There's never a lot of intrigue to be found when looking at the non-conference slate of the Penn State basketball team. Usually there's a tournament filled with moderately respected opponents, a matchup with an ACC bottom-feeder, and a few games against smaller local schools that the Lions might lose to in a down season.
Sorry to disappoint you, but the 2014-15 schedule is no different than years past. It starts out with a pair of home games against Morgan State (2014 KenPom No. 222) and Fordham (No. 204) before Penn State faces its first true test in sunny Charleston, South Carolina.
One of my most loyal companions lives down in Chuck Town, so no one is more excited for this season's Charleston Classic than I am. That said, the opponents lined up for the Lions aren't the most fierce. The bracket starts out with Penn State lined up against Conference USA foe Charlotte (No. 178). If the Nits can prevail in the opener, they'll probably face South Carolina (No. 114), which is matched up against a Cornell (No. 341) team that seems a lot more than just five years removed from a Sweet 16 appearance.
Based on last year's performances, Penn State will be favored to play in the final of the Classic. If that happens, the best case scenario is a game against the Miami Hurricanes (No.69). Given the quality of opponents on the Lions' side of the bracket, it would be very disappointing if they did not reach the championship game. Even if they do, though, the impact on strength of schedule won't be major.
Right after the conclusion of the Charleston Classic, Penn State comes home to play MAC contender Akron (No. 141), which is strange, because the Zips could face off against the Lions in the tournament final. If that happens, the two schools will play two games against each other in three days. Weird.
On Black Friday, the Lions pay a visit to familiar opponent Bucknell (No.155) for their first true road game of the season. The Bison are always tough in the Patriot League, and their matchups versus Penn State tend to be close.
Although last year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge gave the Lions a relatively high profile game against football rival Pittsburgh, this season it's back to playing Virginia Tech (No. 192). The Hokies are a familiar Challenge opponent for Penn State since both schools tend to struggle in basketball and aren't too much of a hike from each other.
After hosting Tech, Penn State continues the December slate with a trip to Marshall (No.251) before hosting Duquesne (No. 147) and George Washington (No. 47) at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Colonials are the single 2014 NCAA Tournament team on Penn State's schedule, so until further notice, that is the "big game" in the non-conference. Sunday at noon on ESPN3 doesn't exactly scream "big game," so hopefully the Lions won't let that one sneak up on them.
The last two games before Big Ten season are a clash with Drexel (No. 134) in Allentown, PA and a home game against the Ivy League's Dartmouth (No. 236).
On one hand, there's not a whole lot of marquee opponents on the schedule. On the other, it's not insane to think that Penn State could go undefeated prior to facing Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener on New Year's Eve. The real question will be whether the Lions' solid record is due to a good team or just uninspiring opponents.