When the Illinois game was done, I was pretty annoyed. The more I’ve thought about the game the more cooler heads have prevailed. Penn State had spent 20 hours traveling, lost their second leading scorer and was playing on the road against a Top 25 team. It says a lot more about Penn State that losing a game with so many issues around it could make me so annoyed. In all honesty Penn State could have pulled that game out with a bit better defense and some stronger bench scoring. We’ll save the “Bench scoring” rant for a different day though.
In Penn State’s defense they’ve done a pretty outstanding job this season. They didn’t win any of the big non-conference games, but outside of a Maine loss that isn’t as cripplingas it could have been, Penn State took care of buisness in that portion of the schedule and didn’t lose to teams they shouldn’t have. If Penn State was going to go dancing it was coming from Big Ten wins, not wins over Maryland and Ole Miss.
Big Ten play has gone pretty well all things considered. The only losses have come to Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State, and Michigan. Three of those teams in the Top 25 and a loss to a Michigan team that has given everyone problems without beating anyone. You can’t look at Penn State’s performance in the Big Ten season and see anything that makes you shake your head. They were seriously close to making it out of a death trap of a first seven game stretch with an over .500 record against Top 25 teams. It’s hard to really find fault with that.
All of the trust falling and hugs aside, Penn State has a lot of work to do. As much fun as the NIT was, that isn’t the goal right now. With Penn State’s in conference wins, they should be, and are, aiming for a NCAA bid. With eight games left in the regular season it isn’t out of question.
The key is going to be road wins. Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are all left on the schedule and at least two of those games seem winnable.
Michigan: Penn State has played pretty well at home and a win (tomorrow) would be a big step forward. Michigan isn’t a bad team, but they are a team in terms of numbers Penn State “should” beat. In the eyes of the NCAA selection committee those are games you need to win. If Penn State loses this game but gets a few wins on the road it won’t kill their chances, but a loss would be a step backwards.
@Michigan State: This is a game Penn State really needs to win. Michigan State is in straight up collapse mode and has lost almost all of their intimidation factor they’ve had the past few years. No team in the Big Ten argubly has given the Spartans more issues than Penn State, and the last Talor Battle-Kalin Lucas showdown ought to be as much fun as the last seven. A win here would be massive, even more so if Penn State has beaten Michigan the game before.
Northwestern:The Wildcats are playing Illinois as I write this preview. Depending on their result against a Top 25 team puts more or less vaule on this win. Penn State really can’t afford to lose games at home, so somewhat by default this makes this game a must-win. If a loss makes Penn State 2-1 over this stretch it isn’t a huge loss, but the Nittany Lions really need to pick up at least one win against a randomly good Wildcats team.
Minnesota: The Gophers are one of those teams that plays 30 minutes of great basketball and then can choke the game away in the end. This matchup really could come down to who starts off better as Minnesota is a good team, but a confusing one. Penn State needs to beat the Gophers once this year. At home would be nice, but a road win would be better. I’ll take both.
Overall this part of the season has the potential for Penn State to go 4-0. That never seems like a sure thing as a Penn State basketbal fan, but none of the teams in this stretch are out and out better than Penn State which makes it more than possible the Nittany Lions could win three games at home and pull out a road win against a struggling Michigan State squad. A lot of this will have to do with Jeff Brooks’ return to the lineup which could be tomorrow or more likely against Michigan State next Thursday.