Bubble Watch: Non-Conference Could Doom Penn State Once Again

With Illinois' 72-48 win against Indiana and Michigan's 70-63 win against Michigan State on Saturday, the regular season will finish with at least a three-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten as Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan are all in the clubhouse at 9-9 in conference play. Penn State will have a chance to join those teams in a .500 tie when it travels to face Minnesota Sunday in Minneapolis. Here's a look at what all four teams' resumes would look like if the Nittany Lions earn a victory. We're going to include all games won and lost against each other.

Illinois-19-12 (9-9). RPI-42. SOS-13. Key Wins: Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Minnesota*, Michigan, Penn State Key Losses: Illinois-Chicago, Northwestern, Indiana.

Michigan State-17-13 (9-9). RPI-44. SOS-13. Key Wins: Washington, Minnesota (twice), Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State Key Losses: Michigan (twice), Iowa.

Michigan-19-12 (9-9). RPI-58. SOS-24. Key Wins: Clemson, Penn State (twice), Michigan State (twice), Minnesota. Key Losses: Gardner-Webb, Indiana, Minnesota. 

Penn State-16-13 (9-9). RPI-59. SOS-6. Key Wins: Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota (twice). Key Losses: Maine, Michigan (twice), Michigan State, Illinois.

*Who really knows if Minnesota is a good or bad loss to the committee at this point. We included it so you know how each team played it. Judge for yourself.

On the whole, Penn State's resume looks almost indistinguishable from the other schools. Everyone has good wins, and everyone has bad losses. However, Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan are all widely regarded as locks for the tournament at this point while Penn State is still considered to be on the outside looking in. Why? The real separator is how each team looked in non-conference play.

Michigan has the best non-conference record of the bunch at 10-2. Illinois is a game back at 9-3 and Michigan State finished 8-4, though all four losses came to ranked opponents.

Penn State was 7-4 and is the only team without a notable non-conference victory. The Duquesne win was decent, but it doesn't measure up to Michigan beating Clemson, Michigan State beating Washington and Illinois beating Gonzaga.

When the Nittany Lions missed the NCAA Tournament in 2009, it was the result of a poor non-conference schedule torpedoing a 22-10 record.

This time around, Penn State put together a non-conference schedule that was widely received as respectable in comparison to 2009 and chalk for of opporunites to build its resume against teams like Maryland, Ole Miss and Virginia Tech before heading into a brutal Big Ten. The team just didn't handle this more difficult schedule very well, going 0-3 against those teams and dropping an additionl out-of-conference loss to Maine.

Ultimately, Penn State was as good as it had to be in the Big Ten this year. It just didn't get it done when it counted in November and December.

Could this be a classic case of darned if you do, darned if you don't for Talor Battle, Ed DeChellis and Co.? Looks that way right now.

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