Season Preview: State's Non-Conference Schedule- December/January

State begins December with  another tough stretch of games- at Stanford, NC Central and Syracuse at home, followed by a neutral site game in Rochester, New York against St. Bonaventure.   State finally gets a breather with some weaker opponents during the last two weeks of December and the first week of January.

@Stanford:  Stanford returns everyone except its leading scorer from a team that finished near the bottom of the Pac-10 last season.  The Cardinal relied on a bunch of freshman a year ago, and should be improved assuming a normal progression and development.  This is Johnny Dawkins first head coaching gig, and so far it has been a struggle.  It will be interesting to see what year four brings.

          Key Returning Players:  Josh Owens, Anthony Brown, Dwight Powell, Jarrett Mann
          Key Losses:  Jeremy Green
          Notable Newcomers:  Chasson Randle
          Expectation:  This will be the Pack's first true road game, and it's all the way across the country.  Talent-wise, State looks better, but it would be overly optimistic to expect a victory in this situation.  Realistically, it could go either way.

NC Central:  Central is the trap game on State's 2011-12 schedule- it is sandwiched in between the Stanford and Syracuse games and takes place during exams.  The Eagles lost their best player, C.J. Wilkerson, but return everyone else and add two Big 12 transfers.

          Key Returning Players:  Landon Clement, Nick Chasten, Justin Leemow
          Key Losses:   C.J. Wilkerson, Dijon Manns
          Notable Newcomers:  Dominque Sutton (transfer from K-State), Ray Willis (transfer from OU)
          Expectation:   If State isn't focused on this game, it could be a struggle.  In the end, the Pack's talent will carry them.
Syracuse:  The Orange are loaded and will strut in to Raleigh to send a message their new conference mates in the ACC. Syracuse returns everyone except Rick Jackson, who provided most of its muscle inside.  If Fab Melo, Baye Moussa Keita or even James Southerland can give the Orange just a little production down low, the Cuse will meet expectations this season.

          Key Returning Players:  Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Fab Melo, Baye Moussa Keita, CJ Fair, Dion Waiters
          Key Losses:  Rick Jackson
          Notable Newcomers:  Rakeem Christmas, Michael Carter-Williams, Trevor Cooney
          Expectation:  This is a measuring stick game for the Pack.  Can State compete with the best teams in the nation?  A reasonable expectation lies somewhere in the range of pulling the upset and keeping it respectable.
St. Bonaventure (neutral site):  The Bonnies were a middle of the pack A-10 team last season, but are expected to improve on that effort.  They lost their second leading scorer, and return the rest of their key players.
          Key Returning Players:  Andrew Nicholson, Michael Davenport, Demitrius Conger, Da'Quan Cook
          Key Losses:  Odo Adegboye
          Notable Newcomers:  None
          Expectation:  This feels more like a road game than a neutral site game, though Rochester is two hours from St. Bonaventure.  The Bonnies will be a tough out for State who will be playing on two days rest following the Syracuse game.  This is another toss up.

Northeastern: The Huskies had a losing record in the Colonial Athletic Conference in 2010-11.  Northeastern returns most of its players except for leading scorer, rebound and distributor, Chaisson Allen.  Well, State deserves a breather after the schedule it's played to date.

          Key Returning Players:  Joel Smith, Jonathan Lee, Ryan Pierson, Alex Harris
          Key Losses:   Chaisson Allen
          Expectation:  After a difficult schedule, State gets a gimme game right before Christmas. Go Pack. 

Campbell:  As usual, Campbell stunk last year and will be bad again.  Apparently, the Camels just joined the Big South Conference- who knew?  At least the top two scorers return.

          Key Returning Players:  Eric Griffin, Lorne Merthie, Amir Celestin
          Key Losses:  Junard Hartley, Preston Dodson
          Expectation:  Blowout.

Western Carolina:  WCU finished first in its division of the Southern Conference in 2010-11.  However, the Catamounts' are picked third in their division this season as two of the top three scorers from last season are gone.  State fans surely remember Coach Larry Hunter who helped Coach Sendek implement the Princeton offense in 2002.

          Key Returning Players:  Trey Sumler, Harouna Mutombo, Brandon Boggs, Keaton Cole
          Key Losses:  Mike Williams, Richie Gordon
          Expectation: Western Carolina will not be a terrible team, but State should win handily based on the talent disparity.

Delaware State:  The Hornets were very bad a season ago, finishing 9-21 and near the bottom of the MEAC.  Fortunately for DSU, most of the key contributors return so they should be at least a little better than last year.

          Key Returning Players:  Casey Walker, Marques Oliver, Jay Threatt
          Key Losses:  Desmond Washington, Terron Stowe
          Expectation:   In State's final tuneup before the "Sabotage" game, the Pack should roll.

State's non-conference schedule is nothing to sneeze at, particularly the first 2/3 of it.  The Pack will need to get comfortable with the new system quickly to get through it with a good record.