There may be some crying left to do concerning the 2020-2021 Penn State basketball team but there is one thing for certain; the season is not all over. There are plenty of reasons to tune in as the team makes its way to the Big Ten Tournament in a couple of weeks.
I chose the melodic treasure that is If I Didn’t Care from the Ink Spots to accompany your reading experience, should you choose to do so, when I realized that It’s All Over But The Crying was not applicable to the Lions’ on-court situation. Penn State can still reach the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection.
The Ink Spots rose to fame in the 1930’s, right around the time another blotch of ink joined the mainstream, the Rorschach Test.
Used to assess an individual’s personality, the Rorschach Test, or inkblot test as it has been called, has people stare into a blotch of ink and then say what they see. Each person will see something different while staring at the same thing. That is often the case while watching Penn State basketball.
While some fans will have trouble seeing the good in a loss on the road to Iowa, it should be remembered that the game was close. A six point loss counts in the win/loss column exactly as much as a one point loss or a loss by twenty. However, a six point loss on the road against a top program does not hurt a team’s NET Ranking very much. The ‘close game’ component of the NET Rankings cut off at ten points and heading into the game the Lions were picked by the betting crowd to lose by 11.
Had the betting crowd been correct, a point spread of 11 would have been easy money for Iowa, who should have won the game by 20. The betting crowd lacks emotional ties to the team and they frequently underestimate a group of fighters that outplays their on-paper stats. There is no data that would lead a person to believe that a front-court that looks like Penn State’s could hang with the Hawkeyes but it did on Sunday night.
Izaiah Brockington had a miss on a dunk with six minutes to play and the Lions trailing by six points, the eventual margin of the game. Myles Dread missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 2:05 to go on the clock. With 36 seconds remaining and the Lions trailing by 5, Myreon Jones had a wide-open shot from 3-point land and could not convert.
Penn State outperformed expectations but was unable to come away with the win. There were few strategic decisions that would have changed the outcome. Jim Ferry coached a heck of a game. The players were put in position to win had they converted their chances. For much of the night key players for the Lions did not cash in.
It was a four point game when Abdou Tsimbila was called for a ‘hook and hold’ technical foul, which gave Iowa two free throws and the ball. The Hawkeyes took the lead to 11 with 5:28 on the clock, less than a minute later. Penn State never got back within 4 points the rest of the night, cutting the lead to 5 on Seth Lundy’s only made field goal with 7 seconds to play.
Lundy only missed one shot on the night but conversely he only made one. The team could have used his offensive prowess but it just wasn’t there. Sam Sessoms and Myreon Jones, two players that will shoot until there is no more shooting left to be done, were cold. The two volume scorers went 6 for 26 from the field.
And still Jim Ferry’s team was able to compete to the bitter end, without much help from its regular offensive contributors. There are some that will question why the Lions were unable to make the plays necessary to get the final half-dozen points and grab a win. Others will look at the same game and think of the plays that Penn State was able to make to stay within two possessions of the Iowa Hawkeyes, led by Luka Garza and a strong supporting cast.
Penn State had a lot of steals but overall it was the difference in guards being able to actually guard. Iowa’s guards could not contain the driving and athleticism of the Lions and on the defensive side. It was hard for the Hawkeyes to run their offense with the guards of Penn State harassing them all night. While there was plenty of focus on the two teams’ big men, the defensive guard play is what kept the game close all night.
It’s hard to believe that Penn State was able to hold so close to Iowa while having so many of its key scorers having an off night. All nine players that saw the court scored and many had timely contributions.
Trent Buttrick, while playing his natural position of power forward, alongside freshman Adbou Tsimbila, hit two critical three point shots. The Lions were down 9 with John Harrar on the bench when Buttrick hit his first deep ball. A few minutes later, with Harrar still watching from the sidelines, another Buttrick 3-pointer tied the game at 25. Iowa had led by as many as 13 and had it not been for Buttrick’s 8 points, contributed during the evaporation of the early 13-point lead, the game could have got out of hand in the first half.
Abdou Tsimbila scored his 3 points during the first-half comeback while guarding Luka Garza, the top center in the league. Tsimbila averaged 4 minutes per game in only 11 appearances, but his 8 minutes allowed coach Ferry the leeway to rest Harrar and keep him from fouling out.
While guarding Luka Garza no Penn State player fouled out, though three centers had 11 fouls between them. It was a great coaching job by Ferry to eek out enough low-post defense to allow his team to have a shot at a win.
Trent Buttrick and Sam Sessoms recorded 3 steals each and the team had 10. Without the defensive effort, the game would have been over in the first half.
Contrary to what those who see doom and gloom in a spot of ink would lead you to believe, Penn State can still get to the NCAA Tournament without winning the Big Ten Tournament. It’s easy to illustrate that factual assertion and yet there will be plenty of people that will speak contrary to the data with the conviction of a person that should be believed.
Should the Lions win the remaining four games on the regular-season schedule, then two games in the Big Ten Tournament, the team will have a record of 13-13. It has been made clear that the NCAA Tournament selection committee, which uses the NET Rankings as their chief guiding metric, will have the freedom to grant a team with a losing record an at-large bid.
With Penn State’s NET Ranking in the top-30, provided it won six of the next seven games, a .500 finish would be enough to get the nod.
There is hope that the team could get to an at-large bid, with the selection committee having the freedom to pick a losing team, with two losses coming down the stretch. Whether the Lions would be selected with a losing record is debatable but clearly it is not a zero percent probability.
There are no easy wins in the Big Ten conference but the Lions have already faced their toughest match-ups. While it may be hard to believe that the team could win the next four games it is not hard to believe that they could win each of the games individually.
Penn State will not have to play all four teams on the remaining schedule at once and while the odds are long for them to win all four, we have seen crazier things. For fans that feel like hope is lost for an at-large bid, the good news is that it is too early to give up. The bad news is that outside of winning some Big Ten Tournament games, it is likely that the next loss will be the end of the team’s tournament hopes.
That is, unless it wins the Big Ten tournament and secures the automatic bid. Dreamers can dream but we are far from the point of needing dreams to get there. Nebraska can be beat. Penn State played close with Purdue on the road and has the Boilermakers and Minnesota at home. Maryland is not a long trip from State College and without fans to help out, there is reason to believe a second win against the Terps this year could happen.
The margin of error is slim starting on Tuesday night against Nebraska. Hopefully Penn State can put together a couple of wins and make things interesting for its fans coming down the stretch.