On Sunday Penn State lost a battle on the road against a team that is projected to make the NCAA Tournament. It’s always tough for fans to watch their favorite team lose but in the bigger scheme of things, it wasn’t a game that they had to win.
As we come down the home stretch of the regular season the picture is becoming a little clearer as to where the line of separation may be for teams hoping to finish in the top-4 of the conference, which would garner a double-bye spot in the Big Ten Tournament.
It’s hard to project at this point, but with a pack of teams at 10 wins and a few others with 9, it seems like 13 wins would be enough to secure a top-4 position. 12 wins should be enough but there are 7 or more teams that can still get to that number without winning out.
Purdue (7-10 B1G) and Minnesota (7-9 B1G) sit at .500 overall and at this point will need to make a run to get into the NCAA Tournament field. Ohio State, Indiana and Rutgers would need to win out to get to 12 conference wins.
The good news for the Lions is that they will play 3 of their final 4 games against teams that are in the hunt for a double-bye spot. They control their own destiny as far as that goes, but to win the conference title, they would need a little help.
While we focus on the bunch of teams grouped tightly behind the Lions there remains just one team, with two weeks to play, ahead of Pat Chambers’ squad in the standings. Maryland lost to Ohio State on Sunday, keeping them just two games ahead of the pack. The Terps have a tough schedule to finish like many other Big Ten teams and they could stumble.
Were the Lions to win all 4 remaining games, Maryland would need to win 3 or more games to stay in first place, since Penn State has the tie-breaker by winning the lone match-up this season. The Lions don’t have to win more games in order to take home the Big Ten title, they simply need to tie the Terrapins.
For the record, the seeding process goes by conference wins, then if teams are tied, the first tie-breaker is head-to-head games. The next tie-breaker is the record against the top team in the conference. With a 1-0 record against Maryland, Penn State will win the tie-breaker against most teams that it could finish 1-1 against during the regular season, were the Terps to hang on to first place.
Iowa and Michigan State remain on the schedule and Penn State already has a win against each team, so a loss would hurt, but were the Lions to end up tied with either of those teams, it would have the tie-breaker since those teams can finish no better than 1-1 against Maryland.
While the pack is tight, the Lions still have arguably the best shot to catch Maryland and hold the tie-breaker with many of the teams at the top. There’s still 4 games to be played, so wins matter more than tie-breakers, but as we head down the stretch, remember that Penn State holds the advantage over most teams it could end up tied with in the standings.
- With Myreon Jones out of the lineup and Curtis Jones having played just 12 minutes against Indiana, the rotation got very lean for Pat Chambers. Of the 7 players that played 19 or more minutes, only Mike Watkins (1) finished with fewer than 3 fouls. The starting 5 had 20 fouls between them.
- John Harrar got 10 rebounds against Indiana, the second-highest total in his career. Harrar had 12 against Utah in the NIT Championship game during his freshman season. Mike Watkins had just 4 boards and no blocked shots, so Harrar’s output helped keep the Lions in the game.
- Seth Lundy didn’t score against the Hoosiers, attempting just one shot late in the game. It wasn’t a wasted effort for the youngster, though, as he played 25 important minutes with the bench short for the game, blocked 3 shots, had a steal and 4 rebounds.
- While it would be great to win out and all fans will hope for that, two more wins would tie the most ever for the program in Big Ten competition. It has been a great season and even if the team finishes 2-4 down the stretch, it could have a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and get to 12 conference wins for just the second time in over 25 years.
- Lamar Stevens came this close to making it a one-possession game with 40 seconds to play. It appears that the refs got the call right, none of the 3 Indiana players made contact. It seemed to take Stevens by surprise that a clear path emerged, he double-clutched and the ball just didn’t go in. The rebound went just barely over the backboard and while it was a tough break, the refs made the right call to give the ball to Indiana. It’s hard to blame anyone for that, the team got the ball to their best player, he got a great look, it just didn’t go in.