For every team around the country, conference tournaments are vital with the winner getting the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Some teams are lucky enough to not have the pressure of needing to make deep runs in their tournaments.
Penn State is not one of those teams.
The Big Ten Tournament
The Nittany Lions had a number of opportunities in their final four games, but they lost their last three games and are the seven seed in the tournament. A 19-12 record is not terrible for a team on the bubble, but Penn State does not have a ton of key victories outside of Ohio State.
The good thing for Penn State is the Buckeyes are the number two seed, meaning the Nittany Lions will face them in the quarterfinals. The Northwestern Wildcats stand in the way of a quarterfinal appearance.
Northwestern their season finale against Iowa, but Scottie Lindsay was lights out from behind the arc with nine 3-pointers and 32 points. His ability to stretch the floor for Northwestern allows for Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh to penetrate, which is easier with Mike Watkins‘ availability in question.
The lack of a shot blocker in the paint means first team all-conference selection Tony Carr will have to be efficient as he has shot less than 50 percent in his last three games. Carr’s ability to take over a game will be needed for a team missing its third leading scorer.
The one issue with Carr is that he sometimes likes to play isolation ball, which kills the flow of the offense. He needs to play well in order for the Nittany Lions to have a chance of making a deep run.
NCAA Tournament Scenarios
A victory over the Wildcats would put Penn State at 20 on the year, but a quarterfinal loss to the Buckeyes would not bolster the tournament resume. Northwestern is a team with a record under .500, so a win is expected in that scenario.
A neutral site matchup with Ohio State will definitely help its tournament resume but a third victory over the Buckeyes would not guarantee a place in the NCAA Tournament. Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop has been solid all year, but struggled his last time out against Penn State.
Josh Reaves‘ length and athleticism bothered Bates-Diop and he will need to use his defensive prowess to stop the number two seed. Kaleb Wesson and C.J. Jackson disappeared for vast stretches of the game in Happy Valley and Ohio State needs both players to be playing well to avoid another upset.
If Penn State is able to slip by the Buckeyes, a semifinal matchup with Purdue would most likely await. The Boilermakers squeaked out a three point victory in Mackey Arena, even without the services of senior forward Vincent Edwards.
Knocking off a team like Purdue would go a long way in the eyes of the committee as the Boilermakers were on the top seed line for the majority of the season. An appearance in the conference tournament final would probably send the Nittany Lions into their first NCAA Tournament since 2011, but getting to Sunday will be a difficult task.