The Nittany Lions nearly conquered one of the hardest tasks possible on their schedule: knocking off two top 10 teams in back-to-back games.
In West Lafayette, Indiana, Penn State fell to the Boilermakers on the road, 76-73, putting an end to the hot four game win streak that they had been riding.
For Penn State and its fans, a hypothetical win was far more important than people might have anticipated.
Impact on Big Ten standings
Of course, the ultimate goal is to make the Tournament this season, which a victory over No. 6 Purdue would have helped boost the odds of said objective.
However, before Penn State can solidify that it belongs in the Big Dance, they must go through the entire Big Ten when the beginning of March rolls around.
Currently, Penn State is 19-10 overall and 9-7 in the Big Ten standings, five games behind the first place leading Michigan State Spartans, following the Purdue loss.
The Nittany Lions almost picked up another key victory over a ranked opponent, but that is beside the point.
The defeat at the hands of the Boilermakers nearly locks them into the sixth spot or lower in the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan, Nebraska problem
Fortunately for Blue and White, they play both Michigan and Nebraska to end the season. Yet, both teams would have to drop both of their final two matches to improve Penn State’s conference tournament seeding.
Penn State’s conference tournament seeding is a major concern because an early exit from this round of playoffs could bounce them from its NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Big Ten Tourney Outlook
As it projects, Penn State will land the sixth seed and play the winner of Minnesota and Illinois. Assuming the better team prevails, Minnesota, it would not be an ideal matchup for the Nittany Lions in the second round.
Minnesota is actually a talented team, but following some departures and devastating injuries, the team is nerfed compared to what its potential could be.
Again, let us assume the better team moves on, and now Penn State is faced against the Boilermakers or the Buckeyes depending on the regular season tiebreaker.
The Nittany Lions have taken down the Buckeyes twice, but they are still a force to be reckoned with. It is highly difficult to beat the same team three times, especially one out for revenge.
What could have been…
Ultimately, the Purdue loss will have a bigger impact than imagined based on a quick eye test.
With that win, it would have beefed up the NCAA Tournament resume and put them in a better position to claim the fourth or fifth spot in the Big Ten tourney.
These two seeds would have presented them with a possible third round bye and some easier matchups like Purdue, or Rutgers.
It is not the end of Penn State’s season, but the Purdue loss certainly puts a slight damper on the plan.
This year’s team has been impressive down the stretch with its talent, and is poised for a Tournament berth with a couple more signature victories.
The Nittany Lions have worked too hard to get into the bubble conversation, only to watch it burst in front of them because of the tough regular season scheduling and an unlucky matchup in the Big Ten Tournament.