Penn State’s non-conference schedule has not been released yet, but the portion of the schedule that has been announced includes the Hall of Fame Tip Off tournament. This tournament comprises of four games, three of which already have opponents announced, with one final game that has the potential to either be the championship game or a consolation match.
In what is referred to as the "Campus Round Games", Penn State will play host to Marist and Grand Canyon. These games are arranged mostly as a courtesy to the mid-major universities to have the opportunity to challenge a major conference school. The results of these contests have no bearing on who will get to play for a shot at the championship in the Naismith Bracket at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The field for the Naismith Bracket has already been set, and it will include Cincinnati, Duke, Penn State and Rhode Island. Unfortunately for Penn State, of that list of teams they will be forced to play Duke in the first round once in Connecticut. Those two teams will face off against one another and the victor will face the winner of the game between Cincinnati and Rhode Island while the loser must play against the loser of the second game.
For the purposes of this post, I would like to briefly outline the opponents Penn State will face during the Campus Round Games in University Park, Pa.; Marist and Grand Canyon.
Game 1: Marist Red Foxes on Friday, November 11th
2015-2016 Record: 7-23
Marist is coming off of a dreadful year, but they were an extremely inexperienced team last season. They lose just two seniors who combined to average only 5.7 points per game. They do suffer significantly from the loss of their second-best rebounder Eric Truog, who is one of the seniors that graduated. That said, he only averaged 4.9 rebounds per game which speaks to the poor performance of the team last year. One of their underclassmen, K.J. Lee, announced his intent to transfer to Stonehill, a Division II institution. Like the pair of seniors, his loss will not be noticed too much as he only averaged 2.5 points per game.
The Red Foxes will not bring in any new recruited talent this season, despite their minor losses. This means head coach Mike Maker will need to hope his youth-heavy roster can reach their potential quickly. Khallid Hart and Brian Parker anchor an impressive backcourt. The pair averaged 36.2 points per game last season, an astounding mark even within the mid major ranks. The frontcourt is where the Red Foxes could experience difficulty in a game against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions frontcourt was significantly hurt due to the graduation of Brandon Taylor and Jordan Dickerson. Pat Chambers is bringing in a trio of talented forwards, but none are taller than 6-6. While this will potentially become a serious issue in Big Ten conference play, it should not affect their ability to defeat a Marist team with little history of success. Assuming Penn State’s superior players can play to their abilities and limit the Red Foxes’ backcourt scoring, they should be able to handle Marist with relative ease.
Game 2: Grand Canyon Antelopes on Tuesday, November 15th
2015-2016 Record: 27-7
Postseason: CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (Eliminated in the Quarterfinals)
The Antelopes will lose two of their top three scorers from the great season they had last year. Their backcourt graduated, and De’Andre Davis, a rising junior, will be expected to step up in a starting point guard role for the team. Joshua Braun, the team’s leading scorer is returning, but it is unlikely that one talented player can make up for the loss of Grandy Glaze and Dewayne Russell, who averaged 23.7 points per game combined last season.
Coach Dan Majerle prepared his team well for what they knew they would lose and equipped himself adequately by recruiting two point guards, including JUCO prospect Shaquile Carr who will be expected to have an immediate impact. Even with a number of solid players, Grand Canyon is good as a Western Athletic Conference team, but taking on a Big Ten team on the road is a tall task. This team struggled to win games on the road in the non-conference last season against weaker opponents.
Despite the good foundation that is being built at Grand Canyon, the Antelopes are just not at the point of being able to take down a team of Penn State’s caliber. Even though they will catch Pat Chambers in the middle of a rebuild, Penn State should be able to overpower Grand Canyon and roll to a win en route to Mohegan Sun Arena.
CORRECTION: Grand Canyon's 2016-2017 roster on their athletic website claims Russell will be playing this season (he had a red-shirt year) even though he was listed as a senior last year. This press release confirms.