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The Road Ahead: Charting Penn State’s Path Through The Big Ten Tournament

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SPOILER ALERT: It ain’t gonna be easy.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

With Michigan trouncing Nebraska last night in Lincoln, the Big Ten Tournament field is now official:

The 13th-seeded Nittany Lions will face the 12th-seeded Huskers in the opening round game, in what PSU will surely view as a great shot at revenge for the 82-66 beatdown laid upon them by Tim Miles’ club when they visited Lincoln on Valentine’s Day. Speaking of Tim Miles: It seems that his own fan base may be souring on him after yet another disappointing finish to the regular season (sound familiar?). In a way, the tables are reversed for this meeting in the sense that Nebraska has to travel the furthest to get to Washington, D.C. not unlike when PSU had to travel back from Champaign, Illinois on February 11th and then fly out to Lincoln just a couple of short days later. Don’t be surprised if PSU is able to take advantage of the travel-weary Huskers on a neutral court.

Should the Lions win on Wednesday, they will move on to face Michigan State Thursday afternoon. Led by recently-minted Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Miles Bridges, Tom Izzo’s Spartans will be seeking to avenge an earlier loss to PSU, particularly considering they are squarely on the bubble at 18-13 overall and 10-8 in Big Ten play. Granted, Sparty appears to be on the right side of the bubble, but losing to PSU would do them no favors with the selection committee, so look for them to come out playing with a sense of urgency.

If by some miracle, Penn State defeats Sparty for a second time this season, they will then get to face a Minnesota team whom the Lions split the regular season series with. Granted, the Gophers have been trending upward, having won eight straight games before losing at Wisconsin to close out the regular season, earning Richard Pitino a much-deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year award. Should PSU even make it this far, this is where the road is likely to end for them, as they will be playing their third straight game in as many days while Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, and the rest of the Gophers’ stars will be playing on fresh legs.

Now, Penn State is certainly no stranger to surprise runs in the Big Ten tournament, whether it was making back-to-back appearances in the semifinals in 2000 and 2001, or making it to the finals in 2011. However, those teams were very upperclassmen/senior-laden, unlike the current roster, so let’s not get carried away, here. That being said, I like this PSU squad to knock off Nebraska in the opening round before losing a hard-fought thriller of a contest against Michigan State.