To this point, I've been hesitant to believe in this team. Yes, there have been big wins like the other night against Michigan, and yes, there have been upsets like the win over Purdue, but any sports fan knows that a team destined for special things has to have a defining game along the way, one that says to the world "You can't stop us".
In 1986, the Nittany Lion footballers beat #2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa 23-3. Thats the game a lot of people will remember because it was so high profile a win, however, it probably wasn't the defining game on the way to JoePa's second national title.
In the next game, the Lions beat West Virginia 19-0 in Morgantown before welcoming Maryland the following Saturday. The Terrapins gave us a real dogfight, and gave PSU the closest game they'd play all year. But at the end of the day, the champs prevailed, and lived to fight another day after a 17-15 win.
The 2005 football team beat #6 Ohio St. at home, and many people will remember that as one of the greatest games in Penn State history. But, perhaps it was the win over Northwestern that defined the team more. That came before any ranking, or publicity, or College Gameday visit. It came at a time when most people probably didn't believe in the team yet after all the struggles in the years previous. It probably, like this game against the Hawkeyes, had a lot of people turning off their TVs in disgust.
Perhaps these are the games that define great teams. Nail-biters against teams you're supposed to beat. Games that you may not play your best, but find a way to get it done anyway.
After seening what the Lions did tonight, I can't help but feel that missing the tournament would be a dissappointment. I know, it has been a great season so far, probably the best season since '01, but I think it is pretty clear that this team is capable of more than just MAKING the tournament, its capable of making noise once it gets there.
With the win tonight, the Lions control their own destiny for the #2 seed in the Big 10 tournament. A slip up by the Spartans, and a win over them next Sunday, and suddenly, we're right there in the race for a conference title. A CONFERENCE TITLE!
Do I expect those things? No. But from here on out, it should be the goal of every person in that locker room to win the Big 10, not simply get to the NCAA tournament.
If there is a such thing as Penn State basketball kool-aid, let me be the first to say, I'm drinking it. Free throws be damned. I believe in this team.