Penn State has climbed into a position that is unfamiliar for the program and its fans. With 9 Big Ten games remaining in regular season play, it is possible that the team could win just 2 from this point and still make the NCAA Tournament. The sights are set much higher than that for now, so let’s take a look at where things stand.
With the third straight B1G road win, 5th overall, Penn State has reached 4th place. There is a lot of basketball to be played but for now Pat Chambers’ team is just one game out of first place in the toughest conference in the country.
The Lions will play 3 of the next 4 games at home, the lone road game against Purdue.
It has been said that wins on the road are hard to get but with 3 in hand, Penn State has 5 games left at home, 4 on the road. One of the remaining games at home will be against Michigan State, so it won’t be a easy, but the match-ups moving forward overall are favorable. It’s likely that Penn State will be favored to win 7 of the final 9 games.
We’ll have to see how it works out. A 5-4 finish, defending the home court or making up for it with a road win should they drop a game at the Bryce Jordan Center, would get the team to 12 wins, something the program has only done once, in 1996, during Big Ten play.
The Lions have reached the best ranking since Ken Pomeroy began releasing his stats, sitting at No. 14 in the KenPom Rankings. The NET Rankings have Penn State at No. 21 and now the team is so far away from the bubble, it should be a little more than a month before their exact position is important, when seeding for the NCAA Tournament is near.
For now, the remaining schedule will be the focus. Nine games, most of which Penn State should win. When looking at the four remaining road games, three of the teams have a long tradition of playing well at home. Purdue may be struggling, but their stadium will be full of screaming fans. Indiana should be squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble in three weeks, playing for their post-season hopes at home. Iowa is one of the better teams in the country and will be playing at home, looking for revenge for what happened in the Palestra earlier in the season. Northwestern, the final game of the season, will be a test of mental strength for the Lions; a game that they should win if they focus.
Penn State may be favored on paper to win each of the remaining 5 home games at this point, but we know how tight the talent is around the league this year. They will not be able to toss their sneakers on the court and expect a win just because they showed up. It will take an effort similar to what we saw in East Lansing last night. From the opening tip, Pat Chambers’ team will have to bring the intensity.
Odds and Ends
- John Harrar played just 14 minutes, contributing very little in the stat sheet. However, with he, Stevens and Mike Watkins, Penn State was able to compete with Michigan State’s front line. That’s a massive contribution on a night where foul trouble on the post could have doomed the Lions.
- Seth Lundy played just 8 minutes and did not score. The freshman did not seem scared in a hostile environment and he came down with a huge rebound, and drew a foul, with just under 8 minutes to play and the Spartans trying to make a run. Like Harrar, his contribution was more about allowing the team to avoid foul trouble and gain rest to stay fresh.
- Following the game there was some conversation regarding potential coach of the year candidates in the Big Ten. While Rutgers and Illinois are having great seasons, it’s easy to see why Pat Chambers’ name will be included in that discussion. There will always be detractors of the head coach, no matter who it is, but for now, we can rest assured that Chambers will be coaching in Happy Valley for many years to come.
- Here is the box score from the game against Michigan State. Jamari Wheeler, Myreon Jones and Lamar Stevens all logged over 30 minutes played. Check out Stevens’ stat line. No zeros, though, the 3 turnovers are a couple too many. Stevens had turnovers on consecutive possessions but more than made up for it along the way. Mike Watkins had 2 zeros in his stat line but in happy places. No 3-point shot attempts, no turnovers in 26 minutes played. A solid game was needed from the big man and came at the right time.