Penn State basketball capped off its regular season with another dominant victory, this time beating Illinois, 72-56. The win was Penn State’s seventh win in its last 10 which led to a final record of 14-17 and 7-13 in the Big Ten, it has truly been an incredible turnaround for a team that had not won a Big Ten game through the month of January.
Many will look back on Penn State’s season and wonder what could have been. If it had not been for some close losses earlier on in the season, the Nittany Lions may be looking at a potential NCAA tournament bid, something that now won’t be possible unless Penn State wins the Big Ten tournament.
Following an NIT Championship last season, the expectation was an NCAA Tournament and obviously, Penn State has come short of expectations this season. But, the last month has given the Nittany Lions a more positive outlook on the season. Even though the postseason is unlikely, Penn State fans can still feel like the team grew this season.
The record may not be pretty, but Penn State can no longer look back as it heads into the Big Ten Tournament. The Nittany Lions earned themselves a first-round bye with its victory over Wisconsin and Indiana’s win over Rutgers on Sunday.
The Nittany Lions will play on Thursday night and they will take on the seven seed Minnesota. A loss likely ends Penn State’s season, while a win keeps it afloat and keeps its slim postseason hopes alive.
But, the million-dollar question for Penn State is can it find a way to sneak into the NIT tournament with an impressive weekend in Chicago. Being the defending NIT champions for sure helps, but would a sub .500 record be enough?
The only way the Nittany Lions finish the season above .500 is if they win four games in four days, which would put them at 18-17 and in the NCAA Tournament. A run to the finals, but a loss would put Penn State at 17-18, but would that be enough to sneak them in?
When you look at the resume, Penn State is arguably an NCAA tournament team, but obviously, the Nittany Lions are not sneaking in with a below .500 record. Their body of work is still impressive, nonetheless.
Penn State has three top-25 wins, coming in victories over Virginia Tech, Michigan, and Maryland, and nearly beat Wisconsin on the road last week. The Nittany Lions are ranked 50th in the NET, and to put that into perspective, Penn State is one spot behind 23-8 Temple, who is expected to make the tournament. The next highest sub .500 team is ranked 80th, so Penn State is ranked above a lot of teams with much better records than them.
Looking at the Kenpom rankings and Penn State sits at 40th, one spot above 21-10 Iowa. It is crazy when you take away the record and look strictly at the rest of the resume and Penn State looks to be a legitimate NCAA tournament team.
If you also consider how the Nittany Lions have played down the stretch, they are likely a top-25 team if you look at just the month of February. But, obviously, the committee will look at the entire season and Penn State did not do enough earlier on to warrant consideration.
So, when you look at Penn State right now and ask are they an NCAA tournament team? The answer is yes. But that is not how it works. After suffering too many close losses, Penn State will be on the outside looking in unless some miracle happens in Chicago this week.
If Penn State was to make the NCAA Tournament, they would compete, and maybe they’ll be given an opportunity in the NIT. Odds are stacked against them though, but as we have learned with this team over the past month, anything is possible.
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