Before I go getting your hopes up about a potential NCAA Tournament bid for Penn State, I need to bluntly state that the odds are not very good. In fact, there’s probably a better chance that a guy like Lloyd Christmas ends up with a girl like Mary Samsonite. Bracketologists such as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi (Next Four Out) and CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm (not even listed) are barely acknowledging the Nittany Lions as a bubble team at this juncture. That being said, PSU is not entirely out of the running just yet. PSU’s profile is similar to a number of other fellow bubble teams, whether it is by having a similar number of quadrant one wins, quadrant three/four losses, or a combination thereof.
This post will run through all of the major conference tournaments (plus the Mountain West) and what would need to happen in order for Penn State to put itself on top of all of the bubble teams in the pecking order. The premise is simple: If a bubble team is playing, it needs to lose. If a team that beat Penn State is playing, it needs to win. If a team that Penn State beat is playing, it needs to win. Sound good? Great!
Teams of Interest: Syracuse, Notre Dame, Louisville
Who To Root For: North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida State, NC State
Syracuse and Notre Dame both came into the ACC Tournament needing at least two wins, given the fact that both teams got stuck playing against inferior opponents in Wake Forest and Pitt, respectively in the opening round. Both the Orange and the Irish passed their first tests, and must now face far more difficult foes in Round 2. Syracuse takes on North Carolina, while Notre Dame faces Virginia Tech. Victories for both the Tar Heels and Hokies could really help Penn State’s cause, here.
Meanwhile, Louisville finds itself squarely on the bubble after blowing a 5-point lead in the final 11 seconds against likely overall No. 1 seed Virginia (which would have made the Cardinals a lock for the Big Dance) and losing on the road at NC State to end the regular season. A loss to Florida State in their first game of the conference tournament could be the final knockout blow to Louisville’s NCAA hopes, so root like hell for the Seminoles.
NC State, as you may know, beat Penn State back in November as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Given that the Wolfpack are probably safely in the NCAA’s at 21-10 overall and 11-7 in conference play, it’s in PSU fans’ best interest to root for the Wolfpack to make a deep run and increase PSU’s strength of schedule.
Teams of Interest: Texas, Oklahoma State,
Who To Root For: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech
Iowa State is the clear-cut bottom feeder of the Big 12, sporting a 13-17 overall, 4-14 conference record. The only way the Cyclones can go dancing obviously, is if they win the Big 12 Tournament, which is extremely unlikely. Meanwhile, their first round opponent Texas, is squarely on the bubble and with a sub-.500 record in conference play (8-10), the Longhorns will need to win at least two games to feel good about seeing their names called on the Selection Show. A loss to the Cyclones in the opening round would surely doom Texas to the NIT. Should the ‘Horns hook Iowa State as expected though, they will still have to get by Texas Tech in the next round, so root for the Red Raiders to take care of business as the No. 2 seed.
While Oklahoma does have a lower seed (9th) than Oklahoma State (8th), thanks to an epic collapse over the last month that saw them lose seven of their last nine games, the Sooners are still projected to be in the tournament regardless how they fare in the Big 12 tournament. Oklahoma State meanwhile, is in desperate need of a couple of wins to feel good about their NCAA hopes. Root for Trae Young, and whoever may actually step up to help him, to take down Okie State.
Teams of Interest: Marquette
Who To Root For: DePaul, Villanova
With six of the Big East’s ten teams already projected in the Big Dance, Marquette is the only team still providing any sort of bubble drama. The Golden Eagles will face bottom-feeder DePaul in their opening round matchup, where a loss will stamp them a one-way ticket to the NIT. DePaul has already taken down Marquette once this season, so don’t think they won’t relish the role of trying to play spoiler again. Even if Marquette wins as expected, a win over DePaul does nothing to boost their resume, and thus, you will want to root for Villanova to take them down and (perhaps ultimately) burst their bubble.
Teams of Interest: Boise State
Who To Root For: Winner of the Colorado State-Utah State opening round game
Given that Boise State is around the same bubble position as Penn State, an early exit at the hands of whoever wins the opening round game between Colorado State and Utah State should be enough to relegate the Broncos to NIT status.
Teams of Interest: USC, UCLA, Washington, Utah, Arizona State, Oregon
Who To Root For: Colorado, Arizona, Oregon State, Washington State, winner of the Cal-Stanford opening round game
Arizona State is currently projected in the dance as an 11-seed according to Lunardi, but a loss to Colorado in the dreaded opening round game would have Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils sweating it out on Selection Sunday. Washington, Oregon, and Utah all appear to be below Penn State in the bubble team pecking order at the moment, and Washington has to face bottom-feeder Oregon State while Oregon faces another bottom-feeder in Washington State. Should those two teams get by, the Huskies would have to face USC in the quarterfinals, followed by Oregon having to knock out Utah in the quarters. Also, if the winner of the Cal-Stanford opening round game were to take down UCLA in the next game, that would be swell. And as always, root for the favorites like Arizona to win the whole damn tournament, lest any team with zero chance of an at-large bid steal and automatic bid.
Teams of Interest: Alabama
Who To Root For: Texas A&M
This one is quite simple: Bama is right on the bubble, but a win or two in the SEC tournament would be enough to get them into the Big Dance, given that they open tournament play against Texas A&M, a team that is already a lock. Texas A&M was also a former opponent of PSU’s, whom the Lions played admirably against on a neutral site before ultimately succumbing to defeat. The better the Aggies look, the better PSU’s strength of schedule also looks.