Team: Penn State Nittany Lions
Record: 19-11 (9-8 Big Ten)
Games left: Just one at Nebraska on Sunday
Probable Big Ten Tournament seed: Seven. The Lions can’t get higher than than six, and they would fall to seven if they remain tied with Indiana following both teams’ regular season finales. The Hoosiers have a head-to-head tiebreaker over Penn State thanks to their 74-70 home win on January 9.
Probable NCAA Tournament seed: Out. It’s going to be an uphill battle to get into the dance following Wednesday’s loss to Michigan, but the Lions are still alive. If they do get in, it’s going to take at least a victory at Nebraska as well as two wins in the Big Ten Tournament. That likely means upsetting Purdue or scoring a third victory over Ohio State in quarterfinal action. Even if all that happens, Penn State could still get stuck on the 12 line with a First Four matchup.
Key players: Point guard Tony Carr, power forward Lamar Stevens, and center Mike Watkins are the top three players on the team. However, Watkins sustained a leg injury against Michigan and is out indefinitely. Without him in the lineup, Penn State misses a lot of shot blocking and a great pick-and-roll finisher.
Diagnosis: Since its upset of Ohio State on January 25, Penn State has looked like a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender. Pat Chambers has coached the team to six wins in its past nine games, with a victory over Maryland in the books alongside the two Ohio State triumphs. The three losses in that span have come against tournament locks Michigan State, Purdue, and Michigan. The problem for these Lions has been everything that happened before late January.
Penn State didn’t face too many challenges in the non-conference schedule, scoring only a victory over Big Sky leader Montana as far as quality wins are concerned. The Lions also lost to Texas A&M, North Carolina State, and Rider, the latter of which looks a little better now that the Broncs have rolled off 10 straight wins in the MAAC.
Still, overcoming the non-conference slate might have been easier if not for some losses to the bottom of a soft Big Ten. Finishing above .500 in the league isn’t what it used to be, and Penn State’s record would have looked much shinier if not for missed opportunities against Wisconsin and Minnesota at home.
The good news is that Penn State is playing like an NCAA Tournament team right now, and that could be the difference as it works to play its way into the field. Even without Watkins, Carr and Stevens give the team the firepower it needs to compete on offense. The biggest question is whether or not the Lions can maintain their defensive prowess with Stevens stepping in as the leading shot-blocker while Josh Reaves locks down on perimeter threats. We’ll get closer to finding out this Sunday in what promises to be a postseason atmosphere in Lincoln.
Will Penn State qualify for the 2018 NCAA Basketball Tournament?
This poll is closed