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2017-’18 Season Recap: Penn State finishes regular season on the bubble

It’s been up and down and back up again for the 2017-’18 Penn State Nittany Lions

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Penn State Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Degree. Old Spice. Speed Stick. Axe. Dove. Right Guard.

These are just a few of the deodorant options those in State College can consider using in what’s sure to be a sweaty week in central Pennsylvania.

Yet at the risk of B.O. overtaking Happy Valley, most Penn State fans would have gladly signed up for a spot squarely on the bubble way back in October when year two of the Lions Philadelphia invasion prepared to kick into high gear.

And for a season that swung from higher highs and lower lows than the BitCoin market, hoping for a spot in Dayton at the NCAAs First Four seems fair when considering Penn State’s complete body of work.

Before all of the prognostications and blind resumes start filling up your timelines, it’s worth entertaining what happened and how the Nittany Lions got themselves onto unstable footing with Selection Sunday on the distant horizon.

Preseason

Pat Chambers seventh year at the helm of Penn State basketball was looked at as a make-or-break season for the head coach. The message from the fanbase and athletic director Sandy Barbour was pretty clear: Postseason or bust.

To further accentuate that point, Chambers entered the season in the last year of his contract, so the writing was on the wall if he failed to maximize on arguably the Lions best roster in program history.

Still, I think most people paying attention to Penn State basketball knew that the NCAA Tournament was an ambitious goal and viewed a potential trip to the NIT as a building block that would warrant a modest extension for the Lions head coach.

Non-Conference

Here are just a few of the ways I described Pittsburgh’s once-proud basketball program after its 31 point defeat at the hands of the Lions back in November: Dumpster fire, Flaming bag of poop, Lolz City, Robert Morris’ lesser half, Duquesne-lite, Stall Ballin’ and Free Fallin’, and Sean Miller’s safety school.

I don’t care how bad the Panthers were last year, Penn State owning its ‘rival’ on both the hardwood and gridiron is reason enough to throw a damn parade down College Avenue.

Now that I’ve had my fun, I’ll eat some crow. On the flip side of that Pitt destroying ecstasy is the knowledge that Penn State’s buzzer-beating defeat to former lettermen Ben Luber’s Rider Broncos might be the ultimate death blow to this teams NCAA aspirations.

And while Rider won the MAAC regular season title, its loss in the conference tournament Saturday evening limits Penn State’s ability to mitigate the defeat as a slip up against an NCAA Tournament-caliber opponent.

On the whole, the Lions non-conference strength of schedule is an albatross that will be hard for the selection committee to ignore. Thanks to down years from George Mason and George Washington, Penn State’s best non-Big Ten win looks to be a home victory over Montana.

Never has the results of the Big Sky conference tournament meant so much to the Lions, as if the Grizzlies can somehow take its leagues title, Penn State might just luck into a quad two win.

Conference

I mentioned that Penn State’s 2017-’18 season was full of high highs and low lows, yes? Nowhere is that more true than its head scratching run through the Big Ten.

Penn State somehow managed to lose a pair of home games to Wisconsin and Minnesota when those two teams were playing some of its worst basketball.

Then, when all seemed lost for the Lions, it somehow managed to go on a 6-1 run over a three week span to thrust itself back in the postseason conversation.

That stretch was bookended by two wins over nationally ranked Ohio State who, thanks to a Josh Reaves slam dunk that will live on forever, Penn State managed to pull the trifecta on by defeating again this week at the Big Ten Tournament.

Still if Pat Chambers finds his team on the outside looking in next Sunday, it’ll be tough to forgot Penn State’s 0-3 finish to the regular season. Had his team been able to grab just one win over Purdue, Michigan or Nebraska the Lions could quite possibly find itself firmly ready to dance this March.

Postseason Outlook

I know a lot still hangs in the balance, but I’d be willing to already call Penn State’s postseason a success. Without arguably its second best player in the injured Mike Watkins, the Lions managed to pull two season-saving wins out of their collective butts at Madison Square Garden.

Whether those victories over Northwestern and Ohio State will be enough to vault the Lions to its first March Madness bid since 2011 remains to be seen. In the end, it’ll come down to how much the committee values Penn State’s three victories over the Buckeyes against its 70ish RPI and weak non-conference schedule.

You can also bet that anyone advocating for the Lions inclusion in the Big Dance will cite how Tony Carr and Penn State passes the eye test. That’s a frustrating truth for much of Nittany Nation as while the Lions absolutely look the part, it’s swiss cheese resume might be too much to overcome.

Additionally, you could wager some money that anyone trying to talk Penn State out of the tournament will drop the phrase “You can’t spell Nittany without NIT”. To those people I say just stop it. Please. You’re not cleave. You’re just dumb. Do better.

Whatever ends up happening though, Penn State will be playing postseason basketball in one form or another. And for a program looking to build longevity and stability, that is an unequivocal step forward.