Penn State Big Ten Tournament Outlook

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Chambers and company probably need at least two wins for an NIT bid.

Here's one thing that the Penn State basketball team has going for it as Big Ten Tournament play begins on Thursday: The Nittany Lions have alternated wins and losses since February 20. Their last game was a loss on Sunday in Minnesota, so logically their next game will be a win on Thursday... against Minnesota.

Yes, Penn State and the Gophers will face each other for a third time this season and for the second time in a row. Sunday's 81-63 loss didn't go well for the Nittany Lions, but it could have gone worse as they quickly fell behind Minnesota 23-3. So for the rest of the game, Penn State outscored their opponent 60-57.

Not good enough of a silver lining? Well, there's just not much to grasp onto for Penn State fans hoping for the team to advance far enough to qualify for the NIT. That will likely take two wins, with the first coming against a Minnesota team that converted on 18 of 25 two-point field goals on Sunday. The Gophers' defense has been more than vulnerable in conference play, but Penn State has got to make it tougher for players like Maurice Walker (16 points on 4-for-5 shooting) to score if they hope for the upset.

When Richard Pitino put three guards in his starting lineup, Pat Chambers put his team behind the eight ball by playing Brandon Taylor at small forward. Taylor is great at stretching the floor against bigger lineups, but against a three-guard setup, he proved rather useless. Opposing guards have no trouble defending Taylor on the three-point arc, and he didn't do enough on Sunday to make his size an advantage.

Chambers has to make a choice on Thursday: either replace Taylor in the starting lineup with a guard like Geno Thorpe who can help out on defense, or instruct Taylor to make up for his defensive deficiencies by having him post up a Gopher guard on offense.

If the Lions are able to make some adjustments and defeat Minnesota, they'll face Wisconsin in the quarterfinals. That's not as bad a matchup as it looks like, as Penn State has enough athleticism to score on the Badgers, and the two teams played a close game in State College on March 2. Wisconsin won 71-66, but Penn State shot better from the field (48 percent to 44 percent) and beat the Badgers on the glass, 34-28.

So there's a chance for Penn State to reach the semifinals? Technically, yes! And hope is a powerful thing, I'm told. Knocking off Minnesota and Wisconsin on consecutive days is a tall order for any team, but this Penn State team has played surprisingly well away from central Pennsylvania in 2014. Let's see how much their scrapiness is really worth.

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