Harvey Levine/FOS

Penn State Basketball Late-Season Reset

Sizing up the end of the regular season and realistic postseason scenarios for the Nittany Lions.

To say Penn State is enjoying a bye weekend heading into the stretch run of the regular season may not be completely accurate. 

Sure, the rest is welcomed for Pat Chambers' Nittany Lions (14-13, 6-8 Big Ten). But PSU is coming off an ugly 82-66 loss at Nebraska, a defeat that was far worse than the final score indicated and marked the third time this season the Lions rolled over in the second half of a road game.

Regardless, with no action on tap this weekend, we thought it would be a good time to size up the remainder of the regular season and consider the Nittany Lions' prospects for postseason play.

For the sake of argument, let's just go ahead and say Penn State has no REALISTIC shot of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. And we learned last year that Chambers has no desire to take his team back to the money-grab that is the CBI (nor does any other coach in the B1G). 

NIT OR BUST?

Harvey Levine/FOS

That leaves the NIT. While there is no hard-and-fast rule requiring a team to have a .500 or better record to qualify for the NIT, history tells us that in its current format, no team that finished worse than .500 has earned a bid. Since 2010, only one .500 team has made it (16-16 North Carolina in '10).

Since 2010, the average worst record to receive an at-large bid to the NIT has been right around 17-15. The range there has been from the Tar Heels' 16-16 to multiple teams that went 18-14.

So practically speaking, Penn State is going to have to finish at least a game over .500 to qualify for the NIT.

One important note: With a top 100 RPI (PSU is currently at No. 76) and an excellent strength of schedule (the Lions check in at No. 27 now), we'd imagine PSU will get a longer look from the NIT selection committee than it did when it finished 16-16 last season but had an RPI of 124 and an SOS of 82.

THE END OF THE REGULAR SEASON

Harvey Levine/FOS

The Lions have four regular-season games remaining — two at home, two on the road. If they split the four, they'll enter the B1G Tournament in Washington, D.C., at 16-15. One win there (and a final record of 17-16) would put them in decent position to get an NIT bid. 

If Penn State somehow manages to go 3-1 prior to the tourney, it will head to D.C. at 17-14. Given the Lions' RPI and SOS, an NIT bid would pretty much be in the bag.

If PSU goes 1-3 in the next four games, it will carry a 15-16 record into the tournament. That would mean the Lions would have to go 3-1 over four days at B1Gs to finish over .500. Don't bet the house on that happening.

Here are Penn State's remaining regular-season opponents and our take on the Lions' chances in each game. Overall, this stretch should only help PSU's RPI and SOS.

Feb. 21: No. 16 Purdue (21-5, 10-3, No. 19 RPI)

Caleb Swanigan and the oversized Boilermakers are a matchup nightmare for the Nittany Lions, whose only remotely consistent five man is redshirt freshman Mike Watkins. Purdue destroyed Penn State 77-52 in West Lafayette Jan. 21. 

But the Boilermakers are a different team away from home. They have already dropped road conference games to Iowa and Nebraska, a pair of teams in the same area of the conference standings as Penn State.

Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have beaten the last four ranked opponents that have entered the Jordan Center (look it up).

This is a huge game for Penn State. If it can figure out a way to beat Purdue, the path to the NIT becomes that much smoother.

Feb. 25: @ Minnesota (19-7, 7-6, No. 20 RPI)

PSU edged the then-ranked Golden Gophers 52-50 at the Jordan Center Jan. 14. And Minnesota is a very average 3-3 at home in B1G play. 

Don't let any of that fool you, though. After losing five straight, Minnesota has put together four straight wins heading into Sunday's home game with Michigan. 

Jerry Palm currently has the Gophers as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, so they appear to have some margin for error on that front. But two of their final four games are on the road against Big Ten leaders Maryland and Wisconsin.

So as much as the Lions may need this game to get into the NIT, it is also the sort of outing Minnesota has to win to solidify its NCAA standing.

Feb. 28: Ohio State (15-12, 5-9, No. 63 RPI)

This is really the game the Lions can't afford to lose. The Buckeyes have a 2-6 road record in the conference, and have struggled with consistency all year.

Ohio State is also trying to scratch out an NIT bid. It closes the season with three of its final four games at home.

March 5: @ Iowa (14-12, 6-7, No. 103 RPI)

Heading into this weekend's action, the Hawkeyes are 5-1 at home in Big Ten play. Only one of those wins was over a conference contender (the aforementioned Purdue game).

Iowa is 1-6 on the road in the B1G. Why does that matter here? Because prior to closing the regular season vs. Penn State, the Hawkeyes play back-to-back games at Maryland and Wisconsin.

GUESSING GAME

Mark Brennan/FOS

Our completely unscientific guesstimates on Penn State's possible records down the stretch:

4-0: 2 percent. Penn State has not won four straight regular-season Big Ten games since 2009. It has only done it twice since joining the conference in 1993. 

3-1: 10 percent. Penn State has had one 3-1 stretch in regular-season Big Ten games in Chambers' six years at the helm. It came last winter, though.

2-2: 35 percent. The Nittany Lions are going to be underdogs in all but one of their final four regular-season games. So to get here they'll have to beat Ohio State and steal one of the other three. Very do-able.

1-3: 43 percent. Unfortunately for PSU fans, this is the most likely scenario. To avoid it, the Lions will either have to upset Purdue or grab their third conference road win of the season.

0-4: 10 percent. Penn State has not lost more than three B1G games in a row for nearly two full seasons now. 

WHAT IF?

Harvey Levine/FOS

It is easy to look at the Nittany Lions' B1G schedule this year, identify three very tight losses (two to Indiana, one to Michigan) and think, “What if?”

But it really makes no sense to do that unless you are willing to flip it around, and consider “what if” Penn State had lost the close games it won vs. Minnesota and Illinois.

The point is that in a conference as balanced as the Big Ten, nearly everyone is going to win AND lose their share of tight games.

The one loss that is shaping up as an absolute killer for the Lions, though, is Rutgers at home Feb. 4. PSU went through the motions for 36 minutes vs. a very bad Scarlet Knight team it handled easily on the road earlier in the season. And a late flurry was not enough to prevent the 70-68 defeat.

Even for a young team, it was really inexcusable. 

To their credit, the Lions rebounded by upsetting Maryland at the BJC and then beating Illinois on the road.

But had PSU beaten Rutgers at home, it could be sitting at 15-12 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten right now. And that would have meant even a 1-3 record heading in the final four games would have assured a winning record entering B1Gs.

LOOKING AHEAD

In our next update, we'll take a closer look at the format of the Big Ten Tournament. We'll also consider whether the Lions will be better off playing on the opening day or receiving a first-round bye.


Fight On State Top Stories

\n

To say Penn State is enjoying a bye weekend heading into the stretch run of the regular season may not be completely accurate. 

\n

Sure, the rest is welcomed for Pat Chambers' Nittany Lions (14-13, 6-8 Big Ten). But PSU is coming off an ugly 82-66 loss at Nebraska, a defeat that was far worse than the final score indicated and marked the third time this season the Lions rolled over in the second half of a road game.

\n

Regardless, with no action on tap this weekend, we thought it would be a good time to size up the remainder of the regular season and consider the Nittany Lions' prospects for postseason play.

\n

For the sake of argument, let's just go ahead and say Penn State has no REALISTIC shot of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. And we learned last year that Chambers has no desire to take his team back to the money-grab that is the CBI (nor does any other coach in the B1G). 

\n

NIT OR BUST?

\n

\"\"Harvey Levine/FOS
\n

That leaves the NIT. While there is no hard-and-fast rule requiring a team to have a .500 or better record to qualify for the NIT, history tells us that in its current format, no team that finished worse than .500 has earned a bid. Since 2010, only one .500 team has made it (16-16 North Carolina in '10).

\n

Since 2010, the average worst record to receive an at-large bid to the NIT has been right around 17-15. The range there has been from the Tar Heels' 16-16 to multiple teams that went 18-14.

\n

So practically speaking, Penn State is going to have to finish at least a game over .500 to qualify for the NIT.

\n

One important note: With a top 100 RPI (PSU is currently at No. 76) and an excellent strength of schedule (the Lions check in at No. 27 now), we'd imagine PSU will get a longer look from the NIT selection committee than it did when it finished 16-16 last season but had an RPI of 124 and an SOS of 82.

\n

THE END OF THE REGULAR SEASON

\n

\"\"Harvey Levine/FOS
\n

The Lions have four regular-season games remaining — two at home, two on the road. If they split the four, they'll enter the B1G Tournament in Washington, D.C., at 16-15. One win there (and a final record of 17-16) would put them in decent position to get an NIT bid. 

\n

If Penn State somehow manages to go 3-1 prior to the tourney, it will head to D.C. at 17-14. Given the Lions' RPI and SOS, an NIT bid would pretty much be in the bag.

\n

If PSU goes 1-3 in the next four games, it will carry a 15-16 record into the tournament. That would mean the Lions would have to go 3-1 over four days at B1Gs to finish over .500. Don't bet the house on that happening.

\n

Here are Penn State's remaining regular-season opponents and our take on the Lions' chances in each game. Overall, this stretch should only help PSU's RPI and SOS.

\n

Feb. 21: No. 16 Purdue (21-5, 10-3, No. 19 RPI)

\n

Caleb Swanigan and the oversized Boilermakers are a matchup nightmare for the Nittany Lions, whose only remotely consistent five man is redshirt freshman Mike Watkins. Purdue destroyed Penn State 77-52 in West Lafayette Jan. 21. 

\n

But the Boilermakers are a different team away from home. They have already dropped road conference games to Iowa and Nebraska, a pair of teams in the same area of the conference standings as Penn State.

\n

Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have beaten the last four ranked opponents that have entered the Jordan Center (look it up).

\n

This is a huge game for Penn State. If it can figure out a way to beat Purdue, the path to the NIT becomes that much smoother.

\n

Feb. 25: @ Minnesota (19-7, 7-6, No. 20 RPI)

\n

PSU edged the then-ranked Golden Gophers 52-50 at the Jordan Center Jan. 14. And Minnesota is a very average 3-3 at home in B1G play. 

\n

Don't let any of that fool you, though. After losing five straight, Minnesota has put together four straight wins heading into Sunday's home game with Michigan. 

\n

Jerry Palm currently has the Gophers as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, so they appear to have some margin for error on that front. But two of their final four games are on the road against Big Ten leaders Maryland and Wisconsin.

\n

So as much as the Lions may need this game to get into the NIT, it is also the sort of outing Minnesota has to win to solidify its NCAA standing.

\n

Feb. 28: Ohio State (15-12, 5-9, No. 63 RPI)

\n

This is really the game the Lions can't afford to lose. The Buckeyes have a 2-6 road record in the conference, and have struggled with consistency all year.

\n

Ohio State is also trying to scratch out an NIT bid. It closes the season with three of its final four games at home.

\n

March 5: @ Iowa (14-12, 6-7, No. 103 RPI)

\n

Heading into this weekend's action, the Hawkeyes are 5-1 at home in Big Ten play. Only one of those wins was over a conference contender (the aforementioned Purdue game).

\n

Iowa is 1-6 on the road in the B1G. Why does that matter here? Because prior to closing the regular season vs. Penn State, the Hawkeyes play back-to-back games at Maryland and Wisconsin.

\n

GUESSING GAME

\n

\"\"Mark Brennan/FOS
\n

Our completely unscientific guesstimates on Penn State's possible records down the stretch:

\n

4-0: 2 percent. Penn State has not won four straight regular-season Big Ten games since 2009. It has only done it twice since joining the conference in 1993. 

\n

3-1: 10 percent. Penn State has had one 3-1 stretch in regular-season Big Ten games in Chambers' six years at the helm. It came last winter, though.

\n

2-2: 35 percent. The Nittany Lions are going to be underdogs in all but one of their final four regular-season games. So to get here they'll have to beat Ohio State and steal one of the other three. Very do-able.

\n

1-3: 43 percent. Unfortunately for PSU fans, this is the most likely scenario. To avoid it, the Lions will either have to upset Purdue or grab their third conference road win of the season.

\n

0-4: 10 percent. Penn State has not lost more than three B1G games in a row for nearly two full seasons now. 

\n

WHAT IF?

\n

\"\"Harvey Levine/FOS
\n

It is easy to look at the Nittany Lions' B1G schedule this year, identify three very tight losses (two to Indiana, one to Michigan) and think, “What if?”

\n

But it really makes no sense to do that unless you are willing to flip it around, and consider “what if” Penn State had lost the close games it won vs. Minnesota and Illinois.

\n

The point is that in a conference as balanced as the Big Ten, nearly everyone is going to win AND lose their share of tight games.

\n

The one loss that is shaping up as an absolute killer for the Lions, though, is Rutgers at home Feb. 4. PSU went through the motions for 36 minutes vs. a very bad Scarlet Knight team it handled easily on the road earlier in the season. And a late flurry was not enough to prevent the 70-68 defeat.

\n

Even for a young team, it was really inexcusable. 

\n

To their credit, the Lions rebounded by upsetting Maryland at the BJC and then beating Illinois on the road.

\n

But had PSU beaten Rutgers at home, it could be sitting at 15-12 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten right now. And that would have meant even a 1-3 record heading in the final four games would have assured a winning record entering B1Gs.

\n

LOOKING AHEAD

\n

In our next update, we'll take a closer look at the format of the Big Ten Tournament. We'll also consider whether the Lions will be better off playing on the opening day or receiving a first-round bye.

","mobileBody":"

Follow @MarkXBrennan

To say Penn State is enjoying a bye weekend heading into the stretch run of the regular season may not be completely accurate.

Sure, the rest is welcomed for Pat Chambers' Nittany Lions (14-13, 6-8 Big Ten). But PSU is coming off an ugly 82-66 loss at Nebraska, a defeat that was far worse than the final score indicated and marked the third time this season the Lions rolled over in the second half of a road game.

Regardless, with no action on tap this weekend, we thought it would be a good time to size up the remainder of the regular season and consider the Nittany Lions' prospects for postseason play.

For the sake of argument, let's just go ahead and say Penn State has no REALISTIC shot of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. And we learned last year that Chambers has no desire to take his team back to the money-grab that is the CBI (nor does any other coach in the B1G).

NIT OR BUST?

\"\"Harvey Levine/FOS

That leaves the NIT. While there is no hard-and-fast rule requiring a team to have a .500 or better record to qualify for the NIT, history tells us that in its current format, no team that finished worse than .500 has earned a bid. Since 2010, only one .500 team has made it (16-16 North Carolina in '10).

Since 2010, the average worst record to receive an at-large bid to the NIT has been right around 17-15. The range there has been from the Tar Heels' 16-16 to multiple teams that went 18-14.

So practically speaking, Penn State is going to have to finish at least a game over .500 to qualify for the NIT.

One important note: With a top 100 RPI (PSU is currently at No. 76) and an excellent strength of schedule (the Lions check in at No. 27 now), we'd imagine PSU will get a longer look from the NIT selection committee than it did when it finished 16-16 last season but had an RPI of 124 and an SOS of 82.

THE END OF THE REGULAR SEASON

\"\"Harvey Levine/FOS

The Lions have four regular-season games remaining — two at home, two on the road. If they split the four, they'll enter the B1G Tournament in Washington, D.C., at 16-15. One win there (and a final record of 17-16) would put them in decent position to get an NIT bid.

If Penn State somehow manages to go 3-1 prior to the tourney, it will head to D.C. at 17-14. Given the Lions' RPI and SOS, an NIT bid would pretty much be in the bag.

If PSU goes 1-3 in the next four games, it will carry a 15-16 record into the tournament. That would mean the Lions would have to go 3-1 over four days at B1Gs to finish over .500. Don't bet the house on that happening.

Here are Penn State's remaining regular-season opponents and our take on the Lions' chances in each game. Overall, this stretch should only help PSU's RPI and SOS.

Feb. 21: No. 16 Purdue (21-5, 10-3, No. 19 RPI)

Caleb Swanigan and the oversized Boilermakers are a matchup nightmare for the Nittany Lions, whose only remotely consistent five man is redshirt freshman Mike Watkins. Purdue destroyed Penn State 77-52 in West Lafayette Jan. 21.

But the Boilermakers are a different team away from home. They have already dropped road conference games to Iowa and Nebraska, a pair of teams in the same area of the conference standings as Penn State.

Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have beaten the last four ranked opponents that have entered the Jordan Center (look it up).

This is a huge game for Penn State. If it can figure out a way to beat Purdue, the path to the NIT becomes that much smoother.

Feb. 25: @ Minnesota (19-7, 7-6, No. 20 RPI)

PSU edged the then-ranked Golden Gophers 52-50 at the Jordan Center Jan. 14. And Minnesota is a very average 3-3 at home in B1G play.

Don't let any of that fool you, though. After losing five straight, Minnesota has put together four straight wins heading into Sunday's home game with Michigan.

Jerry Palm currently has the Gophers as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, so they appear to have some margin for error on that front. But two of their final four games are on the road against Big Ten leaders Maryland and Wisconsin.

So as much as the Lions may need this game to get into the NIT, it is also the sort of outing Minnesota has to win to solidify its NCAA standing.

Feb. 28: Ohio State (15-12, 5-9, No. 63 RPI)

This is really the game the Lions can't afford to lose. The Buckeyes have a 2-6 road record in the conference, and have struggled with consistency all year.

Ohio State is also trying to scratch out an NIT bid. It closes the season with three of its final four games at home.

March 5: @ Iowa (14-12, 6-7, No. 103 RPI)

Heading into this weekend's action, the Hawkeyes are 5-1 at home in Big Ten play. Only one of those wins was over a conference contender (the aforementioned Purdue game).

Iowa is 1-6 on the road in the B1G. Why does that matter here? Because prior to closing the regular season vs. Penn State, the Hawkeyes play back-to-back games at Maryland and Wisconsin.

GUESSING GAME

\"\"Mark Brennan/FOS

Our completely unscientific guesstimates on Penn State's possible records down the stretch:

4-0: 2 percent. Penn State has not won four straight regular-season Big Ten games since 2009. It has only done it twice since joining the conference in 1993.

3-1: 10 percent. Penn State has had one 3-1 stretch in regular-season Big Ten games in Chambers' six years at the helm. It came last winter, though.

2-2: 35 percent. The Nittany Lions are going to be underdogs in all but one of their final four regular-season games. So to get here they'll have to beat Ohio State and steal one of the other three. Very do-able.

1-3: 43 percent. Unfortunately for PSU fans, this is the most likely scenario. To avoid it, the Lions will either have to upset Purdue or grab their third conference road win of the season.

0-4: 10 percent. Penn State has not lost more than three B1G games in a row for nearly two full seasons now.

WHAT IF?

\"\"Harvey Levine/FOS

It is easy to look at the Nittany Lions' B1G schedule this year, identify three very tight losses (two to Indiana, one to Michigan) and think, “What if?”

But it really makes no sense to do that unless you are willing to flip it around, and consider “what if” Penn State had lost the close games it won vs. Minnesota and Illinois.

The point is that in a conference as balanced as the Big Ten, nearly everyone is going to win AND lose their share of tight games.

The one loss that is shaping up as an absolute killer for the Lions, though, is Rutgers at home Feb. 4. PSU went through the motions for 36 minutes vs. a very bad Scarlet Knight team it handled easily on the road earlier in the season. And a late flurry was not enough to prevent the 70-68 defeat.

Even for a young team, it was really inexcusable.

To their credit, the Lions rebounded by upsetting Maryland at the BJC and then beating Illinois on the road.

But had PSU beaten Rutgers at home, it could be sitting at 15-12 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten right now. And that would have meant even a 1-3 record heading in the final four games would have assured a winning record entering B1Gs.

LOOKING AHEAD

In our next update, we'll take a closer look at the format of the Big Ten Tournament. We'll also consider whether the Lions will be better off playing on the opening day or receiving a first-round bye.

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