PSU Outside Looking In

Its NCAA Tournament hopes dashed, Penn State readies for a first-round NIT date with George Mason.

Penn State coach Ed DeChellis knew his team was in trouble relatively early in the CBS NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday.

The second regional bracket announced was the East, and when it included only one Big Ten team — 12th-seeded Wisconsin — it was clear the proverbial bubble the Nittany Lions had been perched on the last few weeks popped.

With half of the bracket revealed, only three Big Ten teams were in the tournament. And since the selection committee rarely puts more than two teams from the same league in any of the four regions, it meant there would be at most four more Big Ten teams picked.

And conventional wisdom said Penn State, which finished the regular season with a double-overtime loss at struggling Iowa and then was whipped by Purdue in the second round of the Big Ten Tourney, was the eighth conference team in consideration for NCAAs.

“I don't think [the players] realized it,” DeChellis said shortly after the team watched the selection show in a private room at the Bryce Jordan Center. “When there were only three Big Ten teams in the one [side of the] bracket, you knew your number was not going to come up because they aren't going to put five on the other side.”

But senior captain Jamelle Cornley remained steadfastly hopeful until the final region was released, saying, “I didn't give up at all. I had a lot of confidence.”

That confidence was replaced by disappointed when the final bracket was revealed and the Nittany Lions (22-11, 10-8 Big Ten) found themselves on the outside looking in.

“It's tough; very tough,” Cornley said. “Throughout the year, that was our biggest goal.”

DeChellis said he felt the math was not in PSU's favor after a handful of teams played their way into NCAAs by unexpectedly winning their conference tournaments.

“Coming into this thing, I thought it was going to be very hard to get eight [Big Ten] teams into the tournament,” DeChellis explained. “I thought we needed one more win. … We didn't get it.”

Most experts who analyze the NCAA Tournament selection process felt Penn State's poor nonconference schedule hurt the Lions on selection Sunday. The non-conference RPI strength of schedule was below 300 as of Sunday morning. The overall strength of schedule was just above 100.

In DeChellis' view, his team was stung by a loss to Rhode Island in the semifinals of the Philly Hoop Classic. Instead of facing powerhouse Villanova (No. 13 RPI) in the final, the Lions earned a date with Towson (No. 220 RPI) in the consolation. He also reiterated a previous point that several teams Penn State scheduled this year did not turn out to be as good as the Lion staff hoped.

“We tried to schedule smartly,” he said. “But maybe it was not smart enough, obviously.”

Cornley said he believed the staff did what it felt was best with the schedule, adding, “It didn't work out in our favor in certain people's eyes. That's something we could look at in further detail. But it happens.”

DeChellis also maintained that the Lions did enough in the Big Ten to earn a bid to NCAAs, regardless of what happened outside of the conference.

“To me, it is what our team has done in the No. 1 RPI-rated league in the country,” he said. “When you go through your league and you have four Top 25 wins and six top-50 RPI wins, that should mean something, whether the wins come out of conference or in conference. A win is a win. That's a little disappointing.”

Getting over that disappointment is the key now. Though the Lions did not earn their first NCAA bid since 2001, they are slated to play in the NIT.

The open against George Mason Tuesday night at the Jordan Center. The game is slated to tip at 8 p.m. and will be carried by ESPNU. Penn State is a No. 2 seed in the NIT.

“We have to turn everything into a positive at this point,” Cornley said. “We can sit around and mope as much as we want. But when all is said and done, we have to get back on the court and perform.”


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