It’s natural for people that follow a team that has not been ranked for over two decades to notice when the team is, and isn’t, within the top-25 of the AP Poll. It’s a nice feeling to get that acknowledgement, but as we’ve pointed out in the past, only the NET Rankings will be used to pick the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament.
The selection committee will use the NET as their chief guiding metric but they will also have other ways of determining the field. Last year every team within the top 45 of the final NET Rankings made the NCAA Tournament. Penn State finished 50th in the NET a year ago, a point, more important than AP Poll positioning, that some fans forget.
There is no guarantee that the top 45 teams will make the tournament, that will be determined by how many of the automatic qualifiers, by virtue of winning the conference title, were ranked lower than 36, the number of at-large bids available. Last year there were nine, this year it could be more, fewer or the same.
With Penn State well within the field of the NCAA tournament a while back I wrote this.
As long as the Lions keep their NET Ranking under 35, and overall conference record near .500, there is no reason for concern that they will miss the NCAA tournament. The Big Ten is a tough league. There will be home losses. There will be road wins. And if the team should dip outside the top-40 in the NET Rankings for a few days in January or February just remind yourself that the only time the rankings matter is once all of the games are played, including the conference tournaments.
That general guideline remains in place but since then is the Lions dropped all the way to number 41 in the NET Rankings. With the win on Saturday against the Ohio State University, the Lions moved back to No. 36.
We have now experienced a scary stretch that sent Penn State, for three days in mid-January, to a position that would be close to the bubble for making the NCAA Tournament. The Lions are now in a position, were the season to end today, to be selected as an at-large team to the big dance. They have been all season, even after losing their third straight game last Wednesday.
Breath a sigh of relief, the three-game losing streak is over, the team is far enough away from the bubble for now that a loss or two won’t be cause for concern.
What Will It Take?
What record will the Lions need to achieve in order to make the NCAA tournament? There has been a lot of talk lately that the number of wins it will take is as high as 21, but thankfully that talk has not come from reliable sources.
I am not much of a prognosticator when it comes to sports because ultimately the games will be played, we will know the outcome. It seems silly to worry too much about it. When I was in my 20’s I wrote under the pen name Cassandra, after the Greek mythological figure that had the ability to predict the future but the curse that no one believed her.
When I said Pat Chambers wouldn’t be fired two years ago in January, few people wanted to hear it. Last year when I said that Chambers would likely choose when he left Penn State, not the athletic department, it sent his detractors into a tizzy. A few days ago some people started calling for his job again; he’ll likely sign a contract extension before the summer is over. So I will give my projection, with the knowledge that I am correct and also that few people will believe me.
Penn State will need to finish with a conference record of 9-11. That’s 6 more wins in 13 games. Sure, we can all hope that the team will win more games than that, but just for the record, 9-11 will be enough. The Lions won’t need a Big Ten tournament win at that number, either. I know, right? Crazy. People will believe the 19 wins but losing the first round of the conference tournament? That’s a lot of poppycock, some will say in the comment section.
It is just a silly prognostication made by someone that has the ability to see into the future and chooses to use that power to write for roughly minimum wage with the Black Shoe Diaries. Just remember that the Sweet 16 team led by Joe Crispin finished two games under .500 in the Big Ten that year. Ed DeChellis’ team in 2011 entered the tournament with a 19-14 record, having won 7 of their last 10 to get there.
Let that sink in. The two Penn State teams that have made the NCAA tournament this century have had a losing record in-conference or was 12-11 at one point. If you are prone to worry when the team loses a game or two, let that set you at ease. Not since the mid-90’s has a Penn State team been in such great position to make the tournament this early in the season.
Also, at 2-4 in the Big Ten, two games under .500, the Lions remained in a spot that was probably within the NCAA tournament, No. 41 in the NET. Things can change, nothing is set in stone, but we have that as a reference point.
I do believe that at least one Big Ten team, maybe a few, will make the NCAA Tournament with a losing conference record. I’m not sure which team or teams it will be but it just seems logical that some good teams are going to take some losses. The Buckeyes have lost 5 of their last 6 games but remain at No. 19 in the NET Rankings. The next opponent, Michigan, is 2-4 in conference, 11-6 overall and is in 29th place in the NET.
So what do you think? How many wins will it take for the Lions to make it to their third NCAA tournament this century?