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Unofficial Bye Week: The Lions Rest as the Big Ten Fights On

Lamar Stevens and company have some time to recharge their batteries.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a win on the road against the Wolverines, Pat Chambers’ team has a week to recover. The squad has managed to even the conference record at four wins and four losses, which puts them well within the margins to make the NCAA tournament at the end of the year. The NET rankings this morning have the Lions sitting at 29.

While Penn State will rest for the next seven days as they await Indiana, who will come to town next Wednesday night, the Hoosiers will have to play two games in that time. Tonight they will take on Michigan State at home and on Sunday they will host Maryland. A two-game home stand against two very good teams.

When Indiana arrives in Happy Valley, likely weary from two hard-fought conference games, they might encounter the largest crowd since Pat Chambers arrived on campus nearly a decade ago. 14,785 fans were on hand to witness the end of the three-game losing streak when the Lions beat Ohio State, the largest crowd since Chambers came to town.

Even if the number of people in the stands is not a new record, the enthusiasm coming down from above, received by the players, will be as helpful as it has been in a long time. Maybe ever. It’s a great time to be a Penn State basketball fan.

Big Ten Standings

The standings change on a nightly basis but at the bottom a couple of teams are beginning to stake their claim. Northwestern and Nebraska are the only two teams in the Big Ten that people seem comfortable with ruling out as possible tournament contenders. While the two teams are capable of handing losses to the rest of the league, they will have to up their games to get on the post-season radar.

A couple of spots above, at 3-5 in conference, sits Purdue. The Boilermakers are squarely on the bubble of making the NCAA tournament as an at-large team at 46 in the NET, with a 6-4 non-conference record to go with that. They will likely need to finish at 10-10 or better in conference to get tournament consideration. Next up for Purdue is a home game against Wisconsin.

Minnesota, at 4-4, has a good start to the conference slate but they, too, likely will need to finish .500 or better to make the NCAA tournament considering their weak performance in the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Gophers sit at 43 in the NET, right on the bubble, and will travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State tonight.

The rest of the league played well enough in the non-conference schedule to allow the possibility of making the tournament while finishing 9-11 in Big Ten play. We’ll see how things shake out, but that seems to be the case. The Buckeyes return home with a NET ranking of 18, very strong considering their losses, but the 2-5 B1G record is worrisome, at least to their fans. A win against the Gophers would put the team back on track and in the middle of the pack in conference standings.

Though Michigan is sitting at 2-5, 11-7 overall, their NET ranking is well inside the bubble to make the tournament. The Wolverines, like the Buckeyes, will have plenty of chances to right the ship and they have a very solid team.

That brings us to the Penn State Nittany Lions. With the win against Michigan the team has moved far enough from the tournament bubble to take a sigh of relief. We can speculate what it would take from this point, 5 more wins, maybe 6, to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in Pat Chambers’ tenure. One thing we know for sure is that the team and coaching staff has proved that it is capable of pulling it off. We’ll have to wait to see whether they do.

Watching Other Games

Initially this season there was a mantra that there were no elite teams in the country compared to other years, and that somehow that was a bad thing. Before the NBA began mandating that players stay out of the league for at least one year out of high school, this is how it was. NBA-caliber players went to the NBA, the rest went to college.

For the past decade or so there have been 3-5 teams each year, usually led by a player that would have otherwise been in the NBA had it not been for that rule, that dominate the NCAA game. It has been going on for so long that some fans can’t remember when the talent was spread around as it is this year. Some call it parity. Others say it’s a return to form.

One thing that is for sure, for fans of college basketball, this has been a very exciting season. For Big Ten fans, this is a dream year. Twelve of fourteen teams have a realistic shot at making the post-season. Teams such as Penn State and Rutgers, not known for their basketball prowess, have garnered national attention, each reaching the top-20 in the NET rankings at one point.

It has made for some great television each night of the week for fans. Tonight, while the Lions begin their 7-day break between games, fans can watch Indiana and Michigan State, anticipating what the Hoosiers will bring to Happy Valley. The match-up between the Gophers and Ohio State tonight at 6:30 p.m. on Fox Sports One is not an elimination game by any means, but it will seem critical to the teams and their fans.

Fox Sports One

There will be two great Big Ten games on FS1 tonight but on February 18, the Lions will take part in a very special broadcast. While hosting Illinois, currently second in the Big Ten standings, the broadcast will be free of commercials.

Each coach will have a microphone so that fans will be able to hear them talk as the game unfolds. The locker room and timeout conversations will be heard and seen for the first time by many fans, and we’ll have to wait to see if the language conforms to broadcast norms.

The Illini have a nice looking team this year and it should be a very entertaining experience for the fans, one that Fox Sports One is calling its All-Access game.