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Let’s Test The Waters With A Losing Record: Indianapolis Dreamin’

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The Selection Committee has the freedom to choose a team that has a record below .500. Will Penn State get into position to be that team?

Mama Cass Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

The Penn State basketball squad still has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. It could take three wins in the Big Ten Tournament, a Herculian task, but considering the Lions’ seed, that may be the easiest path.

Only one team, Michigan a few years back, has ever won four games in the Big Ten Tournament. Four wins would leave the Lions with a .500 record overall, having won 6 games in a row in the toughest conference, including three against ranked teams. That would be enough were it to happen, but that’s a long-shot.

The automatic bid that comes with winning the Big Ten Tournament would require five wins in five days. For a team that has two true post players and only one other ready to come off the bench, the thought of winning that many games in consecutive days is outrageous.

Were the Lions to win the next two games it would put them in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament against Iowa. While the Hawkeyes are a talented group, and feature arguably the best player in college basketball, they can be beat. Penn State lost by 6 points on the road in the only match-up of the season, and that was with Joe Wieskamp playing 33 minutes for the Hawkeyes.

Wieskamp is injured and may not play in the B1G Tournament. If Penn State can make it to that game, it would not be out of the question that it could win. To get there, they would have to beat Nebraska on Wednesday night and then Wisconsin on Thursday.

Penn State beat Wisconsin by 10 at home and then lost by 16 on the road. The game would be played on a neutral court and both teams will play their best. The stakes would be higher for the Lions but that would not give them an advantage over a skilled Badger team. Wisconsin would be favored to win.

Maryland was a 5.5 point favorite to beat Penn State heading into the final game of the season and Penn State, after trailing by 16, came back to win by 5. Anything can happen in college basketball but none of those scenarios will be possible if Nebraska beats Penn State.

The Cornhuskers split the series with the Lions this year and it will be a hard-fought game, that’s for sure. If Jim Ferry’s team plays its best, his team will win. If Penn State can get three wins in the Big Ten Tournament, with a loss in the fourth game, it would have a record of 13-14.

That is not a pretty record. Typically, a sub-.500 record would exclude a team from the post-season. This year, with a directive from the NCAA, the Selection Committee is free to pick the best teams according to their estimation, not to be limited to teams with a winning record.

The Lions have a rare circumstance with the NET Rankings, the metric that the Selection Committee uses to guide their decision. Should the team win three games and lose the fourth, it would have a losing record but would be well within position to make the NCAA Tournament according to the NET Rankings.

It may not be likely that Penn State will gain an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament but it is not impossible. They say that the opera is not over until the woman with the largest dress size sings her song. She isn’t singing just yet. There’s some meat left on this chicken bone. The Lions could win a game...then another game...then have a chance to win their way into the Big Dance.

That’s the straightest path for an NCAA invitation. Three wins in three days. It won’t be easy and it wouldn’t guarantee a spot, but considering the Lions’ current position, it would be a good place to be. A 13-14 Penn State team would cherish an invitation as a play-in team. Its fans would consider it an incredible achievement. We may not be pretty but we play hard and a NET Ranking under 40 has never missed the tournament.

The opportunity exists and until the team loses one of the next three games it’s worth dreamin’ about.

Box Score

John Harrar and Trent Buttrick managed to share 40 minutes at center with neither getting into foul trouble. It has become a norm rather than a surprise, to see that the pair of seniors was able to hold their own on the post.

Izaiah Brockington did not score a lot but his athleticism helped the team. His 7 rebounds is what a small team needs and he had a few plays on defense that were created by his leaping ability. It was nice to see the team get the win without much of a contribution from the supporting cast.

It used to be that teams like Maryland would win by virtue of their dominance at the line. Penn State shot 19 of 24 from the line, good for 79.2%, and that may have been the difference.

Jamari Wheeler had a lot of zeros in his stat sheet and the one in the turnover column may have been the most important stat for the team. Sam Sessoms somehow escaped with just 2 turnovers but his handles were lacking and with no other true point guard on the team, Wheeler was the settling presence that the team needed several times when they started to give the ball away too easily. He had 3 assists, no turnovers and a steal while pestering Maryland’s ball handlers for 27 minutes.