With the Big Ten regular season coming to a close, teams around the conference are trying to put themselves in better positions for the conference tournament.
The Nittany Lions have been one of the nation’s top teams as they are ranked 25th in the KenPom and 26th in the BPI. Teams with those type of numbers are normally in the tournament, but Penn State currently sees itself among the next four out according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
The one problem with Penn State’s resume is its lack of signature wins as Nebraska is the Nittany Lions’ top victory outside of two Ohio State victories. Another issue is the large number of bad losses in conference play as Wisconsin, Northwestern and Minnesota are all weighing down Penn State’s resume.
All of this makes Penn State a team on the cusp of making the NCAA Tournament and need a couple of wins late in the season to solidify its place. Penn State has the talent to make things happen in March, but need to play to its capability in order to impress the committee.
The Nittany Lions’ last two games against Michigan and Nebraska give them chances to prove themselves. The Wolverines are ranked 17th in the AP poll and have been one of the conference’s top teams throughout the season, while the Cornhuskers have been one of the Big Ten’s best teams in January and February.
Players to Watch
Both of Penn State’s upcoming games are winnable, but head coach Patrick Chambers needs star point guard Tony Carr to play his best basketball. The conference’s leading scorer was the Big Ten Player of the Week for his play against Ohio State and Purdue, but went 8-22 from the field in his last game against the Boilermakers.
His ability to break down the defense has been huge for the Nittany Lions as he has created opportunities for Lamar Stevens, who has been one of the conference’s top players this season. Stevens has shown this season that he is capable of leading Penn State in scoring as he dropped 25 points on only 12 shots against Maryland.
The sophomore duo needs to play the best basketball of the season as losing any game down the stretch could see Penn State in the NIT. The most important thing for the Nittany Lions is to concentrate on the game in front of them against Michigan, who is one of the conference’s top teams.
Upcoming Opposing Players to Watch
The trio of Moritz Wagner, Charles Matthews and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman are capable of taking games over and need junior Josh Reaves to lock down the perimeter against them. He might not lead Penn State in scoring against Michigan or Nebraska, but he might be its most important player as he has to defend Michigan’s perimeter players and James Palmer Jr. of Nebraska, one of the Big Ten’s best scorers.
The Nittany Lions are one of the most underrated teams in the nation, but a pair of victories to end the regular season would put them in the tournament.