Penn State will go into the Big Ten Tournament as either the 6 or 7 seed. That much we know with just four conference games left to play on Sunday before the brackets are official. Just a week ago, the Lions had a chance to finish anywhere from 1st to 8th, now it is likely that they will be the 7 seed.
There is only one way for the Lions to move up to the 6th spot; it would require road underdogs Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State to lose. Any other combination of outcomes would leave Penn State in the 7th seed.
Here is the full bracket.
If you see where the 6 and 7 seeds play, it will be Thursday at either 6:30 p.m. or the game that starts 25 minutes after the conclusion of the 7 and 10 game. For fans that is good news, since they won’t have to worry about trying to catch the game during work hours.
Were the Lions to win their first game, the next would be played on Friday at the same times, either 6:30 p.m. or the game that starts after that. A second win would mean Penn State would play at roughly 3:30 on Saturday.
While the seed may be a notch or two lower than some fans may have hoped for, the path will be similar had the team finished 5th. If you look at the Big Ten Standings, other than the bottom three, all of the teams are fighting for either post-season positioning or a spot in the post-season. There will be no easy games, not even on the second day of the tournament.
Penn State will face either a team heading to the NCAA Tournament or on the bubble, fighting for its chances, or one that is coming off a first round win. Either way it will take the team’s top effort, something that has been lacking lately.
I’m Not Slumping, You’re Slumping!
During the final six games of the season, which saw Penn State lose all but one, fans and the team hung in pretty tight until lately. Toward the end of the Michigan State loss, we saw players having disagreements on the floor for the first time this season. Team chemistry is always tested with adversity.
In the stands, there were some moments of friendly fire as well. When you can’t get the attention of young men on the team, mostly within a year or so of the age of twenty, to take out your frustration, sometimes it ends up being directed at fellow fans. It has been toughest for those who choose not to criticize others or the team, as they sit and watch the swarm of negativity grow around them.
The good news is that the Lions were not the only team to have a tough stretch this season. Sure, theirs came after the longest conference winning streak in program history and extended to the end of the regular season, so it is fresh in the mind of fans. Other teams have struggled and come out of it.
Ohio State weathered a 1 and 6 stretch that started in December. Wisconsin lost 4 of 5 in that same time period. Maryland has lost 3 of their past 4 heading into a tough match-up with Michigan. The Spartans lost 4 out of 5 just last month and Illinois lost 4 in a row. Rutgers went 2-6 until recently and Michigan had a streak of 4 losses in 5 games early in the conference schedule. Those are all teams, in the Big Ten, that are expected to make the NCAA Tournament.
So fans looking for precedent, or hope that the Lions can turn things around, have that to keep hope alive. Good teams have struggled this year, just as the Lions have. It may come down to the best three players on the roster getting their mojo back.
After averaging two blocks per game all season, Mike Watkins has recorded just 2 blocks during the Lions’ 1-5 downward turn. Watkins has only scored in double digits once in the past six games. It hasn’t been a strong showing for the senior, who was held out of the final game for breaking team rules.
Lamar Stevens has struggled as well, missing shots that he normally would make, appearing fatigued at times. Myreon Jones returned from injury three games ago and while he looked great in the first half of the Michigan State game, he has not been the same, scoring just 8 points in the other 5 halves he has played since coming back.
They say that you dance with the one that brought you. For only the second time in 19 years, the Lions will play in the Big Dance following the Big Ten Tournament. There is no free agency and there are not players on the bench capable of fully replacing Stevens, Watkins and Jones. The three players will get help from their teammates, and also the fans, but ultimately it will be their play that determines the future of the team.
While watching other teams during their rough patches it was much of the same. Cassius Winston struggled as did Michigan State. Ohio State was off while Kaleb Wesson wasn’t quite right. Michigan suspended its senior leader for a game during their downturn. The list goes on. When your best players struggle, it’s hard to overcome it for very long. The Lions went 4-2 without Myreon Jones, but the toll his absence took on the team is now being felt.
Initially other players stepped up to fill the minutes and role vacated by Jones. It may have stretched the team too thin. Lamar Stevens was in a position where he felt that he had to do too much. Other players, such as Curtis Jones, played well in a new role initially but then hit tough times. There are explanations for why the Lions have slumped toward the end of the season, and precedent to believe they can come out of it.
Whether they win any more games this year will be seen in the coming weeks. Were the team to win a game in each tournament, the season would be considered a massive success. If it goes without a win the bad taste will linger, for some, until at least March of next season.
This is why we want the team to be a factor in the post-season, because the stakes or so high and the pressure intense enough to crack even the toughest nut. In the past few weeks, many players and fans have succumbed to the external forces surrounding the team. It will take strength from within for everyone to make it through the coming challenges. Let’s try our best to stay positive since the other alternative will only hurt the team and community.