The Penn State Nittany Lions are reeling. After accumulating big wins over Michigan State, Minnesota Maryland and Illinois in January and early February, the Nittany Lions have stumbled. Penn State has lost their last five contests and has only looked somewhat competitive in two of them.
On February 21st, Purdue came to town, and the Nittany lions gave them all they could handle. Caleb Swanigan was held to just 10 points and 9 rebounds, Mike Watkins dominated the paint, and Tony Carr took over. Their ultimate loss in overtime was tough to swallow, but the Nittany Lions looked like they would compete the rest of the regular season.
Then, they didn’t. As the magic fizzled, so did their ability to win. Penn State finished 12th in the standings with a 14-17 record.
The Big Ten Tournament provides the young Penn State squad with a second chance to prove they can hang with the top of the conference.
Let’s look at how they might fare.
Penn State will get an opportunity to exact revenge on the Nebraska Cornhuskers, as they enter the Tourney with the 13th seed. The last time they met the Cornhuskers ran the Nittany Lions out of the gym, to the tune of an 82-66 beat down.
For Penn State to win this time around, they must do a better job contesting Nebraska’s shooters. The Cornhuskers finished the game shooting 55% from the field, with most of the buckets coming from mid-range and at the rim. Nebraska attacked the Nittany Lions’ poor transition defense, as well as neutralized Mike Watkins, the only interior threat for Penn State.
If Penn State can properly utilize Watkins’ energy in the paint and get Carr going offensively and limit poor shot selection from the arc, they have a good shot at winning the game. If Shep Garner and Payton Banks decide to play hero ball, it will be a long day for the Nittany Lions.
If They Advance
While challenging, Penn State can get past Nebraska. From there, the road is long and dark. The top half of the bracket is a brutal gauntlet, with Michigan State waiting at the first stop. The following round is red hot Minnesota with the five seed. Even before the Big Ten Championship, Purdue would likely represent the semi-final opponent.
Penn State can beat every team in their path. Except for Purdue, which was an overtime loss, the Nittany Lions have won against each team they would likely encounter. The problem is beating them in succession, on short rest, and shedding the dour energy caused by their current losing streak.
Outside of a first round upset of Nebraska, there shouldn’t be much hope for a deep run in the Tournament. Penn State has proven they have a roster that can compete this year, and with so many young players, they have performed admirably.
The team simply hasn’t performed well enough on a consistent basis. It is March, though. If the Nittany Lions can muster some momentum and confidence they certainly have the talent to do some damage.