Despite some recent missteps, it’s been a great season for the Penn State Nittany Lions. The team got off to one of its best starts in recent memory and enter this week’s Big Ten Tournament well above the cut-line for the NCAA Tournament. However, the team’s recent struggles have fans concerned.
So, can Penn State get back on track this week? Let’s take a look.
As the six seed, Penn State will play its first game on Thursday evening against the winner of the Indiana and Nebraska matchup on Wednesday. Penn State went 2-1 against those teams in the regular season and would project as a favorite against either opponent.
The B1G tourney field is set. pic.twitter.com/pV0b4p0nxl— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 9, 2020
On paper, Indiana clearly appears to be the tougher opponent. The Hoosiers beat Penn State earlier this season and are significantly better than Nebraska in every general statistical category. Add in Nebraska’s depth issues and it’s easy to see why Nittany Lion fans should be hoping for the Huskers to pull off the upset on Wednesday night.
One downside for Penn State in its opening round game will be a clear deficit in confidence and comfort, as somebody will have played (and won) the day before. Penn State will be coming into its Thursday game ice cold after being off since Saturday. Playing back-to-back games will eventually wear you out, but it takes more than two games to do it. If Indiana or Nebraska can hit the ground running and get Penn State down, perhaps they can sneak out the upset. It’ll be key for Penn State to play well upfront with Lamar Stevens.
-If They Advance
Should Penn State make it past Indiana or Nebraska on Thursday, it would then move on to face Maryland on Friday. From an on-court perspective, Maryland looks better than Penn State and has certainly been playing better lately.
However, there are a few reasons for hope. To start, Penn State already beat Maryland this season. The Nittany Lions knocked off the Terps at home in early December in the only regular season meeting between the two. If you did it once, there are at least some reasons to think you can do it again.
Additionally and unlike the first game, Penn State would have the benefit of confidence and comfort, having played (and won) the day before. Maryland will be coming into its Friday game ice cold after being off since Sunday. Perhaps the Terps will tighten up if they get down early in a Big Ten Tournament game yet again.
If Penn State made it past Maryland, it would then likely face Michigan State or Ohio State after that. The Nittany Lions went 2-2 against those teams this season. In a title game, Penn State would likely seem somebody like Wisconsin or Illinois.
Regardless of what happens in this week’s Big Ten Tournament, Penn State fans should rest assured about the team’s NCAA hopes. The Nittany Lions are going to make this year’s Big Dance and it probably won’t even be that close. TRank actually currently projects Penn State as a six seed in the field, speaking to how comfortably the team should make the cut.
The only real danger fans have to be concerned about is if Nebraska somehow beats Indiana and advances to Thursday. In that scenario, a potential “bad loss” is on the table for the Nittany Lions. Otherwise, expect the team to make it comfortably and without much drama. A loss there and Penn State could slide significantly, though it would still make it.
After several down seasons, Penn State finally seems to have put it all together. The team has secured its spot in the NCAA Tournament and now enters the Big Ten Tournament hoping to improve its resume and get back on track after a few rough weeks. Fans should be excited about the team’s potential to do just that with a manageable slate.