Being a Penn State basketball fan is an exercise in patience and the hope that springs eternal in the form of previews like these every offseason that attempt to fantasize about possible ways this team can reach the NCAA Tournament (or at the very least, some type of postseason). While such Big Dance prospects are believed to be a long shot according to every media outlet's Big Ten basketball preview out there, with Pat Chambers sporting arguably his deepest, most collectively talented team in his PSU coaching tenure and still seeking his first winning record at PSU, expectations are nonetheless being ratcheted up heading into the 2014-2015 shooty hoops campaign. Ergo, let's take a brief look at all of the potential postseason scenarios:
This of course, was the tournament that PSU found itself in last season, qualifying despite sporting an overall sub-.500 record at 15-17. Barring any catastrophic injuries to key players *COUGHDJNEWBILLCOUGH*, this may be the worst-case scenario for PSU in 2015, due in part to the not-so-challenging non-conference slate. There is a very good chance PSU could be 10-3 or better heading into its Big Ten schedule and given the low criteria required for a power conference team to get a CBI invite, if PSU ends up back in this tournament, it's because their Big Ten campaign was a bitter disappointment. We're talking about a regression from last season's 6-12 conference record, here.
This is what some may consider the most likely postseason outcome for this year's squad. Several years ago, when the NCAA took over all aspects of the NIT, they reduced the number of slots from 40 to 32 teams, and also added automatic bids for teams who won their conference during the regular season but failed to get an NCAA Tournament bid. Additionally, the NIT removed the criteria requiring all invited teams be at least .500 or above overall record-wise, though it should be noted that no team with a sub-.500 overall record has received a bid since these changes. Assuming they take care of business in the non-conference portion of their schedule (i.e. 10-3 or better), even a repeat of last year's 6-12 conference record should be good enough to land PSU in the NIT, particularly given the Big Ten's reputation as one of the toughest conferences in college basketball.
The NCAA Tournament
Imagine a scenario come conference play time where Devin Foster and/or Shep Garner become comfortable enough running the point full-time, shifting D.J. Newbill back to his natural 2-spot, Jordan Dickerson improves his rebounding and scoring while continuing to be a shot-blocking presence down low, Donovon Jack gets his fouling problem under control, Brandon Taylor/Ross Travis become consistently reliable wingmen, and John Johnson becomes a more consistent scorer. This would allow for the possibility of not only repeating last year's Big Ten conference record, but improving upon it, thanks to pulling off a few more Ohio State-caliber shockers of the conference's top dogs (i.e. teams projected to finish in the Top 4-5 of the Big Ten standings). A 9-9 conference record is most certainly doable if of all those aforementioned things come to fruition. Once again, assuming PSU takes care of business in its non-conference portion of the schedule, with 19 or 20 overall wins, PSU would be squarely on the bubble. Presuming the Big Ten still maintains its reputation of being one of college hoops' juggernauts in the eyes of the selection committee, Pat Chambers' crew could be sitting on the right side of the bubble come Selection Sunday .