The Big Ten announced last fall it would add two games to each teams’ 2018-19 in-conference schedule, going from 18 games to 20. Last month, Pat Chambers’ squad found out who they will face in those games.
Who will the Nittany Lions play?
The Lions will play home and away games against Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue, Rutgers, and Wisconsin in 2018-19. The Lions were 4-6 against those teams last year, beating Illinois, Maryland, Rutgers, and Nebraska once each and falling to Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska once. Penn State also lost twice to Purdue, the second time in the Big Ten Tournament.
The remaining six Big Ten games will feature the Lions at home against Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan State, and on the road against Minnesota, Northwestern, and Ohio State. PSU was 7-4 against those teams last year, notably sweeping the three game series with Ohio State.
The new 20-game schedule will also factor in the Big Ten’s best rivalries. “Under the new men’s format, teams will play seven opponents twice and six teams once (three home, three away) in a given season,” the Big Ten stated in its press release last month. “The new schedule will also include a regional component to increase the frequency of games among teams in similar areas.
Over the course of a six-year cycle (12 playing opportunities), in-state rivals will play each other 12 times, regional opponents will play 10 times, and all other teams will play nine times.”
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany indicated at conference media day the move to a 20-game conference schedule would be good for the league, as a whole. “We thought playing against each other more was good, and good for the Big Ten and good for college basketball in general,” Delaney said.
It remains to be seen how the new format will affect non-conference play, as that part of the schedule comes out later this summer. Some fear it may signal the end of the Big Ten – ACC challenge, especially since each team is now playing an extra road game. The ACC is also going to a 20-game conference schedule this year.
How the schedule affects March Madness
Adding another issue to the schedule is this season’s Big Ten Tournament. As it was last year, the tournament will be held at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where the Lions had some success last postseason.
However, as the Big East conference is also set to play its conference tournament there, the Big Ten Tournament will again be played a week early. This means that Big Ten conference games will commence in early December.
It also means the entire conference will have a week off in between its conference tournament and the NCAA tournament.
Nonetheless, the fact remains the Lions must win these tough games if they are to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. Despite setting a program record for total wins last season, with 26, PSU went 9-9 in Big Ten play and found themselves out of the NCAA field.
If the Lions plan to build on arguably the most successful season in recent memory, they will have to be better than .500 in Big Ten play.