January is entering its final days, analysts and bracketologists alike are starting up the discussion about the NCAA Tournament bubble as teams are trying to add to their tournament resume. While a team’s place on the bubble is not too important right now, it’s better to in the field or right on the cusp to have a good feeling about making the NCAA Tournament.
This is a question that Penn State is facing as its 13-8 record to this point in the season has not impressed anybody on the selection committee so far this season. The eight losses suffered so far by Pat Chambers and his team are not the end of the world as reigning national champion North Carolina lost seven in its title winning season. The 3-5 conference record is more of an issue because the Nittany Lions could have at least three more wins if not for poor play at the end of games.
The home losses to Minnesota and Wisconsin in Big Ten play are holding Penn State back as they were winnable games. The lack of defense and decision making late in the game resulted in losses for the Nittany Lions. The Golden Gophers were without two starters, yet were able to score 21 points in the overtime period. Those home losses contribute to the weak non-conference schedule Penn State played that saw games against teams like Binghamton and Coppin State.
Games against Texas A&M and NC State are good games to have on the schedule, but a loss does not help the resume. When Montana and Pitt are a bubble teams’ best non-conference wins, chances are that team is not headed to the NCAA Tournament. The 160th ranked strength of schedule also weighs down Penn State’s chances of receiving an at-large bid as the committee likes teams with a strong schedule full of resume-building victories.
While the Nittany Lions are not currently close to the field of 68 teams right now, they have plenty of upcoming opportunities to play into the tournament. While the Big Ten is one of the nation’s top conferences, Penn State has yet to face any of the Big Ten’s elite teams, allowing for opportunities to gain coveted victories against teams in the RPI Top 50.
It is not imperative that the Nittany Lions win all of those games, but they need to win at least two of those games for them to be considered on the bubble. With Nebraska being its best win on the season, Penn State needs a signature win on its schedule if it wants to push for the NCAA Tournament.
The flip side of that is the Nittany Lions have to avoid losses to teams like Illinois and Rutgers as any unnecessary losses would result in them fighting for a spot in the NIT. Penn State is trying to make its first NCAA Tournament under head coach Patrick Chambers, but it needs to pick up signature victories if a dream is to become reality.