Why do we find ourselves here every year? Every year we go into the Big Ten tournament knowing Penn State needs a miracle run in order to make the NCAA tournament. I guess it's better than last year when we knew nothing short of winning the Big Ten tournament would suffice, but just barely.
As it stands now, Penn State is tied with Michigan, Michigan State, and Illinois for fourth place in the Big Ten. They split their games with the Spartans and Illini, and they fell in both of their games to the Wolverines. Combine Penn State's abysmal performance in their non-conference games and you can pretty much consider the Nittany Lions to be at the tail of the group, which means they're really seventh in the conference.
But it's not fair to say Penn State is already completely eliminated. At this moment their RPI is 56, and they have the 6th most difficult schedule. Under normal circumstances in a conference like the Big Ten, that should be enough. But Penn State's resume lacks any wow factor. They bombed in all of their high profile non-conference games, and just for good measure they added a loss to Maine.
Their run through the Big Ten regular season wasn't that impressive. Six of their nine conference wins came against the four teams that finished 8-11 in the standings. They did manage two wins over Michigan State and Illinois that looked really good at the time, but eventually both teams avenged those losses, and then they fell back to 9-9 in the standings along with Penn State. Penn State's best win of the season was against Wisconsin who is currently ranked #13 in the nation and in RPI. That's just not good enough.
If Penn State is going to make it to the NCAA Tournament, they have to impress the selection committee starting tonight when they tip off against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament. Then if they get through that they have to turn around in 24 hours and face the Wisconsin Badgers who are coming off of an embarrassing loss to the Buckeyes last weekend. Penn State will have to make quick work of the Hoosiers and get their key players on the bench if they can in order to save their legs for Friday night.
If the Lions can get through the Badgers they're probably looking at a matchup with Purdue, or possibly the Spartans, on Saturday. A win there probably gets them into the tournament, but having to play that game less than 24 hours after playing Wisconsin with Penn State's shallow bench is a tall order.
Can Penn State get into the NCAA Tournament? It's possible, but they have a lot of work to do first. Hopefully we'll have something to cheer about on Selection Sunday.