a young group of Nittany Lions that were able to prove to themselves that they belonged. It was a confidence boost heading into the year and certainly played out like a game that counted. Maybe the stakes weren't as high, but the intensity didn't lack.

On Thursday night though, everything will count as Penn State takes on DePaul in Chicago. To be sure there is a fairly large gulf in class between the Mountaineers and Penn State's Big East foe, but it marks the first chance for the Nittany Lions to pick up something approaching a resume-building win, especially on the road.

DePaul currently sits 71st in the KenPom rankings, which to summarize briefly, is a very respected (but not actually official) math-heavy rankings system. If you're reading this you probably know what KenPom is, and if you don't, just trust me when I say there isn't a coach in America that doesn't know what his team's KenPom ranking is at some point during the year. It's as official as you can get without being official.

Of note, Penn State is ranked 35th as of Thursday.

Nevertheless, DePaul is one of four games the Nittany Lions have this non conference schedule against a team inside the Top 80 of the current 353 team rankings. While there is some debate on this when it comes to scheduling, generally you want your favorite team's schedule to feature opponents inside the Top 200, with a smattering in the Top 150 and Top 100. It depends on your objectives, but for the most part the more inside the Top 200 the better. That's not a hard and fast rule, but it's a fair point of reference.

In that light, Penn State's 2018 schedule features 11 games out of conference play with eight of those currently against teams inside the Top 200 and two inside the Top 220 as things stand today. The Nittany Lions' second best out of conference opponent, No.31 Virginia Tech, will visit State College on November 27th. Penn State will take on No.29 NC State in Atlantic City in December.

2018-19 KenPom Rankings as of 10/15 (Penn State will also face either Bradley 124th or SMU 84th in Cancun)

  • NC State: 29th
  • Virginia Tech: 31st
  • Alabama: 58th
  • DePaul: 71st
  • Wright State: 135th
  • Duquesne: 164th
  • Colgate: 177th
  • Jacksonville State: 188th
  • North Florida: 212th
  • UMBC: 219th

How does this compare to last season? During the 2017-18 season the Nittany Lions faced three out of conference teams that finished inside the Top 100 with a win against Montana as the only victory against the three. Beyond that Penn State played five teams that finished outside the Top 250. A win over George Washington was the only other victory against a Top 200 team out of conference that Penn State had all year.

Pat Chambers and his staff would defend their scheduling philosophy on Selection Sunday as the Nittany Lions sat on the bubble of the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. Whether or not that defense was justified was ultimately irrelevant, Penn State would miss the tournament going on to the win the NIT, but looking back, it's not hard to imagine a slightly more difficult schedule could have yielded a different postseason outcome. Penn State eventually ended the season ranked 19th in KenPom's rankings following its NIT Title win.

Final 2017-18 KenPom rankings:

  • Texas A&M 29th
  • NC State 46th
  • Montana: 72nd
  • Rider: 145th
  • George Washington: 192nd
  • Campbell: 218th
  • George Mason: 220th
  • Pitt: 227th
  • Columbia: 231st
  • Oral Roberts: 236th
  • Fairleigh Dickinson: 274th
  • Binghamton: 297th
  • Coppin State: 347th

Of course not all of this is entirely Penn State's fault. A good team on paper heading into the year can have a bad season, and scheduling happens far enough in advance that it's not entirely a guarantee that a good team two years ago will still be good by the time you play them. Then again some of the above teams not being good wasn't exactly a shock either.

Nevertheless, Penn State faces a much more favorable resume-building schedule in 2018 and a road win over DePaul will go a long way towards positive momentum in that direction. None of this will matter if Penn State can't generate wins in Big Ten play, but equally true, a Big Ten run might not matter if the out of conference wins aren't there either.

Tip is scheduled for 9:00PM on FS1.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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