There were several teams that could easily fall under the “dark horse” category to win the Big Ten Tournament and make a surprising run in the tourney. Lower on that list of possible candidates was Penn State, who impressed the Big Ten with their new young core and their much improved roster, overall.
Well, the Nittany Lions started well with a win against Nebraska last night, but couldn’t parlay that good start into a good run in the conference tourney. Though they did beat the Spartans earlier on in the season, they were simply overmatched this afternoon.
Michigan State’s young guns were out to play, and carried Sparty to an NCAA Tournament appearance-clinching win.
Here’s what we learned from the basketball version of the Land Grant Trophy today.
What We Learned:
1. Penn State is close, but still has work to do
I don’t know about y’all, but I really like this Penn State team.
Their young players are not lottery picks, some do have some NBA upside, and definitely will give the Nittany Lions every chance to compete in the Big Ten for the next few years. Not to mention, they’ll be able to finally help raise the profile of Pat Chambers’ program and attract other recruits of Tony Carr’s quality to State College in future.
Tonight, Tony Carr was, once again, the best player on Penn State’s team. He was tied with fellow freshman Lamar Stevens for the team-high in points with 16. He also picked up five rebounds, which isn’t insane, it’s still good.
Aside from Stevens and Carr, Penn State didn’t get much of anything offensively, but that’s ok. This season was encouraging for them. They get Shep Garner and Payton Banks back next season, along with their core of young talents.
Today, we learned that they won’t beat teams much more talented than them on a regular basis just yet, but it’ll come soon.
2. It’s all on the freshmen.
Michigan State has a bona fide lottery pick on their roster in Miles Bridges.
He was their best player against the Nittany Lions, and he’ll have to continue to be that if Michigan State is going to make a run in the tourney. He scored 15 points today, alone with nine rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Joining him in the double-digit point club was fellow first year Spartan Nick Ward. He added nine rebounds of his own to his 15 points. He did start the season well, but came on very strong in the later stages of the season and has kept his play up since then.
Their freshman core of the aforementioned Bridges and Ward, along with Joshua Langford will need to be as good as they can be for the Spartans. If they can string together a few performance as good as today’s, they can, against all odds, be a dangerous team in the tournament.
3. Success during the regular season doesn’t matter, MSU always comes through in March.
I don’t know what Izzo does, but he does it.
Not too long ago, people thought Sparty was dead in the water and had virtually no chance of going to the tournament.
Now, today’s win against a team they clearly overmatched by a large margin shouldn’t be the ultimate indication of MSU’s chances moving forward, that would be crazy. But after ending the regular season weakly, this might have been all they needed to get back on track, and push their way towards the tourney.
Obviously, Izzo specializes in getting teams to succeed in the postseason, and there shouldn’t be anything to suggest that this extremely talented, albeit young as all get out, Spartan roster won’t make a run.
Penn State’s year may be over. Their year is probably done, barring an unusual CBI bid, but PSU fans should be plenty excited about the future of their basketball program.
Minnesota is up next for Michigan State. The teams met twice with the Spartans sweeping the season series. Michigan State won the first in overtime in Minneapolis and won convincing in the second at home. However, the Gophers are a much different team than they were then, and I’d venture to say that the Spartans are as well.
Their 2pm ET meeting tomorrow should be a very interesting one for both teams.